August 29: Orthodox saints

The Beheading of the Prophet, ForeRunner of the Lord, John the Baptist:

The Evangelists Matthew (Matthew 14:1-12) and Mark (Mark 6:14-29) provide accounts about the death of John the Baptist.

Following the Baptism of the Lord, John the Baptist was locked up in prison by Herod Antipas, holding one-fourth the rule of the Holy Land as governor of Galilee. John the Baptist openly denounced Herod for having left his lawful wife -- the daughter of the Arabian king Aretas -- and then instead co-habiting with Herodias -- the wife of his brother Philip (Luke 3:19-20).

On his birthday, Herod made a feast for dignitaries, the elders and a thousand chief citizens. The daughter of Herod, Salome, danced before the guests and charmed Herod. In gratitude to the girl he swore to give her anything, whatsoever she would ask, anything up to half his kingdom. Salome--on the advice of her mother Herodias--asked, that she be given at once the head of John the Baptist on a plate. Herod became apprehensive, for he feared the wrath of God for the murder of a prophet, whom earlier he had heeded. He feared also the people, who loved John the Baptist. But because of the guests and his careless oath, he gave the order for the execution.

Salome took the plate with the head of Saint John and gave it to her mother. Herodias buried his head in a unclean place. But, by tradition, Joanna, wife of Herod's steward Chuza, took the head and buried it in an earthen vessel on the Mount of Olives, where Herod was possessor of a parcel of land. The body of John the Baptist was taken that night by his disciples and buried at Sebasteia (now, Sivas).

The traditional also states that the judgement of God came upon Herod, Herodias, and Salome. Salome, crossing the River Sikoris in winter, fell through the ice. The Arab king Aretas in revenge for the disrespect shown his daughter made war against Herod. For this defeat, the Roman emperor Caius Caligua (37-41) exiled Herod with Herodias first to Gaul, and then to Spain.

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Mount of Olives

Sebasteia (now, Sivas)

Gaul under the Romans

Spain under the Romans


Herod Antipas




Caius Caligua


the play, by Oscar Wilde

by Gustav Flaubert


 The Martyr Anastasii, a Bulgarian, was born in 1774 in the Strumnitsk diocese, in the village of Radovicha. His parents gave him over to military studies.

When Anastasii was 20 years old, he happened to be with his teacher in Soluneia [Thessalonika]. The teacher wanted to sell some Turkish clothes without paying the customary duty-tax. He told Anastasii to dress himself as a Turk and go into the city. However, the collectors of the duty-tax [haraje] stopped him and demanded the written receipt [teskere] of duty-tax payment. Anastasii answered that he was a Turk. Thereupon the collectors demanded him to recite the salutation with the Mahometan prayer. Anastasii became confused and quiet, so the collectors sent to the commander, who in interrogating the Anastasii offered him Turkish citizenship. Anastasii refused, and was led away to the chief tax-collector.

The chief tax-collector tried at first to flatter, then to threaten Anastasii, who admitted his civil guilt, but would not agree to betray his faith. The chief tax-collector made this situation known to the mufti [see Definitions, right], who replied, "You have in one hand the sword, in the other the law; use whichever you wish." The chief tax-collector knew that, by law, he ought to take the duty-tax from Anastasii, but then, by judgement of the mufti, the chief tax-collector would not be a follower of Mahomet, armed with a sword.

So, the chief tax-collector sent the youth to the local mullah [see Definitions, right] together with five Turks, who were obliged to testify that the Christian had blasphemed the Mahometan faith. To the accusations of blasphemy against Mahomet by these witnesses, Anastasii honestly answered that he did not blaspheme Mahomet, but he had shown disrespect for Mahometan customs. He was executed on 29 August 1794.

Notes for this article






a Muslim scholar who interprets the shari'a (the code of law based on the Koran).

a Muslim trained in the doctrine and law of Islam; the head of a mosque.