St. John the Baptist icon

Remembering the Beheading
of St. John the Baptist

Commemorated August 29 (September 11)

In Matthew 14:1-12 we read about the cruel death of John the Baptist. John had publicly reprimanded Herod for taking his brother's wife as his own, so Herod had him imprisoned. Although Herod really wanted John dead, he feared the many people who believed John to be a prophet. [Indeed, we in the Orthodox Church consider him to be the last of the Old Testament prophets.] During his riotous birthday party, Herod was so pleased with the dancing of his wife's daughter Salome that he promised her anything she wanted. Her mother prompted her to say, "the head of John the Baptist on a platter." Even though Herod regretted his promise, he had to abide by it because his guests had heard him. So he commanded that John be beheaded and that the head be given to Salome, who in turn, gave it to her mother.

The Orthodox Church keeps this day as a strict fast day (i.e. no meat, fish, dairy, wine or olive oil) as a reminder that we are to live a different style of life that Herod. In memory of this event, some Orthodox Christians keep the custom of not using dishes on this day, since John's head was served on a dish/platter. Instead, only bowls are used. Also, the food that is served on this day should not require the use of a knife, since a sharp instrument was used to behead him.

Thus, we are given three ways to remember St. John's beheading: a strict fast, using bowls, eating food that is not cut. This year, incorporate at least one, if not all, of these customs to help your children learn the meaning of this feast day.

compiled by Phyllis Meshel Onest, M.Div.

© 1998 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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