Story-day is for cultural exploration, puraanas and parables and finding out about leading lights in spiritual philosophy.
Gracious, we are coming into holiday season! All over the world, there will be a flurry and variety of festivals. Some are purely 'local' or to specific sects. Others are larger and more widely celebrated. Last week there had been Raksha Bandhan and just two days ago, it was Krishna Janmaashtami, both of the Hindu calendar. On the 29th of August, though, there is a feast day of the Catholic church which may be lesser known; The Beheading of John the Baptist.
Herod Antipas, he who later scorned Yeshu Christos, had abandoned his first wife, an Arab princess, and taken Herodias to his bed. Herodias was the wife of Herod's half-brother Phillip, by whom she had the daughter, Salome. The royal adulterers were made of the same cloth; mean, self-satisfied, greedy, lustful.
Herod had imprisoned John after that saint had baptised the Lord, because John had decried the ruler for his ill-conduct with another man's woman. Herodias would have liked to have had the saint killed, but Herod was sufficiently aware of John's standing with the people and was afraid of giving them cause to rebel. Besides, he himself, according to Mark 6:20, would talk with John and even was impressed with his speech - even if he did not fully understand what he was being told. At some level, Herod understood this was no ordinary man. In fact, he declares him as an embodiment of the prophet Elijah.
However, on his birthday, Salome danced a mesmerising dance before him and, being besotted, the ruler asked what boon she would like. The girl, under her mother's influence, asked for the head of the Baptist. The ruler could not deny, for he had declared before the entire court that she could have whatever she wished. Regardless of any feeling that may have existed to that point, this was the opportunity of removing a 'thorn' from his side. Herod ordered the beheading.
This tale is well-known, in its own right. However, less well-known is that the day assigned to this happening is August 29th and that there is a solemn celebration of the event in Catholic churches, including the Anglican C of E. In almost all cases, the day is for fasting, rather than feasting, for this is seen as much of a tragedy as the crucifixion. In Eastern Orthodox traditions there may also be the avoidance of eating the break of fast from any flat plate, making use of a knife, or eating fruit that is round in shape… John's head having been delivered upon a platter, the knife representing the sword which beheaded him and, of course, the round fruit representative of the head itself.
These smaller occasions remind us that there is a purpose to all spiritual and sacred observations. They are not just an excuse for a 'knees up' and to gorge ourselves on rich and sweet foods. They are markers for our march through the year, yes, but also reminders of people greater in spirit than most of us can ever hope to be, from whom we can take example and, perhaps emulate. John the Baptist saw The Truth and spoke it loud, without fear for the consequences to himself. Courage and honesty are noble qualities indeed.