Deisis (Novogorod)

Pointing to the Lamb

August 29th
The Beheading of the Holy and Glorious Prophet and Forerunner and Baptist John

Beheading of JohnThe Church sets forth for every day of the year so many saints, so that we can be inspired by their lives, rejoice in their virtues, and take comfort in their intercession.   There are countless martyrs and many holy ascetics.  There are numerous hierarchs and worthy priests and deacons.  There are choirs of virgins, wonderworkers, holy fools, un-mercenary healers and passion-bearers.  But there is only one baptist and forerunner, and he, among all those born of woman knows no superior.

Today we celebrate the day of his beheading, or rather the surrender of his life to God's plan.  We come to the date of August 29th because this is the day of dedication of the Church built by Saint Helen for his relics in Sebaste, the site of his burial.  In that place his holy relics were honoured until they were disturbed by the apostate emperor Julian.   But, imprisoned in that dark palace, John actually gave his life into God's hands shortly before the Jewish Passover.

And that is entirely fitting and suitable.  For even at his holy death, John did not abandon his ministry of going before the Lord, preparing his way (Luke 1:76).  He had leapt for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth at the visitation of the Saviour and the Mother of God.  He entered the desert before the Lord, and told the demons to prepare to address the Only-begotten in the flesh.  He preached to the people of Israel to prepare the way of the Lord, and to make his paths straight (Luke 3:4).  He pointed to the Lamb of God, and made his own disciples to be apostles of the Lord.   Though innocent, he was arrested and accused unjustly, a forerunner of the chosen path that the blameless Christ would follow.  Now, he gave his life over to death, but this did not mark the end of his ministry!  He entered into the realm of the dead, into Hades where the righteous of all ages, the patriarchs, prophets and just ones from the creation of the world were waiting to be loosed from their bondage.  He walked among the dead, in the kingdom of death, crying out for all those weeping there to prepare themselves to receive the Lord God!  The time of their captivity was coming to an end, soon Christ the true God would by means of the Cross enter into their condition, and lead them forth into freedom, opening the gates of paradise and carrying them to the glory of the holy Resurrection.  The voice of God the Word would be heard in their midst, and the darkness of death would be illumined with the eternal Light.  The psalmist words prophetically described that day:  The just shall rejoice at the presence of God, they shall exult and dance for joy. Make a highway for him who rides on the clouds, rejoice in the Lord, exult in his presence.  God will go forth, at the head of his people, and the heavens will melt at the presence of God.  This God of ours is a God who saves, the Lord our God holds the keys of death. (from Psalm 67).

We hear the story of the beheading of the forerunner John, and shudder with shame and disbelief.  How could the Saviour God allow such a terrible end to his kinsman and faithful servant?  With treachery and lust, the death is plotted of one so pure and righteous?  But John himself was not disturbed, nor did he question God's ways.  He gave himself over to the will of God, whose plan is ever for the good to those who love him.

We fast today, as if to honour the Forerunner who fasted always.  We fast today, to separate ourselves from the passions that were so cruelly executed on the day of his death.  Trumpets precede the entrance of the King into the banquet hall.  Lightning precedes the thunderclap.  A candle precedes the procession of the Holy Gospel.  And we fast today to remind ourselves that humility precedes the gifts of God.   How shall we boast?  Even hours of patient vigil, even endless good deeds, even mountains of philanthropy are a pittance, amounting to nothing more than some camel hair and a leather girdle before God.  It is a humbled spirit and contrite heart that is acceptable before the throne of grace.  So on this feast we fast, becoming less, that God can become all.  Lord, grant us the grace to humble ourselves, help us to persevere, even to the end.

Holy kinsman of the Lord, prophet, forerunner and baptist John, pray to God for us!


Written by a monk of the Byzantine Catholic Church.

Copyright © 1998, www.byzcath.org.


Teachings of Christ

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44 ESV)

Transfiguration

You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ God, * showing Your glory to Your Disciples as far as they were able to bear it. * Through the prayers of the Mother of God, * let Your everlasting Light shine also upon us sinners. * O Giver of Light, glory to You! (Troparion, Tone 7)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Upon the mountain You were transfigured, O Christ God, * and Your Disciples beheld Your glory as far as they could receive it, * so that when they would see You crucified, * they would understand that You suffered willingly; * and they would preach to the world * that You are truly the radiance of the Father. (Kontakion, Tone 7)

Dormition

O Mother of God, in giving birth you preserved virginity; * and in falling asleep you did not forsake the world. * You are the Mother of Life and have been transferred to life, * and through your prayers you deliver our souls from death. (Troparion - Tone 1)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Neither the tomb nor death could detain the Mother of God, * who is unsleeping in her prayers and our unfailing hope in her intercession; * for He Who dwelt in her ever-virgin womb, * transferred to Life the Mother of Life. (Kontakion - Tone 2)

Random Proverb

"Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her." (Proverbs 8:10,11 ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

According to the text, `We are the body of Christ and each of us is one of its members' (cf. 1 Cor. 12:27), we are said to be the body of Christ. We do not become this body through the loss of our own bodies; nor again because Christ's Body passes into us hypostatically or is divided into members; but rather because we conform to the likeness of the Lord's flesh by shaking off the corruption of sin. For just as Christ in His manhood was sinless by nature both in flesh and in soul, so we too who believe in Him, and have clothed ourselves in Him through the Spirit, can be without sin to Him if we so choose.

St. Maximus the Confessor, Second Century on Theology, Philokalia, V. 2