-St. Theophan the Recluse
Saturday, September 13, 2014
The Exaltation of the Precious Cross of Christ (source)
In the 7th century, the Precious Cross was exalted festally in Jerusalem, so that it could be seen and venerated by the all the people.
In memory of this, the celebration of the exaltation of the Cross is performed every year on September 14th in parish and monastic churches. This uplifting, however, is external. There is, let us say, a spiritual Exaltation of the Cross, which occurs within the heart of man.
When? When someone steadfastly decides to allow himself to be crucified, putting to death his passions. Whoever does not do this is truly not a Christian. The Apostle says this utterly clearly: “And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Those, in other words, who are Christ's, have crucified their sinful selves, together with their passions and desires.
The Christians, therefore, exalt the Cross within themselves, and keep it lifted up throughout their whole life. Is it like this in truth? Each of us must ask his conscience. And may he not receive the response: “You worked your fleshly urges and were obedient to your desires. Your cross is not uplifted, but is tossed into the pit of the passions, where it is rotting from your contempt and your negligence.”
After they took down the dead Body of Christ, the Precious Cross remained on Golgotha. The Judeans took it and threw it unto a garbage heap.
After the Resurrection of the Lord, again, they did not hesitate to fill His All-Holy Tomb with stones and dirt, in order to hide it.
Ultimately, when the Romans conquered during the revolt in Jerusalem in 70AD, they razed the city and its surroundings. And later, when they rebuilt it, in the place where the All-Holy Tomb was, at the inspiration of the enemy [i.e. the devil], they built a temple to Aphrodite, the idolatrous goddess of immorality.
Something similar occurs with our internal cross. When the enemy conquers and razes our noetic Jerusalem, our soul, this Cross is taken down from the Golgotha of our heart and thrown into the garbage heap of sinful desires and pleasures. In its place, we place and worship the idol of Aphrodite, until Divine Grace visits us, of course if we truly repent, which tears down the idol of sin, and exalts within us the Cross of the death of the passions.”
-St. Theophan the Recluse
-St. Theophan the Recluse
(From the book, “Directions in the Spiritual Life”, amateur translation of text from the Greek here)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
The Most-Holy Theotokos as a newborn, being embraced by her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anna (source)
Excerpt from an Encomium on the Ancestors of God, Sts. Joachim and Anna (by Kosma Vestitoros)
Therefore, the world is not worthy of these truly blessed birthgivers of the Mother of God, for through them, the Prophets were shown to be true regarding the incarnation of Christ. The Apostles, through their daughter, were shown to be sons of the Light, the Saints, for they martyrically were crowned, the Venerable and Righteous, as the inheritors of the good things to come, the sinners, as those shown mercy through the intercessions of the Ever-virgin Theotokos.
To them, therefore, let us cry out in thanksgiving:
Hail, O all-sacred Father Joachim, our hope after God, through the grace of the fruit of your loins.
Hail, O all-precious Mother Anna, the Mother of our life; glory to your womb.
Hail, O Father, tiller of many-seeded offspring.
Hail, O Mother of our salvation.
Hail, O Father, servant of the heavenly cluster of grapes.
Hail, O Mother, the good earth which yielded fruit a hundred-fold.
Hail, O Father, the sower of the spiritual paradise.
Hail, O Mother, the rock containing the pure emerald.
Hail, O Father, who opened the life-pouring spring.
Hail, O Mother, who was refreshed of the thirst for the bearing of children.
Our mouth is filled with the hymning of your excelling holiness. But we are not worthy even to hymn this godly pair, if it were not for the voice of Christ, their grandson according to the flesh, who even more greatly hymns them, saying: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in the Heavens.” For you, O Saints, because of your bareness, were disdained, and heard evil words, but after a short time, you rejoiced with the bearing of a child. And it is sufficient to praise you, as you bore the Mother of God. For truly, as worthy and Righteous ones, you were ordained to give birth to the Theotokos, and become the ancestors of Christ, according to the flesh.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!
St. Mamas the Great Martyr (source)
Excerpt from the Encomium to St. Mamas the Martyr, by St. Neophytos of Cyprus
Hail, O Mamas, the champion of the Lord who is worthy-to-be-praised, for even before your birth, your mother dedicated you to the Lord, like Jeremiah. You were born in the prison in which your parents gave up their souls to the Lord.
Hail, O Mamas, for as a chosen one of God, an Angel of the Lord led Matrona to take you from the prison, and to raise you, and to bury the bodies of your parents with honors.
Hail, O thrice-blessed one, for as Moses received the Law and Staff to lead the people on Mount Sinai, you, having fasted on the mountain of Caesarea for forty days in imitation of Moses, received the Staff and the Gospel, for which the wild animals were obedient to you, revealing thus the former authority which the Forefather [Adam] had [before the Fall].
Hail, O greatly-suffering Mamas, for unjustly you were condemned as a wizard to the atheist and lawless tyrant Alexandros, whom who censured, presenting yourself as a godly-minded servant of Christ, not having any relationship with wizards.
Hail, O Mamas, the Martyr of Christ, for you tamed the wild beasts, which were left before you, and having conquered the various tortures, you were shown to be a surpassingly-bright martyr of Christ.
Hail, O blessed Mamas, for you became a living sacrifice, chosen and pleasing to God. After your slaughter, having held your entrails with your two hands, you went to the Master and Lord Whom you love, not only dyed with the blood of your martyrdom, but bringing your entrails as chosen gifts, offering them to God, to Whom, O thrice-blessed Mamas, you entreat with boldness...
(amateur translation of text from source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!
Sunday, September 7, 2014
The Crucifixion of Christ (source)
Homily on the Sunday before the Elevation of the Cross, by Metropolitan Avgoustios Kantiotis (+2010)
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:15)
Did you hear, my brethren, today's Gospel? He spoke to us regarding He Who descended and ascended: descended to the deepest depths, to Hades, and ascended to the greatest height, to Heaven. He spoke to us about God. But what is God?
Once, they say, there was a king who was tortured by the thought: “What is God?” He called a great wise man and asked him: “What is God?” The wise man asked for three days to ponder this. He closed himself and began to study, but after three days, he was in no position to give an answer.
He appeared before the king and asked for another three days. He gave it to him, but again, nothing. He asked again and again, but the same occurred, until he appeared hopeless and told him: “My king, unfortunately, no one can give you an answer to your question: 'What is God?' The finite mind of man is unable to give an answer. His little mind is unable to perceive the notion of God, His incomparable Godhead, the incomparable Mind.”
As much as a cup could hold all the waters of the ocean, so much can our little mind hold the ocean of the Godhead, of divine wisdom. On this topic, there is another anecdote:
Once, someone was tortured by the question: “What is God?”, as he was walking along the beach.
He then saw a child make a small hole in the sand with his hands, and then with his pail, bring water from the ocean and pour it into the hole. He asked him: “What are you doing, my child?”
“I am trying to empty the ocean into here” the child replied.
“But this nonsense, my child.”
“If this is nonsense” said the child, “how much more nonsense is it to think that man can hold in his little mind the ocean of the Godhead?”
This little child was an angel, and the man was one of the greatest Fathers of the Church, whose name I unworthily bear [i.e. the Blessed Augustine]. So far, therefore, no one has been able to give an answer to our question? But the answer which the wise men of this world cannot give, is given by the Gospel, which, unfortunately, we do not even read.
What does the Gospel said, how does it answer our question? Open and search through the epistles of the Evangelist John, and there you will find the answer. Within are three words—what grandeur!--which solve the whole issue: “God is love”. (1st John 4,6,16).
God is love! Let us glance, my brethren, at nature, at man, and at history, and we shall see the great love of God.
All of nature and the whole universe were created by God, as the Apostle Paul writes: “Every house was built by someone, but they were all built by God.” (Hebrews 3:4) The house has its builder, but the world as its Creator.
God created the world out of love, which even more clearly we see if we examine ourselves, man. He is the perfection of divine creation, a microcosm, a wonder of wonders.
God made him to dwell on this planet with the animals, the birds, the sea and the fish for his service. He gave us everything, and above all, His love have us three gifts: the air, which we breathe every instant, the water, which waters everything, and the sun, which enlightens and warms and gives life. Without these, the animals and plants and man would cease to live. But what great love God has is shown by history.
Look and see what God did on behalf of man. I am not saying this myself, today's Gospel said this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) He sacrificed His only Child! How can I make you, my brethren, understand the great love of God? I would need a bit of the good tongue of the Chrysostom.
If one of you were a father with an only child, he can understand this.
You, the father of an only child, who loves him so much that at night when he sleeps, you place your hear on his chest and feel his breathing, what if I told you that the most mortal enemy of your family is endangering you, but that you could be saved if you opened the veins of your child to sacrifice him? I ask you, father, would you do it?
But, my brethren, God did this. He sacrificed His beloved Son for us his enemies, who disobeyed His will.
In the mountains, once after a battle, a gravely-wounded soldier died. He wanted to write two words one last time to his most-beloved person, to his mother. No one was near him to help him. He did not have a pencil. He only had his blood, which was pouring forth from his wounds.
He took a piece of paper, dipped his finger in his blood, and wrote: “Mother, I love you.” When the soldiers came through to gather the death, they found this little piece of paper, and sent it to his mother.
The mother had many signs that her son loved her, but the greatest, the most practical sign, was that which she held in her hands: “Mother, I love you.”
And we have many signs that God loves us, but the death of Christ on the Cross is the most clear of all of them. There, God wrote with the Blood of His Son: “My child, I love you.”
The love of God, however, my brethren, gives birth to requirements for man. We ourselves must show our love.
Love is the Queen rules over the land of virtues.
If we take a stone, and throw it into a lake, it makes circular ripples: small circles, larger ones, even larger ones, that reach the edge of the lake.
Thus, love has circular ripples.
The first circle is to love our family, our mother. No one is born from a stone. She brought us into this world, and sacrificed for us. Because of this may the hand that lifts to strike his mother be turned to stone! We should love our spouse, a man his wife “as Christ loved the Church.” (Ephesians 5:25)
Now, however, for meaningless reasons, families separate and dissolve. Besides our family, we should love our teachers, for if we must thank our parents for life, we must thank our teachers for our living well.
Beyond this, we should love the larger circle, our country, and this country is Greece. Love, my brethren, our Greece, this martyrical country, which gave hundreds of victims for its high ideals. “Our country is more to be valued and higher and holier far more than mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding.” (Plato's Crito)
Therefore, love your family, your teachers, your community and your country. But even more so, love the Church, the Priest with raso, who so much worked towards our freedom.
The Church with our schools kept and preserved the treasures of the Spirit, and cultivated the idea of the Faith and Fatherland. If it weren't for the Priests, we would be wearing a red fez today [i.e. be muslim].
But above all else, my brethren, we must love God. Unfortunately, in our times, love has disappeared. What is the cause of this indifference towards God?
Sin. The Lord said: “Because of the multiplication of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12)
Yes, my brethren, sin, and especially the sin of blasphemy, which is heard everywhere, within homes, on the streets, in the squares, in the marked and in the army.
My brethren, I make a contract with you: if the people cease to blaspheme, we have nothing to fear. An electronic field with surround us, and whoever approaches will disappear into the air!
Write this everywhere, and especially within your hearts: if we desire to see days of peace, we must stop blasphemy in our place. Then the love of God will rule everywhere, and an incomparable doxology to the Lord will be heard: “O children, hymn Him and exalt Him beyond measure, unto all the ages.”
Friday, September 5, 2014
Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the Sheep (source)
Note: It seems that as the years progress, we are seeing more and more people afflicted with Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar disorder, Schizhophrenia, Suicides, and many other mental illnesses. Though the church fathers would not question that genetics, history of abuse, etc. and other things that one cannot control can affect one's mental health, it is clear that our society doubts the role that the passions, sins, demonic influence and temptations, and overall separation from Christ play in affecting our minds. Thus, while it may be help to seek treatment with therapists or psychiatrists, it is truly necessary that we open our hearts towards our Merciful Christ in repentance, for He is our Creator, Who ever loves us and gave Himself up for us all. He is the Good Shepherd, Who seeks us out, the lost sheep, and places us on His shoulders, and brings us to the Father.
Also see pages on Saints Gerasimos, Dymphna, Issac the Syrian and Ephraim of Nea Makri, whose intercessions or writings have been known to help people with mental illness.
Orthodox Prayers for Deliverance from Depression, and Various Psychological Afflictions
(by Fr. Sabbas the Athonite)
O Greatly-merciful Master, Lord Jesus Christ, the Physician of our souls and bodies, come and heal me, Your worthless servant. I have distanced myself from You, I have wounded Your Goodness and Love. I have sinned against Heaven and before You. I have worked all iniquity. I am utterly bed-bound, barren of every virtue and bodily or spiritual healthy. My body is sickened. My soul is afflicted. My spirit is weakened. My will has been overrun. Everything within me is drowned and suffers. I have descended to "the lowest Hades". Deliver me, O Lord, from the spiritual choking and the mourning in the depth of my heart, and the depression which rightly tortures me. I have worked all sins. These war against me. These have placed upon me this unbearable torture. Have mercy on me, O Lord. I, alone, am responsible for this desertment and destruction of my soul and body. Egotism has ruled over me. Negligence has enslaved me. Laziness has deadened me. Forgive me, O Lord, and heal my wretched soul. Drive far from me the evil spirit which works within me and which brings to me this unbearable choking of soul and body. Drive far from me the weight of depression from my heart. Free my soul and body from every negligence, laziness, high-mindedness, bloating, depression, faithlessness, indifference, unconsciousness, despair and deadening. I, myself, have brought all these things upon my soul. Forgive, O Lord, the multitude of my sins. Heal me from the multitudes of my passions. Grant, O Lord, that I might not suffer anymore on behalf of the passions which rule my wretched soul. Take up the heavy burden of my sin. Drive away from me every enemy and battle. Grant peace, O Lord to my life and my soul. Cleanse me from every corruption of flesh and spirit, that I might be able to flee from the evil spirits which worked this darkness and cloudiness within me, along with desperation and hell. Lift me up from my bed of pain, and pallet of evil. The depression and the fear and the slavery of my thoughts, drive away from me. Lord, let Your will be done as You desire. With Your Graciousness and Goodness, trample down my enemies and the old man, together with its passions and desires. Lord, let Your will be done within me, that I might rejoice and exalt, without sorrow, and with joy follow You and glorify You, hymning and blessing You unto all the ages. Visit and strengthen me through Your Providential Power, that I might glorify and chant unto You, the Compassionate Lord, together with the Father and the Spirit unto the ages. You, my Comforting [Jesus], together with the Great and Surpassingly-Compassionate Father and the All-Comforting Spirit, come and find me, among all the trials all the days of my life. Have mercy on me, O Lord, and forgive my saddened and distressed soul and body. You are the Joy and the Light, the Resurrection and the Life, the Spring and our Joyous Pascha. For You told us: "Him who comes to me, I will by no means cast out". You are He Who descended to the "storehouses of Hades", to seek the lost sheep, that is me. Have mercy on me, through the intercessions of Your All-spotless Mother, the All Surpassing Joy of All. through the power of Your Precious and Life-giving Cross, the Tree of Life, through the intercessions of the Precious Heavenly Bodiless Powers, through the intercessions of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, through the intercessions of Your Holy glorious and all-praised Apostles, the Holy glorious and victorious Martyrs, our Venerable and God-bearing Fathers, and all Your Saints. Amen.
O Greatly-merciful Master, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and cleanse me from every sadness and disturbance and cowardice. Drive away from me every spiritual choking and demonic sorrow, that I sense in my body and my soul. For You are our Joy, and the Jope of all the ends of the earth, adn those far off at sea. Be merciful to me, O Master, upon my sins. Take from me the heavy burden of sin and despair. Drive far away from me every sadness and laziness. Confirm me in Your Love, and with unassailable hope and unshakable faith in You, through the intercessions of Your Spotless Mother, and all Your Saints. Amen.
From the book: The Passions and Depression---What are they, and how are they healed?, by Hieromonk Sabbas the Athonite. Amateur translation of text from here.
Another prayer for Mental Health
O Master, Lord my God, in Whose hands is my destiny: Help me according to Thy mercy, and leave me not to perish in my transgressions, nor allow me to follow them who place desires of the flesh over those of the spirit. I am Thy creation; disdain not the work of Thy hands. Turn not away; be compassionate and humiliate me not, neither scorn me, O Lord, as I am weak. I have fled unto Thee as my Protector and God. Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee. Save me for Thy mercy's sake, for I have cleaved unto Thee from my youth; let me who seeks Thee not be put to shame by being rejected by Thee for mine unclean actions, unseemly thoughts, and unprofitable remembrances. Drive away from me every filthy thing and excess of evil. For Thou alone art holy, alone mighty, and alone immortal, in all things having unexcelled might, which, through Thee, is given to all that strive against the devil and the might of his armies. For unto Thee is due all glory, honor and worship: To the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen
Saturday, August 30, 2014
The Second Coming of Christ (source)
“No, God does not punish! Man punishes himself, distancing himself from God. It is as if we said: 'Here is water, there is fire. I am free to choose. I place my hand in the water, and I am refreshed. I place my hand in the fire, and I am burned.'”
-St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia
Friday, August 29, 2014
St. John, the Precious Forerunner and Baptist of Christ (source)
Encomium on the Beheading of the Precious Forerunner, by St. Theodore the Studite
Dear God-fearing Christians, the feast which we have gathered here to celebrate together today is radiant and filled with divine joy. It is rightly called radiant because it shines from the very name of him whom we are honouring today, since he is called the lamp of the light. He is not, of course, a lamp who illumines us with material light, because then his radiance would not be enduring and constant and would be lost every time some obstacle moved in front of it. But it is light that shows the brilliant radiance of divine grace in the depths of the hearts of those who have gathered to celebrate his memory and who elevate their minds to think upon the sufferings of the righteous man, so that gazing with the eyes of our souls upon his blessed martyrdom, we shall be filled with spiritual joy.
But our eyes rejoice at the sight of the blood of every saint, our ears delight to hear their messages of salvation and our lips reverence them. Because their loss grants perfect participation in the immortal and true life. I do not, of course, mean merely a drop of blood, but anything at all from their holy members- a single hair or anything they wore or touched with their hands- is desirable and valuable for those who have decided to believe and to worship God in the proper manner. This is why people who have something like this in their homes or church- that is a complete relic or a part thereof, even a very small piece- consider it a special honour and are proud of it, as if it were a treasure which advances their sanctification and ensures their salvation. And so they approach the reliquary containing the sacred dust with great reverence and touch with awe the sacred relics which are untouchable because of their sanctity.
What more do I need to say than to refer generally to the blood of all the apostles, the martyrs and prophets, which various gory murderers shed in many different ways and which now circles the earth like a rich river and extinguishes impiety?
Such was the blood of the Forerunner and Baptist of Christ, of whom we are speaking today, which he shed from his sacred neck like precious myrrh, which perfumes the whole world. This blood was not engendered by hedonistic gluttony, nor by wine, nor by any of the other foods which fatten the greedy and give them pleasure.
It was created by the grace of abstinence, which the saint practised from his infancy until his martyr’s death. And as the Lord said, John neither ate nor drank (Matth. 11, 18-19).
This blood was shed before the blood of the Lord, the immortal chalice. Because it was needful that the Forerunner of the Light, who with his radiant birth from a barren mother illumined everyone on earth, should become an effulgent herald also to those who were below the earth, that is in Hell.
This blood has boldness before the Almighty Lord, more than the blood of the righteous Abel. Because every action has within it a mystical voice, which is not produced by the vocal chords but which becomes evident from the power invested in it by the person who performs the action.
This blood is more deserving than that of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and so on), more valuable than the blood of the prophets and more sanctified than the blood of all the righteous. Because it is more wonderful even than the blood of the apostles and of the martyrs. Now these words are not mine; they’re from the Great Word, Jesus Christ, Who gave this testimony concerning the Honourable Forerunner.
It is blood which adorns the Church more beautifully than any decoration with variegated and rare flowers. It was shed for justice at the end of the era when the old law was in force, and became a flower which stands at the entrance of the presence of Christ.
But let us continue now to tell, on the basis of the Holy Gospels, how this blood was shed, by whom and for what cause. According to the Gospel, Herod arrested John, bound him and cast him into prison, because of Herodias, the wife of his brother, Philip. Because John had told him: “You’re not allowed to live with her”. So he wanted to put John to death but was afraid to do so, because all the people considered him a prophet (Matth, 14, 2-5).
Let’s see first who this Herod was, because there are two people with the same name, which is confusing, and we have to be clear who we’re talking about. This one is Herod the Tetrarch. His father, also Herod and the murderer of the Innocents, had died long before [In 4 B. C. Herod I actually had four sons named Herod].
But why did John upbraid him? Because he had abandoned his lawful wife, the daughter of King Aretas, and was living, illicitly, with the wife of his brother Philip. He could, of course, have married her legally, if she hadn’t already had children by his brother, because Mosaic law allowed this in order to provide heirs. But since she wasn’t childless, he couldn’t. She had a daughter who was also called Herodias, the offspring of a viper, the devil’s tool in her perdition. This is why John, quite rightly, rebuked him. This castigation, however, was not hubristic and was not spoken in order to wound Herod’s soul and dignity, but it was more of a reminder, the aim of which was to bring him to his senses.
So what did he say to Herod? “You’re not allowed to live with her”. He reminded him of the divine law, as if saying to him: “Look and see what the Law orders you to do. If there are two brothers and one of them dies without issue, the widow is not allowed to marry a stranger. The brother of the deceased shall marry her and the child who is born will take the name of the deceased, and thus his name will not be lost in Israel (Deut. 15, 5). That’s what the law says. But you’ve taken the wife of your brother and she already has a child. Don’t transgress against the ordinance put in place by the legislator. And don’t soil your royal purple with inadmissible incest. Don’t be seen to be doing something illegal when you should be giving your subjects an example of willing and glad observance of the law. And if you do fall into this error, you’ll be punished, because those in high office are punished more severely”.
But since he’d only recently come to power, Herod forgot about God. He was furious, boiling with rage, and would not accept the rebuke. He did not imitate David, who, when he was chastised by the prophet Nathan for the sin of adultery, said: “I have sinned before you, Lord” (II Kings 12-13). And the Lord forgave him, because of his humility. Herod, on the other hand, had John arrested, bound and cast into prison (Matth. 14, 3). So the one who was a prisoner of the passion of lewdness arrested him who lived in the most sublime freedom, because of his holy life. He who was bound by the magical cords of debauchery, put bonds on him who was liberated from all things, living as he did outside any binding relationship. He who was, in practice, sinking deep into the mire, put in prison him who was the guard and herald of the Church.
For the sake of Herodias, the wife of his brother, Philip (Matth. 14, 9). For the sake of Herodias, who shared the morals of Delilah, a true tool of the devil. Because it was she who encouraged him who shared her bed- or illicit love we should really say- and made him furious with John. She told him: “I’m a queen and I can’t be made a laughing-stock by the son of Zachariah. Imprison the tongue that’s breaking my bones. Stab, at once, him whose words are wounding my soul like arrows”. And although he wanted to put him to death, he didn’t do so because he was afraid of the people, who considered John a prophet and respected him as such (Matth. 14, 5). Because if people in power want to do something illegal, they can’t execute it as soon as they’ve thought of it, for two reasons: first because they’re ashamed and fear their subjects; and second because they wait until the opportunity arises to put into effect the hatred in their souls without risk to themselves.
So while they were celebrating Herod’s birthday, Herodias’ daughter came out in front of them and danced. She pleased Herod very much and he swore to grant her anything she wanted (Matth. 14, 6).
On the day when he ought to have been thanking God for bringing him into the light of this life, he chose the works of darkness.. This was a day meant for spiritual joy, not for dancing, and certainly not for women dancing in front of men. What did this dance produce? The oath. And from that? Murder. Root out evil and lawlessness will not flourish. But if evil does take root, it’ll bear fruit, that is, it’ll be put into effect. Herodias’ daughter danced in the midst of the guests and pleased Herod. What else would the harlot-trained girl have learned from her mother, other than to dance provocatively and with such skill as to please Herod greatly. This is why he swore an oath to grant her whatever she wished. This is how rashly the tongues of people run away with them when they lose themselves in the passions of degradation: they blurt out in front of everyone, without thinking, whatever comes into their mind. The girl, schooled by her mother, brought about the hideous decapitation of Saint John, which the venomous Herodias had been wanting to achieve for a long time. I imagine she would have said: “This is the chance we’ve been looking for, my child. You’ve managed, with your dancing feet, to get him to offer me what I wanted. You’ve ended my pain with your skilful song. Let’s bury the man who’s rebuking us. Go quickly and tell Herod: ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head on a platter’ (Matth. 14, 8). What a ferocious and murderous demand! Even though she didn’t have the right to think and enjoy the spectacle of the murder, she outdid everyone in cruelty. What a crazed murderess! Not content with decapitation, you arranged for the head to be brought to you on a platter. What a depraved and debauched woman! Your brutality outstrips even that of blood-stained Jezebel.
The Gospel tells us that the king was saddened. But because he had sworn an oath and had promised in front of his guests, he ordered that she be given the head. He sent to the prison and had John beheaded. Then they set the head on a platter and brought it to the girl and her mother (Matth. 14, 11).
What an evil end to a diabolical coil! Who aimed the stroke of the deathly sword at the saintly head? A lawless servant, who like another Doeg, did not imitate those Jews who with circumspection and bravery stood up to King Saul when he ordered them to murder God’s prophets. “And they brought the head of John on a platter”. What should we call this revel? A banquet or the scene of a murder? What should we call the addle-pated guests? Fellow diners or blood-stained participants?
What an unprecedented sight! What a sinful sight! On the one hand, they were offering chicken and, on the other, a platter with the head of a prophet. From one side, rich clear wine was flowing and from the other the blood of a righteous man was gushing.
How terrible it is for me to say it and dreadful to express!
“And they gave it to the girl and she took it to her mother”. What a sinful sight! Alas! How utterly macabre! The invaluable head was exchanged for a worthless action; the pure and inviolate head, worthy of respect even from the angels, was given for an accursed and impious act. And she handed it to her mother as if she were giving her well-cooked food. To her who in her manic fury had directed the death, as if the child were saying: “Here you are, mother, meat of the flesh of him who lived on earth as if fleshless. Drink the blood of the faster. Once and for all we’ve now shut the mouth of him who rebuked us”.
According to the Gospel, his disciples then came, took away his body and buried it (Matth. 14, 13). Those of you who love history, look at how the burial of this righteous man is depicted and gives the lie to those enemies of the holy icons, who are also enemies of the truth. Fix the story in your minds and draw useful conclusions. How they took the saint, bound in heavy chains, from the prison How the executioner, like a wild animal, raised the sword against the holy head. How, after the beheading, the myrrh-exuding head was offered to the raving Herodias. And also how the sacred body was buried by the hands of his disciples, who all stood there, in tears, with a pain that tore at their souls. How one embraced the feet of the saint, another tried to fit the head back on to the motionless body and another sang funeral hymns while censing the body.
Now I’m there in my mind’s eye and can see the funeral of the righteous man taking place in an atmosphere of peace, as is mentioned in the Prophet Isaiah [57, 1-2: “See how the just man has perished and no one takes it to heart, and righteous men are taken away and no-one considers it. For the righteous man has been removed by injustice. His burial shall be in peace”]. I envision that angelic face, whose eyes have set like two shining suns and on which all the beauty of his soul has been imprinted. Without any fleeting and earthly breath, but full of the overpowering fragrance of divine grace. I kiss those holy hands, which never touched sin and the finger that pointed people to Christ, Who took upon Himself the sin of the whole world. I fall down before those beautiful feet, which told the good news to people and through which the way of the presence of the Lord was prepared. Bring me, so that I may reverence it, the honourable chain with which the most precious and angel-like of men was bound. Bring me the venerable platter on which the revered head- more precious than gold and jewels- was placed. Had I been there, I wouldn’t have omitted to pay my respects to the murderous sword which sliced through the holy neck, nor would I have hesitated to cover with kisses the ground where the treasure was laid, in the certainty that this, too, would bring me divine grace. Blessed grave and joyous tomb-stone, that cover the thrice-blessed corpse and wrap the body more precious than a mass of emeralds and pearls.
So at this scene there were the visible company of his disciples and an invisible host of angels, praising, glorifying and hymning John, bearing to eternal joy him who lived as a bodiless angel and foretold the coming of the Messiah. He who was a genuine friend of the Lord, who guided the Church to the celestial Bridegroom, the undimmed lamp of the ineffable light, the living voice of God the Word, who was superior to the prophets, greater than any man ever born of woman. The burial of this righteous man, then, was peaceful, as we’ve described it, a harbinger of joy and salvation to the whole world.
So did the insane Herod manage to escape punishment for his profanity for the rest of his life on earth? Of course not. On the contrary, because of this misdeed, all his subjects rose up against him and he was deposed. In this way, God wanted to frighten and admonish later kings, to prevent them committing similar crimes. But to return to our theme, let us acclaim this day as is proper.
Today, John the Forerunner is praised because he sacrifices his head for the truth, and Herod the transgressor is ridiculed and mocked. Today, John the Forerunner is lauded by all for his stern rebuke, and the insane Herod is dishonoured through his adultery. Today, the head of John the Forerunner is offered as a sacred sacrifice on a platter, and the adulteress Herodias, against her will, receives eternal condemnation. Today, the blood of John the Forerunner is shed because he observed the divine law and he who opposed the Baptist by breaking the law is rightly driven out. Today, because of forthrightness towards Herod, John the Forerunner is beheaded for upholding righteousness.
This is the way the kings of the earth learn not to put away their lawful wives and they condemn him who did so. Today, John the Baptist plants a landmark in the ground and urges all men to be satisfied with their lawful wife and to go no further than that. Today, John the Forerunner descends into Hell and the dead receive the glad tidings of the presence of Christ. Today, the heavens rejoice over the decapitation of John the Forerunner, who was sacrificed for God’s justice; while people on earth celebrate with hymns of thanksgiving. And in my view, the Honourable Forerunner is watching us from the heavens and rewarding with divine gifts those who praise him with hymns. Among the choir of the prophets, like the morning star, he rises and illumines the firmament of the Church. Among the apostles, before them and more than them he shines as a sun among suns. Among the martyrs, he is distinguished for his miracles, like a star-decked sky. Among the righteous he stands out for the many trials he suffered, for the sake of justice, and he who spread joy throughout the world is elevated higher than the cedars of Lebanon.
Because if, according to Saint Luke (2, 10) many people rejoiced at his birth, the joy on this the day of his martyr’s death should be equivalent. We have been found worthy to celebrate it, all of us, priests, hermits, coenobites and lay people, because everyone has a share in the joy his message provides. And may his intercessions be even more with us, who live in this holy monastery, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
To Whom is due glory and power, together with the Father and the All-Holy and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the unending ages of ages. Amen.