John, the holy and glorious prophet, precursor, and Baptist, is celebrated today with reference to his honorable head that was cut off by means of a girl’s voluptuous dance and a sword. There were other revelations of this precious relic, for which its first and second finding is commemorated by the holy Church on the 24th of February. The third discovery was made at Comana of Cappadocia. The relic was entrusted to the bosom of the earth until there passed the destructive days of the iconoclasts in the eighth century. During that terrible time, some Orthodox Christians took away the sacred head of Saint John the Forerunner from Constantinople. They escaped, with the precious relic, to Comana of Cappadocia, where the exiled Saint John Chrysostom had earlier reposed in 407. The precious head of the Forerunner John, after it was reverently housed in a silver vessel, was committed to the ground for safekeeping. It was uncovered by a certain Orthodox priest. It was not found until the reign of Emperor Michael (842-867), son of Theophilos (829-842) and the pious Augusta Theodora (842-856). This was a time when veneration of the icons had been restored by the empress. The relics were miraculously revealed to Patriarch Ignatios (847-858 and 867-877), while he was at his evening prayers. He informed the imperium, which resulted in a delegation dispatched to Comana. Thus were the relics uncovered and returned to the imperial city (ca. 850) by the patriarch.
The hymnographer for today’s feast, Tarasios, gives us more details of the discovery and triumphal return. He tells us that we draw grace and sanctification from the Forerunner’s head, which is brighter than the sun. The head was made known to a priest of the Lord, named Basil, who till then knew nothing of its whereabouts in Comana. Filled with faith and led by grace, he made a diligent search for the head. When it arose from the bowels of the earth, he made its finding known. The gleaming relic poured forth gifts of healing. Its discovery was like gold extracted from a mine, since it flashed forth rays from the earth. The fragrant relic, a wellspring of cures, was met by Basil the priest and the faithful who had gathered to the site. Thus, from Comana to the queen of cities did the Forerunner travel. The emperor delighted more in the Forerunner’s coming than in his porphyry robe; and so he eagerly welcomed him. The divine priest and foremost of shepherds, the namesake of the God-bearer, Patriarch Ignatios, stretched forth his hands and embraced the head to his breast. He, most solemnly, blessed himself and the faithful. There were reports of ever-flowing gifts that were bestowed by Saint John: bodily pangs and diseases were taken away. Both the Priest Basil and the chief shepherd Ignatios were divinely informed beforehand of the head’s discovery. While the head flashed brighter than gold, it was treasured in a silver vessel upon discovery. The hymnographer says that the emperor, the angel’s namesake (Michael), rejoiced and received the Forerunner in his palace. The chief shepherd, bearing the name of the sacred God-bearer (Ignatios), piously and excellently ministered in his service toward the precious head. We, too, revere that hallowed head that not only proclaimed the Lamb of God but also washed in the waters of Jordan the head of Jesus.