Beheading of St. John the Baptist
The preaching of John the Baptist was of short duration. Having prepared people to receive the Saviour, he ended his life with a martyr’s death. Soon after the baptism of the Lord, John was put in prison by the Galilean King Herod. This Galilean King, Herod Antipas, was the son of Herod the Great, who slaughtered the fourteen thousand Bethlehem infants.
John upbraided King Herod because he had married his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, even though his brother was still alive. Herodias became embittered against for this and wanted Herod to kill him. But Herod would not agree to this because he considered John to be a great prophet and feared the people. However, to appease her, he put John in prison. Herodias was not satisfied with this, especially as Herod himself listened with pleasure to the admonitions of John and often acted on his words.
About a year passed after the Forerunner’s imprisonment, when Herod celebrating his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers, and officers, and a thousand leading men of Galilee. Salome, the daughter of Herodias and stepdaughter of Herod, also came to this banquet. She danced for Herod, which pleased him and his guests.
Herod said to her, "Ask me for whatever you wish," and he swore he would have given her even half of his kingdom.
She went and asked her mother, "What shall I ask for?"
Herodias answered, "The head of John the Baptist."
Salome with haste returned to Herod and said, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter."
Herod was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests, he did not want to break his word to her, and sent a soldier to the prison to cut off the head of John. The soldier fulfilled the order of the king, brought the head of John the Baptist on a platter and gave it to Salome, and Salome gave it to her mother Herodias.
When his disciples heard of the death of John the Baptist, they came, and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
The day of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist is commemorated by the Holy Orthodox Church on the 29th of August and is called the Beheading of John the Baptist. A strict fast is prescribed on this day in order to remind us of the strict life of St. John the Baptist for which he was blessed by God and to avoid the excesses of Herod which led to such a terrible sin. The Holy Church teaches that St. John the Forerunner is the greatest of all saints after the Mother of God.
Note: See the Gospels of St Mathew 14:1-12; St Mark 6:14-29; and St. Luke 9, 7-9.