In the Orthodox Church, John the Baptist is usually known as the Prophet John (Ivane) the Forerunner, because his ministry prepared the way for Christ’s mission. His martyrdom at the hands of the Tetrarch of Galilee Herod Antipas is celebrated today; the day is maintained as a strict fast.
The Icon of Ivane the Forerunner is commonly seen in churches here, with him represented wearing a garment of coarse animal fibre (traditionally, camel hair), and his face represented in very similar style to that of Christ (as they were cousins). Known as “The Angel of the Desert”, his icons sometimes show him with wings. As a lifelong Nazarite, he is shown with long hair and a full beard. From Orthodox Wiki: A Nazarite or Nazirite (Nazir in Hebrew) was a Jew who took an ascetic vow as described in Numbers 6:1-21. The term Nazarite comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning “consecrated” or “separated.” The Nazarite is “holy unto the Lord” (Numbers 6:8) and must keep himself from becoming ritually unclean. The regulations which apply to him actually agree with those for the High Priest and for the priests during worship, as described in Leviticus and in Ezekiel. This vow required the man to observe the following:
- Abstain from wine, vinegar (which was made from wine), grapes, raisins, and all intoxicants;
- Refrain from cutting one’s hair and beard;
- To avoid corpses, even those of a family member.
The vow was usually for a fixed period of time—30, 90 or even 100 days. At that time, the man would make a sacrifice that included a lamb, a ewe, a ram, and a basket of bread and cakes. There are cases where a parent would make this vow for her or his child, which the child would observe for his entire life. The angel (Luke 1:15) that announces the birth of John the Baptist foretells that “he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.” The implication is that John would take a lifelong Nazarite vow (see also Luke 7:33).
The Evangelists Matthew (Mt. 14: 1-12) and Mark (Mk. 6: 14-29) provide accounts about the Martyr’s end of John the Baptist in the year 32 after the Birth of Christ.
Following the Baptism of the Lord, Saint John the Baptist was locked up in prison by Herod Antipas, holding one-fourth the rule of the Holy Land as governor of Galilee. (After the death of king Herod the Great, the Romans divided the territory of Palestine into four parts, and into each part put a governor. Herod Antipas received from the emperor Augustus the rule of Galilee).
The prophet of God John 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 (Lk. 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. The vile girl on the advice of her wicked 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 the holy ForeRunner. But because of the guests and his careless oath, he gave orders to cut off the head of Saint John and to give it to Salome.
By tradition, the mouth of the dead head of the preacher of repentance once more opened and proclaimed: “Herod, thou ought not to have the wife of Philip thy brother”. Salome took the plate with the head of Saint John and gave it to her mother. The frenzied Herodias repeatedly stabbed the tongue of the prophet with a needle and buried his holy head in a unclean place. But the pious Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, buried the head of John the Baptist in an earthen vessel on the Mount of Olives, where Herod was possessor of a parcel of land (the Uncovering of the Venerable Head is celebrated 24 February). The holy body of John the Baptist was taken that night by his disciples and buried at Sebasteia, there where the wicked deed had been done.
After the murder of Saint John the Baptist, Herod continued to govern for a certain while. Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, later sent to him the bound Jesus Christ, over Whom he made mockery (Lk. 23: 7-12).
The judgement of God came upon Herod, Herodias and Salome, even during their earthly life. Salome, crossing the River Sikoris in winter, fell through the ice. The ice gave way for her such that her body was in the water, but her head trapped beneathe the ice. It was similar to how she once had danced with her feet upon the ground, but now flailing helplessly in the icy water. Thus she was trapped until that time when the sharp ice cut through her neck. The corpse was not found, but they brought the head to Herod and Herodias, as once they had brought them the head of Saint John the Baptist. The Arab king Aretas in revenge for the disrespect shown his daughter made war against Herod. Having suffered defeat, Herod suffered the wrath of the Roman emperor Caius Caligula (37-41) and was exiled with Herodias first to Gaul, and then to Spain. And there they were from view.
In memory of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, the feastday established by the Church is also a strict day of fast, – as an expression of the grief of Christians at the violent death of the saint. “
From “The Lives of the Saints”
It is worth noting that Joanna, the woman who disinterred John the Forerunner’s head and buried it reverently, re-appears later in the Gospels as one of the women who discovered Christ’s empty tomb on the morning of Pascha.From Orthodox Wiki:
Joanna the Myrrh-Bearer, the wife of Chouza, the steward-administrator of King Herod Antipas, is listed in Luke 8:3 as one of the women who followed Christ from Galilee and supported the disciples, along with Susanna, Mary Magdalene, and others. In Luke 23:55-24:11, we have the story of how these same women went to the tomb to finish the job of embalming Jesus’ body, which was hastily begun by Joseph and Nicodemus. They were perplexed when they found the tomb empty except for the grave clothes. The angel appeared unto them and proclaimed the Resurrection. They believed and became the first evangelists of the risen Christ. The Church celebrates her feast day on June 27, as well as on the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers.
It is also interesting that, despite the story of John’s martyrdom being so well-known in Georgia, Salome is still such a popular Christian name here.