Monthly Archives: August 2015

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

beheadingofjohnThe Beheading of the Prophet, Forerunner of the Lord, John the Baptist: The Evangelists Matthew (Mt.14:1-12) and Mark (Mark 6:14-29) provide accounts about the martyric end of John the Baptist in the year 32 after the Birth of Christ.
Following the Baptism of the Lord, St John the Baptist was locked up in prison by Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch (ruler of one fourth of the Holy Land) and governor of Galilee. (After the death of king Herod the Great, the Romans divided the territory of Palestine into four parts, and put a governor in charge of each part. Herod Antipas received Galilee from the emperor Augustus).
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). 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.
The Beheading of St John the Baptist, a Feast day established by the Church, is also a strict fast day because of the grief of Christians at the violent death of the saint. In some Orthodox cultures pious people will not eat food from a flat plate, use a knife, or eat food that is round in shape on this day.
Today the Church makes remembrance of Orthodox soldiers killed on the field of battle, as established in 1769 at the time of Russia’s war with the Turks and the Poles.

Link to Article: Beheading of St. John the Baptist

The Dormition (Falling asleep) of the Mother of God – August 15th

Sometimes this feast is called the Assumption, but this name is more prevalent in the Catholic West than the Orthodox East.

Icon DormitionThis feast commemorates the death (falling asleep: the literal meaning of dormition) of Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos). It tells us that when she died, her soul was immediately taken up into heaven by Jesus Christ and that three days later her tomb was found empty,showing that her body had been resurrected.
There is no biblical basis for this feast, all of our knowledge of it comes from tradition. Of course, sceptics would say this is a myth, but there is a curious fact that supports the Orthodox tradition. That is the fact that, although several places in the Middle East claim to have the tomb of Mary, there is no tradition of the Theotokos being venerated in the tomb. In other words, there is no tradition of the veneration of her relics in any place. In the early church, when a holy person had died, the person’s relics were venerated in the tomb where they lay. There is not tradition of this in regard to the Theotokos.
But this feast has a real significance for us as believers and that is that she is the first human Tomb of the Theotokosbeing that Christ resurrected from the dead, and this is to be our destiny also. Christ obviously rose first from the dead, but Christ is a divine person, so His resurrection and ours re somewhat different. The basic idea is this: when Adam and Eve sinned they and all humanity following them are subject to death. That is we all die. But this is not what God intended for us. He created us for an embodied existence, not simply for the survival of the soul. So when Christ died and rose again he freed all of humanity from the bonds of death. So at the end of time all human beings will be raised from the tomb to meet the last judgment.
The raising up of the Mother of God was the first example of what God intends for all of us, showing that the end of time death will be destroyed and all of humanity will live the eternal, embodied existence which Mary lives now.
*Although Christ raised Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus and the son of the widow of Nain, they lived a normal human life and died normally at the end of their lives.

Troparion — Tone 1

In giving birth you preserved your virginity, / In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos. / You were translated to life, O Mother of Life, / And by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death.

Kontakion — Tone 2

Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos, / Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. / For being the Mother of Life, / She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.

Fr. John

The Glorification of St. Herman of Alaska (August 9, 1970)

Icon St. HermanSt. Herman is the first Orthodox saint glorified (canonized) in North America. Some sources say he was born in Serpukhov, Russia in the 1750s. More modern research indicates that he was born in the Voronezh region. His pre-monastic name, both first name and last name are not known for certain. He entered the Sarov monastery but later moved to Valaam monastery where his monastic tonsure (becoming a full-fledged monk) took place. It was there that he was initiated into the practice of the Jesus Prayer. When he wanted to be a hermit, Abbot Nazarius granted him a hermitage a short way from the monastery. He was offered the rank of priest, but in his humility he refused.
In the period of 1741-1748 Russian explorers andSt. Herman Kodiak Cathedral merchants began a fur business in Russian America (Alaska). This became the Russian American Company. The head of the company asked for a priest to be sent to Alaska (specifically Kodiak Island) to teach the Alaskan natives about Orthodox Christianity. The Empress Catherine the Great decided to send a multiple-member mission to Kodiak. St. Herman was among the ten monks from Valaam sent there. They arrived in 1794. The situation they found was quite harsh. The natives were mistreated by their Russian superiors and the supplies given to the monks for agriculture were inadequate. However, the monks survived their harsh conditions and became defenders of the natives. Many thousands of natives were baptized.
St. Herman - J&D on Spruce IslandIn 1807 St. Herman became head of the mission, even though he was not a priest. Wanting to be a hermit again, he moved from Kodiak Island to Spruce Island, a sparsely populated island one mile from Kodiak. He tried to live as a hermit, but native Alaskans found their way to him. He died on Spruce Island in 1836 and legend says that when he died a pillar of light soared into the sky and everyone on Kodiak Island knew he had fallen asleep.
He was a beloved figure, called “Apa” (grandfather) by the natives. He St. Herman reliquaryis known to have worked miracles and eventually was glorified in 1970 by the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and the Russian Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). At that time his relics were moved from Spruce Island to the cathedral in Kodiak.
St. Herman Chapel on Spruce IslandSt. Herman is still loved by the native Alaskans (and many others) and on the anniversary of his canonization in August pilgrims come from all over America and even the world to venerate his relics in Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak and the places he labored and lived on Spruce Island.
Recently, an article was published telling of an act of vandalism thatSt. Herman - Spruce Island took place in the cathedral in Kodiak. There was extensive damage to the building, many windows were broken, the holy vessels were tossed on the ground and the relics were broken into. St. Herman’s skufia was tossed across the room but St. Herman, himself, was left alone.  Attached is the article from the OCA website about this.

Troparion — Tone 7

Joyful North Star of the Church of Christ, Guiding all people to the Heavenly Kingdom; Teacher and apostle of the True Faith; Intercessor and defender of the oppressed; Adornment of the Orthodox adornment of the Orthodox Church in America: Blessed Father Herman of Alaska, Pray to our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of our souls!

Troparion of the Akathist — Tone 4

O blessed Father Herman of Alaska, North star of Christ’s holy Church, the light of your holy life and great deeds guides those who follow the Orthodox way. Together we lift high the Holy Cross you planted firmly in America. Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ, singing his holy Resurrection.

Kontakion — Tone 3

The eternal light of Christ our Savior guided you, blessed Father Herman, on your evangelical your evangelical journey to America to proclaim the Gospel of peace. Now you stand before the throne of glory; intercede for your land and its people: Peace for the world and salvation for our souls!

Fr. John

The Translation of the Relics of St. Stephen – Archdeacon and Protomartyr (first martyr) – Died about 34 AD

Icon Stephen the ProtomartyrNo doubt most of us have seen services with deacons. They add beauty and solemnity to the Liturgy, particularly when they are serving with a bishop present. However, a deacon’s rule is not limited to serving at a bishop’s liturgy. For example, on occasion, a deacon can preach. Deacons can distribute Holy Communion, especially when they are visiting the sick. Deacons also have the role of supporting the charitable outreach of the church, helping those in need, for example, feeding the hungry.
The beginning of the office of deacon is found in chapter six of the Acts of the Apostles. At that time the young Christian church was distributing food to the hungry in Jerusalem. However, important though this was, the apostles felt that their mission was primarily to preach and teach the Gospel. So they ordained seven men to serve the hungry.
These were first deacons and the word “deacon” actually means one who serves. Among them was St. Stephen. St. Stephen helped the needy but he also boldly preached the Gospel. Because of this, he was arrested and put on trial before the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. At his trial, and in his defense, he told of how God had chosen the Jewish people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. St. Stephen talked in detail of how the coming of Christ had been prepared for during the Old Testament times, showing that Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. This speech so offended the Jewish leaders that they condemned St. Stephen to death by stoning. As he was being stoned he saw a vision of Jesus Christ and moments before his death prayed that those who stoned him would be forgiven much as Christ forgave those who crucified Him.
We see, therefore, that St. Stephen was one of the first deacons and was the protomartyr, i.e., the first martyr, of the early Christian church. Interesting, Saul (later the Apostle Paul) was among the crowd present on that occasion.

Troparion — Tone 4

Your relics have risen from the depths of the earth, like a treasury for the immortal life of all
of creation. The Church, rejoicing in the grace that she receives from them, duteously honors you, Protomartyr Stephen. Preserve us from error and heresy by your intercession!

Kontakion — Tone 6

You were the first to be sown on the earth by the Heavenly Husbandman, O all-praised one. You were the first to shed your blood on the earth for Christ, O blessed one. You were the first to receive the crown of victory from Him in heaven, Stephen, first of the suffering God-crowned martyrs.

Fr. John