The great and glorious Baptist John was beheaded at the wish and instigation of the wicked Herodias, the wife of Herod. When John was beheaded, Herodias ordered that his head not be buried with his body, for she feared that this awesome prophet would somehow resurrect. Therefore, she took his head and buried it deep in the ground in a secluded and dishonorable place. Her maidservant was Joanna, the wife of Chuza, a courtier of Herod. The good and devout Johanna could not tolerate that the head of the man of God should remain in this dishonorable place. She secretly unearthed it, took it to Jerusalem and buried it on the Mount of Olives. After a considerable period of time, an eminent land owner came to faith in Christ, left his position and the vanity of the world and became a monk, taking the name Innocent. As a monk, he took up his abode of the Mount of Olives, in the exact place where the head of the Baptist was buried. Wanting to build a cell for himself, he dug deeply and discovered an earthen vessel containing a head, which was mysteriously revealed to him to be the head of the Baptist. He reverenced it and re-buried it in the same spot. Later, according to God‘s providence, this miracle-working head traveled from place to place, then sank into the darkness of forgetfulness and was again re-discovered. Finally, at the time of Patriarch Ignatius, during the reign of the pious Empress Theodora, it was translated to Constantinople.
The head of the forerunner arose from the earth like a star, sending out rays of healing and immortality. In heaven, it gathers together the choirs of angels, while on earth, it assembles the human race in a single voice to sing the glory of Christ our God.
O prophet of God and forerunner of grace, within the earth we have discovered your head, a rose of great holiness from which healing always comes to us. As you did of old, now also preach repentance to the world.
2 Corinthians 4: 6-15
Brothers and sisters: God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts, that we in turn might make known the glory of God shining on the face of Christ. This treasure we possess in earthen vessels to make it clear that its surpassing power comes from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed; full of doubts, we never despair. We are persecuted but never abandoned; we are struck down but never destroyed. Continually, we carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus may also be revealed. While we live we are constantly being delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh. Death is at work in us, but life in you. We have that spirit of faith of which the Scripture says, “Because I believed, I spoke out.” We believe and so we speak, knowing that he who raised up the Lord Jesus will raise us up along with Jesus and place both of us and you in his presence. Indeed, everything is ordered to your benefit, so that the grace bestowed in abundance may bring greater glory to God because they who give thanks are many.
Matthew 11: 2-15
At that time when John, in prison, heard about the works Christ was performing, he sent a message by his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you ‘He who is to come’ or do we look for another?” In reply, Jesus said to them: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, dead men are raised to life, and the poor have good news preached to them. Blest is the man who finds no stumbling block in me.”
As the messengers set off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out to the wasteland to see – a reed swaying in the wind? Tell me, what did you go out to see– someone luxuriously dressed? Remember, those who dress luxuriously are to be found in royal palaces. Why then did you go out – to see a prophet? A prophet indeed, and something more! It is about this man that Scripture says, ‘I send my messenger ahead of you to prepare your way before you.’
I solemnly assure you, history has not known a man born of a woman greater than John the Baptizer. Yet the least born into the kingdom of God is greater than he. From John the Baptizer’s time until now the kingdom of God has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. All the prophets as well as the law spoke prophetically about John. If you are prepared to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who was certain to come. Heed carefully what you hear!”
Jude 1: 11-25
[The godless people] have taken the road Cain took, They have abandoned themselves to Balaam’s error for pay, and like Korah they perish in rebellion. These men are blotches on your Christian banquets. They join your solemn feasts without shame and only look after themselves. They are blown on the wind like clouds that bring no rain. Like trees at the year’s end when they bear no fruit, being dead and uprooted. They are wild ocean waves, splashing their shameless deeds abroad like foam, or shooting stars for whom the thick gloom of darkness has been reserved forever. It was about these that Enoch who was of the seventh generation descended from Adam, prophesied when he said, “See, the Lord has come with his countless holy ones about him to pass judgment on all men, indicting the godless for every evil deed they have done, and convicting those godless sinners of every harsh word they have uttered against him.”
These men are grumblers and whiners. They live by their passions, uttering bombast. Whenever it is expedient, they resort to flattery. Remember, beloved, all of you, the prophetic words of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how they kept telling you, “In the last days there will be impostors living by their godless passions.” These sensualists, devoid of the Spirit, are causing division among you.
But you, beloved, grow strong in your holy faith through prayer in the Holy Spirit. Persevere in God’s love, and welcome the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ which leads to life eternal. Correct those who are confused; the others you must rescue, snatching them from the fire. Even with those you pity, be on your guard; abhor so much as their flesh-stained clothing.
There is One who can protect you from a fall and make you stand unblemished and exultant in the presence of his glory. Glory be to this only God our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Majesty, too, be his, might and power from ages past, now and for ages to come. Amen.
Luke 23: 1-34, 44-56
At that time the assembly rose up and led Jesus before Pilate. They started his prosecution by saying, “We found this man subverting our nation, opposing payment of taxes to Caesar, and calling himself the Messiah, a king.” Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “That is your term.” Pilate reported to the chief priests and the crowds, “I do not find a case against this man.” But they insisted, “He stirs up the people by his teaching throughout the whole of Judea, from Galilee, where he began, to this very place.” On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and when he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who also happened to be in Jerusalem at the time.
Herod was extremely pleased to see Jesus. From the reports about him he was hoping to see him work some miracle. Herod questioned Jesus at considerable length, but Jeus made no answer. The chief priests and scribes were at hand to accuse him vehemently. Herod and his guards treated him with contempt and insult, after which they put a magnificent robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate, who had previously been set against each other, became friends from that day.
Pilate then called together the chief priests, the ruling class, and the people, and said to them: “You have brought this man before me as one who subverts the people. I have examined him in your presence and have no charges against him arising from your allegations. Neither has Herod, who therefore has sent him back to us; obviously this man has done nothing that calls for death. Therefore I mean to release him, once I have taught him a lesson.” The whole crowd cried out, “Away with this man; release Barabbas for us!” This Barabbas had been thrown in prison for causing an uprising in the city, and for murder. Pilate addressed them again, for he wanted Jesus to be the one he released.
But they shouted back, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them for the third time, “What wrong is this man guilty of? I have not discovered anything about him that calls for the death penalty. I will therefore chastise him and release him.” But they demanded with loud cries that Jesus be crucified, and their shouts increased in violence. Pilate then decreed that what they demanded should be done. He released the one they asked for, who had been thrown in prison for insurrection and murder, and delivered Jesus up to their wishes.
As they lead Jesus away, they laid hold of one Simon the Cyrenean who was coming in from the fields. They put a crossbeam on Simon’s shoulder for him to carry along behind Jesus. A great crowd of people followed him, including women who beat their brests and lamented over him. Jesus turned to them and said: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves and for your children. The days are coming when they will say, ‘Happy are the sterile, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin saying to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ If they do these things in the green wood, what will happen in the dry?”
Two others who were criminals were led along with Jesus to be crucified. When they came to Skull Place, as it was called, they crucified him there and the criminals as well, one on his right and the other on his left. [Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”]
It was now around midday, and darkness came over the whole land until midafternoon with an eclipse of the sun. The curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two. Jesus uttered a loud cry and said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” After he said this, he expired. The centurion, upon seeing what had happened, gave glory to God by saying, “Surely this was an innocent man.” When the crows which had assembled for this spectacle saw what had happened, they went home beating their breasts. All his friends and the women who had accompanied him from Galilee were standing at a distance watching everything.
There was a man named Joseph, an upright and holy member of the Sanhedrin, who had not been associated with their plan or their action. He was from Arimathea, a Jewish town, and he looked expectantly for the reign of God. This man approached Pilate with a request for the body of Jesus. He took it down, wrapped it in fine linen, and placed it in a tomb hewn out of the rock, in which no one had yet been buried.
That was the Day of Preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed along behind, They saw the tomb and how his body was buried. Then they went home to prepare spices and perfumes. They observed the sabbath as a day of rest, in accordance with the law.
Icon courtesy of Jack Figel, Eastern Christian Publications – ecpubs.com
Wednesday, February 23 –