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Tribulation Times

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August 29, 2016 

(Mar 6:27-29) But sending an executioner, he commanded that his head should be brought in a dish. And he beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a dish: and gave to the damsel, and the damsel gave it her mother. Which his disciples hearing came, and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Martyrdom of St John the Baptist

BLOG: Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist

EXCERPT: The Beheading of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John

The prophet of God John openly denounced Herod for having left his lawful wife, the daughter of the Arabian king Aretas, and then instead cohabiting with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (Luke 3:19-20). On his birthday, Herod made a feast for dignitaries, the elders and a thousand chief citizens. Salome, the daughter of Herod, danced before the guests and charmed Herod. In gratitude to the girl, he swore to give her whatever she would ask, up to half his kingdom.

The vile girl on the advice of her wicked mother Herodias asked that she be given the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod became apprehensive, for he feared the wrath of God for the murder of a prophet, whom earlier he had heeded. He also feared the people, who loved the holy Forerunner. But because of the guests and his careless oath, he gave orders to cut off the head of St John and to give it to Salome.

According to Tradition, the mouth of the dead preacher of repentance once more opened and proclaimed: “Herod, you should not have the wife of your brother Philip.” Salome took the platter with the head of St John and gave it to her mother. The frenzied Herodias repeatedly stabbed the tongue of the prophet with a needle and buried his holy head in a unclean place. But the pious Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, buried the head of John the Baptist in an earthen vessel on the Mount of Olives, where Herod had a parcel of land. (The Uncovering of the Venerable Head is celebrated February 24 in the Orthodox Church). The holy body of John the Baptist was taken that night by his disciples and buried at Sebastia, there where the wicked deed had been done.

After the murder of St John the Baptist, Herod continued to govern for a certain time. Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, later sent Jesus Christ to him, Whom he mocked (Luke 23:7-12).

The judgment of God came upon Herod, Herodias and Salome, even during their earthly life. Salome, crossing the River Sikoris in winter, fell through the ice. The ice gave way in such a way that her body was in the water, but her head was trapped above the ice. It was similar to how she once had danced with her feet upon the ground, but now she flailed helplessly in the icy water. Thus she was trapped until that time when the sharp ice cut through her neck.

Her corpse was not found, but they brought the head to Herod and Herodias, as once they had brought them the head of St John the Baptist. The Arab king Aretas, in revenge for the disrespect shown his daughter, made war against Herod. The defeated Herod suffered the wrath of the Roman emperor Caius Caligua (37-41) and was exiled with Herodias first to Gaul, and then to Spain.

: Beheading of John the Baptist

The English word “martyr” comes to us from both Latin and Greek, the word “martyr” being translated as “witness,” the ultimate witness to Christ being the offering of our life’s blood.  I suspect that for most all of us here, we won’t likely face some kind of blood-red martyrdom, at least today, nonetheless, there will be countless occasions to give witness to Christ.  There will most likely be more than a few opportunities for us to “lay down our life” for a brother or sister, even today… not in some kind of ostentatious showings of heroism and notoriety, but in some very mundane and rather hidden ways.

Certain people who – as we say – absolutely “kill us,” we’ll be invited to forgive.  We’ll be invited, undoubtedly, to offer the generosity of our tried patience, the withholding of our judgment, the readiness to be helpful and not retiring, the opportunity to bless and not curse.  Not everyone, we pray, will face John the Baptist’s fate; but I would say that all of us who profess Jesus as our Lord and Savior will be invited to die more than once, maybe more than once a day, even today, to die, like a grain of wheat.  Something great or puny that we are sorely tempted to clutch at and save at all costs, some thing – some image of our selves, some impression or decision or resolution or right or fear or time that we feel is our possession – will get in the way of life, what Jesus calls “life,” if we don’t let it go, don’t give it up, don’t let it die.  Today will be a “killer” in the working out of our salvation and claiming this “abundant life” promised by Jesus.

In the SSJE brothers’ Rule of Life, we speak about an identification with martyrdom, not because we are monks but because we are baptized.  In our baptismal vows, we profess that we “have died with Christ and are raised with him.”   We do say in our Rule that “…from the beginning monks and nuns have been encouraged to understand their own life commitment in the light of the freedom and trust that enables martyrs to give up their lives to the glory of God.”  And we remind ourselves that “the witness of the martyrs should never be far from our minds as we go forward in the vowed life day by day.”  But we as monks recognize that our identification with martyrdom, which gives us the grace to surrender our lives to God through our monastic vows, comes from our the grace of baptism, where we – all of us here who are baptized –  “have died with Christ and are raised with him.”  What would that mean to you?  That you “have died with Christ and are raised with him?”

Surrender.  The surrendering of our lives.  Surrendering any notion that we “possess” our own lives.  My life does not belong to me.  That is how I would speak about having died with Christ and being raised with him.  We don’t possess our own lives.  I would say we are stewards of the life that God has given us, and for however long God continues to give us breath.  I think of it as being loaned back into life after baptism.  And so I would say that our life is not about hoarding or about conserving itself for its own sake but its opposite: about giving.  Our life is about willingly giving up our life and our life’s energies as we see in Christ’s own self-emptying.

A wonderful way to think and pray about the life you’ve been given to steward is to face into the certainty of your own death.  The only thing uncertain about death is how and when we will die.  Death is a part of life.  By facing into the inevitably of death you may find enormous freedom and clarity in the moments of life which are still ahead for you – be it as much as another day or week or month or year or perhaps many years.  (We brothers make our funeral plans and keep them up to date.  Your survivors would sure find that helpful if you did that… and in the meantime it might prove enormously helpful for you personally.)

So we say that in our baptism we give up the delusion that we possess our own life, and we acknowledge that our life needs to be salvaged by Christ.  And then we are loaned back into life for a little while with Jesus’ promise that he’s going to use us, he’s going to use you.  You will re-present Christ to this world – your sheer presence, your words, your touch, your actions, beyond which you could ask or imagine, and in ways that Christ will set up.  Channel it.  Channel that power, that light, that life, that love of Christ.  Channel it, generously, don’t hoard… and don’t worry.

As you leave the chapel this evening you might find it meaningful to dip your fingers in the holy water basins near a doorway.  This is baptismal water, placed there at the doorways as a reminder of our own baptism, where we “have died with Christ and are raised with him.”  We give up both the delusion and the burden of possessing life.  We acknowledge that we are neither the author nor finisher of life.  We’re a steward of life, a participant, a player, an agent, an ambassador on a short-term, mortal assignment by Christ.  Who knows for how long?  Give it your all; you will be given all you need.

Ladder of Divine Ascent excerpt: Step 7- "On Joy-Making Mourning"

11. During prayer and supplication, stand with trembling like a convict standing before a judge, so that, both by your outward appearance as well as by your inner disposition, you may extinguish the wrath of the just Judge; for He will not despise a widow soul standing before Him burdened with sorrow and wearying the Unwearying One (cf. Luke 18:5).

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