Sermon of Bishop Mitrophan (Znosko-Borovsky, +2002)
on the Beheading of the Honorable Head of John the Baptist
Today, as we celebrate the memory a great righteous man who suffered for truth, the Holy Church also commemorates Christian warriors who died for truth on the fields of battle.
Truth is what is dearest of all to a Christian. Without truth, there can be no life. Truth is brighter than the sun, a Russian proverb tells us.
St John the Baptist lived in truth, he taught truth and always spoke the truth, even to the powerful of this world, denouncing their lawlessness. For the truth, he was thrown in prison, for the truth, he was beheaded. With his sufferings and martyric end, St John the Baptist did not only seal his dedication to truth and purity in thought and life, but inspired us to love truth, to revere truth. To suffer for the Truth—not some minor, selfish personal truth, but the Truth of God—is the highest honor and glory on earth. Is this not why the memory of this man of righteousness, St John the Baptist, glorified by the Church eight times a year, and to whom every Tuesday of every week is devoted?
In our day, sadly, many live like the unchaste King Herod lived. Many dismiss Divine Truth, live by their own lowly “truth,” have no quarter for God’s commandments and the Mysteries of the Church, or honor or conscience. To justify themselves, such people—usually the young—point to others: They live like this, and many others, too… But this does not excuse rejecting God’s commandments. They also say that today there are new points of view, different attitudes, different customs and rules—the rules of Christianity, they say, are outdated. These unfortunate people forget that the commandments of Christ are unchanging, unchangeable, like Christ Himself said—the truth of the Lord abides forever, and “not one iota, not one serif, will disappear from the Law of God.”
My beloved friends, we clearly observe that rare are the happy people and families who live outside of the Law of God, as did Herod. Soon all sorts of problems arise, conflicts, unhappiness. We cannot forget that the Lord punishes all lawlessness, if not in this life, then in the next. And so Herod did not enjoy the pleasures of life for long: he was soon exiled, where he lived in poverty with his family, his days ended in unhappiness. And his wife’s daughter, who entertained him with her dancing, while walking over a sheet of ice, fell through, and the ice sliced off her head, which was then brought to her mother.
Life is not for pleasure, life is for labor and podvig to the glory of God, for love for one’s neighbor. Who looks upon life as a source of pleasure, who wastes time on empty amusements, must remember and know that earthly pleasures begin with joy, but most of the time end with great sorrow, disappointment and an emptiness in the soul.
Life, it seems St John the Baptist is telling us, is standing in truth. How often, though, do we remain silent, observing how truth is trampled, we are silent out of fear, lest the wrath befall us, or lose a friend. The great man of righteousness reminds us that love for God inseparable from standing in truth. The love of a person who abides in Divine truth provides a spark in our hearts, which does not tolerate evil, does not tolerate the violation of truth, but burns away both ambition and fear.
May the prayers of the Holy Forerunner teach all of us to love the Lord, truth and to live in truth, overcoming our soul’s weaknesses!
Let us pray for the warriors who died in Christ, who laid down their lives on the fields of battle for the faith and truth, may the Lord grant them peace through the prayers of St John the Forerunner, and that He has mercy upon us and gives us salvation, for He is Good and the Lover of Mankind. Amen.