Herod Antipas (son of the Herod who slew the children of Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth) was ruler of Galilee when John the Baptist was preaching. He was married to the daughter of Aretas, an Arabian prince. But Herod, an evil sprout of an evil root, put away his lawful wife and unlawfully took Herodias as his concubine. Herodias was the wife of his brother Philip, who was still alive. John the Baptist stood up against the lawlessness and strongly denounced Herod. Herod then cast John into prison. During a banquet in his court at Sebastia in Galilee, Salome – Herodias and Philip’s daughter – danced before the guests. Herod, drunk with wine, was so taken by this dance that he promised Salome anything she asked of him, even if it were half of his kingdom. Salome was persuaded by Herodias to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Herod gave the order, and John was beheaded in prison – and his head was presented to her on a platter. John’s disciples took the body of their teacher by night and honourably buried it, but Herodias pierced John’s tongue with a needle repeatedly, and buried his head in an unclean place. However, God’s punishment quickly befell this group of evildoers. Prince Aretas, avenging his daughter’s honour, waged war against Herod with his army and defeated him. The defeated Herod was sentenced by the Roman Caesar, Caligula, to exile (at first to Gaul, then later to Spain). Herod and Herodias lived lives of poverty and humiliation in exile, until the earth opened up and swallowed them. Salome died an evil death on the Sikaris (Sula) River. St. John’s beheading occurred just before Passover, but its celebration on August 29 was established because a church that had been built over his grave in Sebastia (by Emperor Constantine and Empress Helena) was consecrated on August 29. The relics of John’s disciples Eliseus and Audius were also placed in that church.
Source: St. Nikolai Velimirovic, The Prologue of Ohrid – Volume Two.
The memory of the just is celebrated with hymns of praise, but the Lord’s testimony is sufficient for thee, O Forerunner; for thou hast proved to be truly even more venerable than the Prophets, since thou was granted to baptize in the running waters Him Whom they proclaimed. Wherefore, having contested for the truth, thou didst rejoice to announce the good tidings even to those in Hades: that God hath appeared in the flesh, taking away the sin of the world and granting us great mercy.
The glorious beheading of the Forerunner was a certain divine dispensation, that the coming of the Saviour might also be preached to those in Hades. Let Herodias lament, then, that she demanded a wicked murder; for she loved not the Law of God, nor eternal life, but one false and fleeting.