Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Narrative Concerning
the Honored Hand of the Forerunner.

The iniquitous murderer King Herod once held a banquet at which the daughter of his brother’s wife Herodias danced lasciviously. The wanton girl was rewarded by the tyrant with the head of Saint John, the Lord’s Forerunner. Afterwards, the Baptist’s precious body was buried by his disciples near the tomb of the holy prophet Elisha in the chief city of Samaria, Sebaste.
Later, the holy Evangelist Luke came there while traveling through various parts of the land preaching Christ. He wished to take the incorrupt remains of the holy Forerunner John the Baptist to Antioch, where he was born, reared and educated; but the Sebasteans, who greatly revered the relics, would not permit it. Saint Luke was only able to remove the Forerunner’s right hand, which baptized our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. The holy Evangelist gave the precious treasure to his native city, where it was accepted with the greatest awe by the faithful and did numerous miracles.
After much time passed, Julian the Apostate, who had renounced Christ and worshipped idols, came to the throne, and began persecuting the Church as fiercely as did earlier heathen emperors. Not only did he oppress and execute the living, he savagely attacked the dead as well. Exhuming the remains of martyrs, he had them burned, as also many churches. One day he appeared in Antioch, intending to sacrifice to his vile god Apollo in nearby Daphne, to offend the local Christians, and to burn churches and their contents. Receiving word of his arrival, the faithful hid the holy Baptist’s hand in the Tower of Gonius so that it would not be dishonored or destroyed by the persecutor. While in the city, Julian wrought numerous lawless deeds and tortured many people. Unable to find the hand of the Baptist, he sent a decree to Sebaste in Palestine, ordering that the saint’s body (which reposed there in its entity, except for the right hand and head) and the church dedicated to him be destroyed by fire. The historians Nicephorus and Kendrinus state that Julian’s command was carried out, but according to the blessed Symeon Metaphrastes another body was substituted for the Baptists and committed to flames with the church. Saint Symeon relates that the Patriarch of Jerusalem learned of the order in time to send the relics to Alexandria.
When the odious ruler perished and piety flourished once more, the hand of the holy Forerunner was removed from the tower like a candle taken out from under a bushel. Again it was venerated by the faithful and worked miracles, several of which we will now relate.

Portion of the Forerunner's Right hand at Dionyssiou Monastery - Mount Athos.

In Antioch there lived a fearsome, monstrous serpent which the impious Greeks worshipped. Every year they presented to it a virgin as a sacrifice. The offering was made in the presence of all the people in an arena built alongside the cave in which the serpent lived. The hideous reptile would slither out of its lair, seize its victim, and devour her. The sacrificial maiden was chosen by lot from among the children of the Antiochians, and one year the daughter of a Christian was selected. The girl’s father turned to the Baptist in prayer, beseeching him to rescue his daughter. As the sacrilegious feast approached, the man redoubled his cries to God and supplications to John the Baptist; then it occurred to him to visit the church where the saint's hand was kept and to venerate the relic. Finding the verger, he begged to be allowed to pray before the precious and sacred hand.
Now the father had a secret plan and concealed several pieces of gold in his shirt. As he was making prostrations before the reliquary, he let the coins drop out. They rolled across the floor, and the avaricious verger rushed to collect them. Meanwhile, the man kissed the Baptist's hand and bit off a piece of the saint's little finger. Hiding it swiftly, he left, delighted with his success.
On the appointed day the people assembled; the father also arrived, praying secretly to God, on Whom he had set his hope. The serpent emerged, hissing dreadfully, its mouth wide open. It raced toward the maiden, at whose side stood her father, calling upon Christ God our Deliverer and His holy Baptist. Just as the serpent reached his daughter, the man threw the finger of the Baptist down its throat. The serpent expired immediately and the girl was saved. Shedding tears of joy, the father thanked God and the Forerunner and proclaimed the Lord's wondrous works. The people were astonished and joined him in praising the one God, Who dwells on high and protects the humble. All the Christians of Antioch were jubilant, for a great multitude was converted to faith in Christ God. Soon a huge, beautiful, church was built at the place where the miracle occurred, and was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. It was the custom there, on the feast of the Elevation of the Precious Cross of the Lord, for the presiding hierarch to raise high the honorable hand of the Baptist for the faithful to venerate. Sometimes, when it was lifted up, the hand remained open, but sometimes it closed. If the hand stayed open, a good harvest was sure to follow; if it clenched, hard times were in store.
When, on account of our sins, the Hagarenes conquered Antioch and the surrounding region, the invaluable treasure, the priceless hand of Saint John the Baptist, remained in the captive city. Devout emperors tried to purchase the relic or acquire it by other means, but without success. Then, during the reign of Constantine and Romanus, brothers born to the purple, the prized hand found its way to Constantinople in the following manner.

The portion of the Forerunner's Right hand found in Cetinji Monastery - Montenegro.

In Antioch there lived a deacon named Job who was inspired by God to smuggle the sacred hand of the Forerunner out of the Saracen domain. Since at that time the relic was kept in the magnificent temple of the holy Apostle Peter, Job arranged to be assigned to that church, where he befriended the verger. He attempted many times to persuade the man to cooperate with him, but without success. Finally, Job invited the verger to his house, fed him a good supper, and made him drunk with wine. The sacristan passed out, and Job sneaked into the church and removed the Baptist's hand. By morning, when the verger regained consciousness, Job was a long way from Antioch, hurrying to cross the border. Protected by the Lord and the prayers of the holy Baptist, the deacon was not stopped by the barbarians and reached the Christian Empire safely. At Chalcedon he revealed the incomparable treasure. Word was sent immediately to the pious rulers, who, overjoyed by the unexpected tidings, dispatched the Most Holy Patriarch and eminent senators on their personal transport to bring the Baptist's hand to the capital.
The ship returned from Chalcedon and the Patriarch disembarked, carrying the sacred hand. The emperors and citizen were waiting with candles and incense, chanting psalms and hymns, as if the Forerunner himself were descending from heaven. After reverently kissing the relic, they deposited it in one of the palatine chapels. The translation of the Baptist's holy hand took place, as was said, on the eve of Theophany, before the blessing of water. The feast was celebrated jubilantly the next day, as was the synaxis of the Forerunner on the day after that, unto the glory of the Triune God, Who is praised and worshipped by all unto the ages. Amen.


Saint Demetrius Rostov, the Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Volume V: January, Translated by Father Thomas Maretta, Chrysostom Press (2002).

P.S. A Portion of the right is now found in the Serbian Orthodox Cetinje Monastery in Montenegro and another portion is found in Dionyssiou Monastery in Mount Athos.