Beheading of the Glorious Prophet Forerunner and Baptist John
Possibilities and clarity.
Kontakion of the feast.
Possibilities and clarity. That is sometimes, brothers and sisters, what I feel during the Divine Liturgy, especially the early Divine Liturgy. The liturgy today at six o’clock in the morning was for the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. During that liturgy, there was a moment when the Kontakion was sung that everything seemed so clear.
Has that ever happened to you? It just seems clear what your purpose is, what is right and what is wrong. You see things as they really are and then you have within you this feeling that “I’m going to do better”.
Saint John spoke against immorality and against sin, against the status quo, and yet his life externally looked like a failure: He went to the jail, and later on he was beheaded and forgotten by the Jewish leaders. And yet we remember him as the greatest born of woman.
Sometimes that moment of clarity tells us what’s right, and what I should do. And somehow you have this confidence in you that you are going to be able to do it with God’s help. You think that: “somehow, me, the lump of clay, is going to somehow be able to become truly good.” Christ promised it. I talk about it all the time. It’s true.
And yet, the evidence is to the contrary in the way we live. But sometimes there’s just those moments. And for me, the moment was during the Divine Liturgy at two times. One was during the singing of some of the verses of the Beatitudes, and those verses are taken from portions of the Canon from Matins. It was contrasting the sensuality and lust of Herodias and her daughter and the lack of courage of Herod with the courage and righteousness of Saint John. After these were sung, then comes, after the Entrance, the singing of the Troparion, Kontakion. And this Kontakion just seemed like it was a laser into my heart. It was beautiful.
This is the Kontakion:
“The glorious beheading of the Forerunner was part of God’s dispensation that he might proclaim to those in Hades the coming of the Savior, that Herodias who demanded the iniquitous murder, therefore lament. For she loved not the law of God nor the age of life but rather this one, false and fleeting.”
Just the night before, I listened to a video on prayer by the Romanian Elder Cleopa. And I’m eventually going to send it to the entire blog because it’s such a beautiful video. He speaks in Romanian, but it’s translated into English, with very simple words but very powerful words. He speaks about the transitoriness of life.
And this Kontakion speaks about that.
Herodias was married to Herod’s brother Philip, but didn’t want him because he must not have been a powerful enough person, and she became the consort of Herod and was rebuked for it by John the Baptist. The interesting thing is Herod would listen to John’s rebukes. It says in the Scriptures in Saint Mark’s Gospel that he actually listened to him gladly. So in Herod, there was something in the man that wanted to be good. Just not enough.
I think we’re like that a lot. We hear Christ gladly, but then when it comes to truly doing the things of Christ, we fall short.
Now, in Herodias, there were no pretenses with her. She didn’t hear Saint John gladly. She wanted to get rid of him, and for a long time she worked to be able to kill him, but the Scriptures say that Herod held him in protection.
So then comes the time of drunkenness and feasting and dancing, which is really a euphemism; she danced lewdly, and the bunch of drunken old man clapping and thinking everything was fine and enjoying themselves and then Herod in his cups, saying something very foolish, saying, I will give you everything you want, up to half of my kingdom. His kingdom is fleeting. The only thing permanent in Herod’s life was what Saint John said to him, and he listened, but he did not do. So it was as if he didn’t even hear him.
So of course we know the story. The Baptist’s head was cut off and taken on a platter to the mother, and John’s life was over – His earthly life. And yet his life was not false and fleeting because he did something permanent in life. He lived according to the Gospel. He lived according to the way of righteousness. He knew what was permanent and what was not.
Herod was in the presence of permanence when he spoke to Saint John. But he didn’t love permanence more than he loved his own life and his own depravity and fact that he can give parties and be the first at feasts and be called king. And eventually he would die and his life, like a candle, would be snuffed out and would be no more.
That’s the way it is with people who don’t follow Christ. Their life is snuffed out and they are no more. Whatever they did, whether they built bridges, whether they became kings and presidents, whether they were powerful, whether they were paupers, it’s all done, it’s all over when they are dead. And this we know and yet we don’t live like it.
This Kontakion speaks of a false and fleeting life. Herodias loved the life of parties and of being desired by a king and of power and of her beauty. And eventually she died, and all of it was gone. And all that kind of life flashed through my mind when I heard that Kontakion, and within my heart I thought I am NOT going to follow the life that’s not false and fleeting. Jesus Christ abides within me. Here I am serving right at the altar and the Unbloody Sacrifice is about to be accomplished and what possibilities there are for me now if I just live my life according to what’s true and not what is false and fleeting.
We must evaluate everything that comes across our eyes and our life – is it permanent or is it not? If it’s not permanent, we should not want it. If it’s permanent, then we must do what we can to keep it.
The only thing that is permanent is Jesus Christ. Nothing else lasts. Nothing else is worth trying to keep.
May God help us to live the life that is according to truth and according to permanence. Not one that is false and fleeting.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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 “And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? (8) But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. (9) But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. (10) For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. (11) Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:7-11 )
 “For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.” (Mark 6:20)
 “And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. (23) And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.” (Mark 6:22-23)