August 29, 2023

Homily One on the Feast of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on August 30/September 12, 1950)

It was completely dark in the stone cellar in which the Forerunner and Baptist of Christ was imprisoned. There was no sunlight there, but the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it (John 1:5). And the light of Christ illuminated this terrible darkness and the heart of the Forerunner. He knew that he was going to be executed; waiting for death from minute to minute. But don't we hear in the troparion of this feast that he gave his life for the Lord Jesus Christ with joy. The holy Apostle Paul looked forward to his death and longed to be united with Christ as soon as possible. Of course, the soul of Saint John the Baptist was filled with the same feeling.

Saint John knew that his holy work would not end there, he knew that he had to go down to where the souls of those who had died from the ages were imprisoned, and preach to them about Christ. He calmly waited, and the darkness of his prison was illuminated by the light of Christ.

In the great hall of Herod's palace many lamps were burning; it was light there, everything shone: the silver and gold of the dishes and goblets from which the royal guests drank sparkled; precious stones sparkled on the clothes of Herod and his companions. But in the hearts of those who feasted with the accursed Herod, these unrighteous judges, who enriched themselves at the expense of the people, lived in luxury and bliss and constantly feasted, there was devilish darkness when they followed the dance of Herodias' half-naked daughter Salome with drunken voluptuous eyes.

But what was in the dungeon of Saint John the Baptist, and what happened in Herod's palace happens in our lives too. An innumerable multitude of holy martyrs shed their holy blood for Christ, like Saint John the Baptist, and the light of Christ shone in their hearts even when they were languishing in prison. The bodies of the great venerables, exhausted by fasting and vigil, were dressed in dark tattered cassocks, in which the holy hearts of the friends of God, the brothers of Christ, were beating. What shall we say about those sumptuous outfits that the rich and harlots wear? Their obese, stinking bodies are covered with jewels, gold and silver. And in their hearts there is darkness: there is no light of Christ.

Not only in our lives, not only in people, do we see this contrast between light and darkness, between good and evil, but even in inanimate nature. Coal is rough, ugly, but how much good and useful energy it contains: it warms us in winter, moves trains, steamships, cars. The poor man, warmed by black coal, thanks God for the warmth. The warmth of coal creates warmth and gratitude in a person's heart.

Gold, silver, precious stones sparkle, captivating people, and the greedy seek to possess them, thirst for them. So, they contain evil and sinful energy. Because of gold, because of silver, because of precious stones, a lot of human blood has been shed, an immeasurable number of crimes have been committed.

The holy apostle Paul said that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). It poisons the heart of man, for those who strive for wealth stop at nothing. And those who manage to get rich do not thank God: gold and silver do not arouse good feelings in them.

Therefore, let us remember the darkness in the dungeon of the Forerunner, let us remember the good energy of coal and the evil energy of gold and silver. Let us remember the black cassocks of the great saints, and especially the bloodied head of the Forerunner and Baptist of Christ John. On a golden platter filled with blood, this holy head, shining with Divine light, was brought to the accursed feast. The head was still alive, for a severed head does not immediately die. The Baptist's eyebrows moved in agony, his lips tightened, the corners of his mouth drooped. The drunken guests of Herod looked at this chapter with embarrassment, some even with fear. And the accursed Herodias, this disciple of the all-sly devil, who demanded the execution of John the Baptist, looked at the bloody head with satanic joy. This is how lust, voluptuousness and the desire for a luxurious royal life disfigured the heart of this woman, made it diabolical.

And how will we look at the holy icon, which depicts the head of Saint John the Baptist lying on a platter? With fear, trembling, with reverence, bowing before the great feat of the one whose life was a continuous service to the highest truth. With love and reverence, let us look at this icon, let us pray to the great martyr of Christ, called in Holy Scripture the Angel who prepares the way for our Savior. Let us send a prayer to him, so as not to be cowardly and faint-hearted, when it is necessary to confess the name of Christ, to rise up for the reviled truth. Let us also ask the One Whom he baptized in the Jordan, so that by His grace-filled power He would help us to strive for the truth. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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