Orthodox River


March 08 2020 - February 24 2020

The First (IV) and the Second Discovery of the Head of John the ForeRunner. Monk Erasm of Pechersk, in the Nearer Caves (+ c. 1160). Sainted Ilarion, Bishop of Kizich. Saint Sophronios the Presbyter.

After the cutting off of the Head of the Prophet, ForeRunner and Baptist John (Comm. 29 August), his body was buried by disciples in the Samarian city of Sebasteia, and the venerable head was hidden by Herodias in an unclean place. Pious Joanna, wife of king Herod’s steward Chuza (there is made mention about him by the holy evangelist Luke – Lk 8: 3), secretly took the holy head and placed it into a vessel and buried it on the Mount of Olives – in one of the properties of Herod. After many years this property passed into the possession of the dignitary Innocentius, who began to build a church there. When they dug a trench for the foundation, the vessel with the venerable head of John the Baptist was uncovered. Innocentius recognised the great holiness of it from the signs of grace occurring from it. Thus occurred the First Discovery of the Head. Innocentius preserved it with great piety, but before his own death, fearful so that the holy relic should not be abused by unbelievers, he again hid it in that same place, where it was found…Upon his death the church fell into ruin and was destroyed.

During the days of Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine the Great (+ 337, Comm. 21 May), when the Christian faith began to flourish, the holy ForeRunner himself appeared twice unto two monks journeying to Jerusalem on pilgrimage to the holy places, and he revealed the location of his venerable head. The monks uncovered the holy relic and, placing it into a sack of camel-hair, they proceeded homewards. Along the way they encountered an un-named potter and gave him to carry the precious burden. Not knowing what he was carrying, the potter continued on his way. But the holy ForeRunner himself appeared to him and ordered him to flee from the careless and lazy monks, together with that which was in his hands. The potter concealed himself from the monks and at home he preserved the venerable head with reverence. Before his death he sealed it into a water-carrying vessel and gave it over to his sister. From that time the venerable head was successively preserved by pious christians, until the priest Eustathios infected with the Arian heresy – came into possession of it. He seduced a multitude of the infirm, healed by the holy head, adding abundance to the heresy. When his blasphemy was uncovered, he was compelled to flee. Having buried the holy relic in a cave, near Emessus, the heretic intended to afterwards return and again take possession of it for disseminating falsehood. But God did not permit this. Pious monks settled into the cave, and then at this place arose a monastery. In the year 452 Saint John the Baptist in a vision to the archimandrite of this monastery Marcellus indicated the place of concealment of his head. This became celebrated as the Second Discovery. The holy relic was transferred to Emessus, and later to Constantinople.

The Monk Erasm of Pechersk – Sainted Simon, bishop of Vladimir (+ 1226, Comm. 10 May), wrote about him to his friend the Monk Polykarp (+ 1182, Comm. 24 July): “There was at Pechersk the black-robed (chernorizets) Erasm. He acquired a legacy of fame in that everything he possessed he used for the adornment of the Pechersk church: he mounted many an icon, which even now are over the altar. But with him there occurred suchlike a temptation, that when he came to be impoverished, he then came to be disdainful. The spirit of evil then began to suggest to him: “It gaineth thee naught, that thou squandered possessions upon the church, yea better were it that thou used it on the poor”. Not having made proper sense about such thoughts, Erasm went into despondency and began to live carelessly. Because of his virtue the Gracious and Merciful God saved him. He brought upon him a grievous illness. In this sickness Erasm lay numb with closed eyes for seven days, hardly breathing. On the eighth day the brethren came to him and, seeing his terrible gasping, said: “Woe, woe to the soul of this brother, squandered in idleness. It beholds thee something and rebels, not leaving the body”. And here Erasm suddenly stood up, as though healthy, and said: “Fathers and brethren! I am exactly a sinner, and a sinner not having repented, as ye said, but here not have appeared to me our monastic fathers Antonii and Theodosii, and said: “We have prayed for thee, and the Lord hath given thee time for repentance. Then beheld I the All-Pure Mother of God with Christ Son of God on Her arms, and She saith to me: “Erasm, since thou did adorn My Church with icons, I likewise adorn thee in the Kingdom of my Son! Arise, repent, put on the angelic form, and on the third day I shalt take thee to Myself as one having loved the magnificence of My home”. Having said this, Erasm began to confess his sins before all without shame, then went to church and was envested in the schema, and on the third day he died” (+ c. 1160). The Monk Erasm was buried in the Nearer Caves. His memory is also 28 September and on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent.

© 1999 by translator Fr. S. Janos