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First and Second Findings of the Precious Head of Saint John the Baptist

On March 9th (February 24th, old style), the Church celebrates the first and second findings of the precious head of Saint John the Baptist.

When St. John the Baptist was beheaded at the iniquitous feast of King Herod, the daughter of Herodias took the precious head upon a salver and carried it to her mother. The sinful Herodias pierced with a needle the tongue of the saint who had so often denounced her evil deeds, and after treating the precious head sacrilegiously, she forbad its burial together with the Baptists body: Herodias was afraid that if Johns head were buried together with his body, he would arise from the dead and would again denounce her. St. Johns disciples secretly took his body and buried it during the night in the city of Sebastia in Samaria. The Baptists head was deeply buried by Herodias in Herods palace. Only one of her maids knew of the burial place, and sorrowing over the murder of the great prophet and the sacrilegious treatment of his head, she secretly dug it out during the night, put it in a clay vessel, and hid it in one of Herods estates on the Mount of Olives.

After a long time had passed, a certain nobleman by the name of Innocent bought this place on the Mount of Olives, which had formerly belonged to King Herod, built a cell for himself there, and became a monastic. Afterwards, wishing to build a small stone church for himself, he began to dig the earth to lay a foundation for the church, and found this clay vessel with the head of the Baptist, which began to manifest many wonders and miracles. Monk Innocent took care of this treasure with great reverence, but just before his death, seeing how paganism had once again become widespread all around him, he buried the Baptists head anew, in order to preserve it from further sacrilege.

Saint John the Baptist
Saint John the Baptist.
During the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great, two monks, who had come to Jerusalem to venerate the holy tomb of Christ, found the Baptists head on the Mount of Olives. Subsequently it was passed hereditarily from one Christian family to another, until it came into the possession of a certain Arian heretic by the name of Eustace, who hid it in a certain cave, where later a monastery was founded. By the will of God, the abbot of this monastery, Marcellus, guided by a miraculous vision of the Baptist himself, once again found this sacred treasure in 452 A.D., and the precious head again manifested great miracles.

Homily about two feasts

One of the feasts, described in the parable of the feast of the chosen, was given by the King in a spirit of goodwill and mercy. However, when the feast was ready, those who were invited did not come. Some preferred to take care of business, others of family matters; some, seizing the messengers, insulted them and even killed them. In great wrath the King punished the offenders, and then once again sent His servants to summon to the feast all those whom they met. This time many came to the feast, and when the King came in to look at them, He found one who was not dressed in festive raiment. The King asked him why he was not dressed properly, but the latter remained silent, thus showing disdain for the King and an unwillingness to participate in the feast, for which he was cast out. Thus, many were invited to the feast, but few were chosen to participate.

The other feast was not a parable but reality. That was the feast of the iniquitous Herod. Apparently none of those who were invited refused to come, all were dressed festively and had a merry time. The feast progressed with much drunkenness and lechery, unhampered by shame or conscience, and ended with one of the greatest crimes in history - the beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

These two feasts are the symbols of two ways of life, two kinds of delight. The first is the symbol of a spiritual feast, of spiritual pleasure. It is given by the Lord, and this feast is the Church of Christ. We are invited to this feast when we are summoned to attend church services, especially the Divine Liturgy, and to partake of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, to do good, to be spiritually attentive to ourselves. We refuse to attend this feast when we do not come to church, when we do evil instead of good, when we prefer temporal affairs to divine life. We come in improper garments when we bring a dark sinful attitude into our life. Each one of us is invited to this feast many times daily, and we refuse each time we prefer the carnal and the sinful to the spiritual and the divine.

We are also invited to the feast of Herod many times daily. We often do not notice right away that we are being tempted by evil. Sin begins with small things. Even Herod initially listened to St. John the Baptist with great pleasure, was acutely aware of the sinfulness of his own actions, but did not struggle against his sins and finally ended up with murdering this greatest of Saints. We attend this iniquitous Herods feast each time we choose evil over good, each time we choose carnal, sinful delights, mercilessness, inattentiveness to our souls, etc.

Having begun with small things, it is hard to stop in time, and if we do not make an effort to come to ourselves, we can end up with the greatest sins and crimes, which will be followed by eternal damnation.

And even now St. John the Baptist cries out to each one of us: Repent, for the Heavenly Kingdom is at hand. Repent, in order to rejoice in the bright and eternal realm of the Lamb, Who has been sacrificed for the sins of the whole world, and not to share with the devil the feast of evil and torture in the outer darkness of hell.

Saint John of San-Francisco
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