Beheading of the Holy and Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John
The divine Baptist, the Prophet born of a Prophet, the seal of all the Prophets and beginning of the Apostles, the mediator between the Old and New Covenants, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the God-sent Messenger of the incarnate Messiah, the forerunner of Christ’s coming into the world (Esaias 40: 3; Mal. 3: 1); who by many miracles was both conceived and born; who was filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb; who came forth like another Elias the Zealot, whose life in the wilderness and divine zeal for God’s Law he imitated: this divine Prophet, after he had preached the baptism of repentance according to God’s command; had taught men of low rank and high how they must order their lives; had admonished those whom he baptized and had filled them with the fear of God, teaching them that no one is able to escape the wrath to come if he do not works worthy of repentance; had, through such preaching, prepared their hearts to receive the evangelical teachings of the Savior; and finally, after he had pointed out to the people the very Savior, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world” (Luke 3:2-18; John 1: 29-36), after all this, John sealed with his own blood the truth of his words and was made a sacred victim for the divine Law at the hands of a transgressor.
This was Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee, the son of Herod the Great. This man had a lawful wife, the daughter of Arethas (or Aretas), the King of Arabia (that is, Arabia Petraea, which had the famous Nabatean stone city of Petra as its capital. This is the Aretas mentioned by Saint Paul in II Cor. 11:32). Without any cause, and against every commandment of the Law, he put her away and took to himself Herodias, the wife of his deceased brother Philip, to whom Herodias had borne a daughter, Salome. He would not desist from this unlawful union even when John, the preacher of repentance, the bold and austere accuser of the lawless, censured him and told him, “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife” (Mark 6: 18).
Thus Herod, besides his other unholy acts, added yet this, that he apprehended John and shut him in prison; and perhaps he would have killed him straightway, had he not feared the people, who had extreme reverence for John. Certainly, in the beginning, he himself had great reverence for this just and holy man. But finally, being pierced with the sting of a mad lust for the woman Herodias, he laid his defiled hands on the teacher of purity on the very day he was celebrating his birthday. When Salome, Herodias’ daughter, had danced in order to please him and those who were supping with him, he promised her — with an oath more foolish than any foolishness — that he would give her anything she asked, even unto the half of his kingdom. And she, consulting with her mother, straightway asked for the head of John the Baptist in a charger.
Hence this transgressor of the Law, preferring his lawless oath above the precepts of the Law, fulfilled this godless promise and filled his loathsome banquet with the blood of the Prophet. So it was that that all-venerable head, revered by the Angels, was given as a prize for an abominable dance, and became the plaything of the dissolute daughter of a debauched mother. As for the body of the divine Baptist, it was taken up by his disciples and placed in a tomb (Mark 6: 21 – 29).
~Taken from the Website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, http://goarch.org/chapel/saints_view?contentid=182.
Orthodox Customs to Honor the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner
Today is a strict fast day in remembrance of the violent style of execution of God’s greatest prophet, St. John the Forerunner. Though this commemoration is an ancient one, the prescription for a strict fast day is relatively recent as it does not appear in the old typika (rules of practice). Pious Orthodox people have established certain customs therefore to further remember and honor the honorable Forerunner.
1. Avoid using a round plate, since the head of the Glorious Prophet was delivered on a plate to Herodius.
2. Avoid dancing, since a dance seduced Herod to give even half of his kingdom to his seductress Salome, though this gave her the opportunity to ask for the head of the Glorious Prophet.
3. Avoid birthday celebrations, since the tragedy took place during the birthday celebration of Herod (postpone for another day).
4. Avoid cabbage, since it is round like a head and according to legend cabbage leaves were placed beneath St. John’s head on the day that he was beheaded. This legend may have arisen specifically because of the shape of the cabbage.
5. Avoid eating round food, such as apples, pears, onions, garlic, or in general any round fruits or vegetables on this day. This is because of their similarity to the human head.
6. Avoid red wine, because red wine resembles the blood (except that of Holy Communion).
7. Avoid knives, so as not to cut or chop anything, for obvious reasons.
~ Taken from Mystagogy: The Weblog of John Sandidopoulos, http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/08/orthodox-customs-to-honor-beheading-of.html