August 29, 2013: The Beheading of the Holy Glorious Prophet,Forerunner, and Baptist John
St Ignatius Orthodox Church, Madison WI
Epistle: Acts 13:25-33
Gospel: Mark 6:14-30
Reflecting on the threats to religious liberty in America, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago Francis Cardinal George has said in several public forums that while he expects to die peacefully in his bed, he believes his successor will die in prison and that the man who follows him will die a martyr. The Cardinal’s assessment may or may not be accurate—only time will tell—but his words do remind us that in many parts of the world, Christians live daily under the threat of a violent death. In Egypt and Syria, in Iraq and Iran and in many places around the world, men, women and even children are being persecuted and even killed because they are Christians. And these new confessors and martyrs Christ are Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Latin and Eastern Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical; in them we see a substantive ecumenism, a true reconciliation of divided Christendom (more here).
While Christians in North America and Europe are not currently facing martyrdom in any systematic fashion, we find ourselves increasingly marginalized. This isn’t, I hasten to add, because we live under secular forms of government. It is rather because cultural elites and members of the ruling class are becoming more openly hostile to Christ and the Gospel. While the slights we suffer are typically minor—especially compared to what our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering in the Middle East—we would do well to keep in mind how quickly rudeness can escalate into violence.
Today we remember the beheading of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John. The hymnography for the day tells us that John’s death was so that he could preach “even to those in hell the good tidings that God Who had appeared in the flesh takes away the sin of the world and grants us the great mercy” (Troparion for the feast). God called the cousin of Jesus not only to prepare the way for His Son in this life but also to prepare the way for those righteous men and women who died before Christ. It was John’s calling to announce to those Hades the Good News that their liberation from the powers of sin and death was at hand. Continue reading