Homily for 2023-05-25 7th Paschal Fri 3rdFinding of Head of St John Baptist
Today we celebrate the Third Finding of the Head of St. John Baptist. In jest, some tease that
we’re celebrating the Finding of the Third Head of St. John the Baptist, but that’s not so. John did not have three heads. Even so, strange things do happen.
Do you know what the three findings were? I do not. But I know that you can’t find something
unless it’s been lost, and those who tease might want to compose a service to celebrate the three losses of St. John’s head, and we shall at least need to know what those were, for I have a pet theory that I should know what I’m celebrating, so I looked things up; allow me, please, to present the following. I hope I might remember at least something of this next year – we’ll see. Thanks and credit to Catholic Exchange for most of our information on the losses and findings of John’s head.
Adventure 1: When King Herod had John decapitated, the head was presented on a silver platter to the daughter of his brother’s wife. I don’t know why either of them, Salome the daughter or her mom, would care to keep John’s head. They wouldn’t venerate his relic. On the staff of King Herod Antipas was one of the stewards, Chuza, and Chuza had a wife, Joanna, one of the well-to-do-women from Gallilee who became a follower of Christ and a benefactor for Him and his disciples. Well, seems that Joanna took the head of John the Baptist, and buried it on the Mount of Olives. The first loss of the head of John the Baptist, then, came when people lost track of this burial site.
Some centuries later, a wealthy convert to Christianity by the name of Innocent wanted to become a hermit, and so bought a plot of land on the Mount of Olives to do his hermiting there, and while he was busy digging a foundation for his hermit’s cell, he found a vessel containing the head of St. John the Baptist – and there you have the first finding of the head of St. John the Baptist.
Adventure 2: The second finding is actually a couple of findings. It seems that St. John appeared in a dream to a pair of dissolute monks on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, who found it and headed for home; and that St. John appeared in another dream to a potter, and told him to steal it from the dissolute monks,which he did, and kept it in his home. After he died, his sister inherited the head, and eventually Eustacius ended up with it. He was Arian, and used it to heal people to attract them to Arianism, till at last he was driven out from his place in Emesa. The head was buried, a monastery grew up there, and was found in the year 452. The bishop established its veneration, had a new church to St. John built, translated the relichere, and this along with the First finding are observed on February 24th. And there you have the second loss and finding of the head of St. John the Baptist, or the second series of losses and findings.
Adventure 3: The third finding wasn’t till the 9th century, by which time Emesa was being ruled under the Muslims as the city of Homs. Because the Muslim dynasties were involved in a civil war, the local Christians sent the head to the city of Comana in Cappadocia for safekeeping; because of iconoclasm,they kept it hidden. It was kept so hidden that it was lost yet again, until revealed in a vision to the Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople, once orthodoxy had been restored. He had delegates fetch the relic to Constantinople, instaling it with great pomp in the year 850, which is what we celebrate today. And there you have our third series of losses and findings, rolled into one.
Adventure 4: We can keep the fourth round brief, because it only “almost happened” when French
revolutionaries came to Amiens to destroy the sacred relic, but the Mayor of Amiens heroically saved it, who secretly stole it back and gave it to an abbot for safekeeping. This time it wasn’t lost, so we couldn’t have a Fourth Finding, of the head of St. John the Baptist.
Fortunately, we can get lost in our spiritual lives, but Christ finds and saves us. It’s best if we
avoid getting lost in the first place, lest it happen a number of times. We wouldn’t want to chance getting lost permanently. Yet, as the saying goes, “God writes straight with crooked lines”: there’s hope.