THE COMMEMORATION OF THE HOLY FOURTEEN THOUSAND INFANTS SLAIN AT HEROD’S ORDER IN BETHLEHEM

My beloved brothers and sisters in Our Incarnate Lord,

CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!

ON THE 29th OF DECEMBER
OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH
COMMEMORATES THE HOLY FOURTEEN THOUSAND INFANTS
(INNOCENTS) SLAIN AT HEROD’S ORDER IN BETHLEHEM

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Holy Infants. First Tone

BE Thou entreated for the sake of the sufferings of Thy Saints which
they endured for Thee, O Lord, and do Thou heal all pains, we pray,
O Friend of man.

Kontakion Hymn of the Holy Infants. Plagal of Second Tone

WHEN the King was born in Bethlehem, the Magi arrived from the
East with gifts guided by a Star on high, but Herod was troubled
and mowed down the children like wheat; for he lamented that his
power would soon be destroyed.

When Herod "saw that he was mocked of the wise men" (Matthew, Ch. 2), he became "exceeding "wroth", both with them and the newborn King of the Jews. He was angry with the Magi because they had failed to return and tell him where the Child was, and with Christ, because he was afraid to lose his kingdom. He thought Christ wished to establish an earthly empire and failed to understand that the Lord’s Kingdom is not of this world. What, then, did wretched Herod do? He could harm neither the Magi who had departed, nor Christ; Whose whereabouts were unknown to him, so he poured out his anger upon INNOCENT CHILDREN. Like a savage wounded beast that does not care what injured it, but lunges at whatever happens to be nearby, Herod in his rage attacked the blameless infants because those who had aroused his fury were out of reach. He sent soldiers armed as if for battle to Bethlehem, with orders to slay every child that was "two year old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men."

Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Theophylact (as was said in the Narrative of the Adoration of the Magi) inform us that the Star was first seen quite some time before the Nativity. The Wise Men arrived in Jerusalem on the day of the Nativity, worshipped Christ in Bethlehem before the purification of the spotless Theotokos, then "departed into their own country another way." Herod did not immediately realize that he had been mocked by the Magi, but at first, thought that they had failed to find Him Whom they sought, and not wishing to become a laughing-stock, had secretly slipped away in shame.

For a whole year Herod vainly searched for Christ. Then necessity required him to visit Caesar in Rome, and he became very worried that the people would acclaim the Child king and he would lose his throne. Therefore, he decided to destroy ALL THE INFANTS IN BETHLEHEM, and with them, Christ the Lord. The slaughter of the INNOCENTS took place twenty-one months after the Star appeared, in the year following the Nativity, on the 29th of December; therefore, our Holy Orthodox Church commemorates these blameless sufferers on this day. Because he wished to be certain he had achieved his aim, "fearful Herod slew all the children from two years old or less was put to death," says Saint John Chrysostom. The raging tyrant was a coward, so his order was intended to allow the soldiers no possibility of error" according to Saint John. Efthymius Zigavenus’ explanation agrees with Saint Chrysostom’s: "Herod knew that the Star appeared some time before the Child was born, and to prevent Christ’s escape, commanded that no babe less than two years old survive."

Some of the Innocents were run through with the sword, others smashed against walls or with rocks, and others were hurled to the ground and trampled underfoot, others strangled, others had their limbs torn off, others were speared, others cleaved asunder. Their mothers wailed pitifully, piercing heaven with their cries. They ripped out their hair and tore their flesh and clothing. On that day the saying of the Prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

"In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, and
great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not
be comforted, because they are not" (Jeremiah, Ch. 31).

Rama was a city on a hill within the allotment of the Tribe of Benjamin. Rachel is another name for Bethlehem, since Rachel, mother of Benjamin and wife of the Patriarch Jacob, was buried there. When the infants were slaughtered in Bethlehem, that is, in Rachel, "the lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning" of the mothers could be heard in Rama, which is not far away.

Both Saint John Chrysostom and Saint John of Damascus described how the mothers mourned their slain babes. Saint John writes: "The mothers pleaded with the murderers, ‘Why do you butcher our children? What offense have they committed against you or your king? But the soldiers were too busy with their grisly work to reply. Nothing could calm the women, who were in a frenzy and cried out with ever-increasing desperation, ‘Mercy! Mercy! Have you no mothers? Do you not have wives? Are you not put to shame by our naked breasts? What if these were your children? Have compassion on us, slay us rather than our little babies. We cannot bear to see them destroyed! Take our lives first! Wet your swords with our blood! If these children have committed some wrong, put us to death with them.’

Saint John of Damascus describes the mothers’ lamentation like this: "With heads uncovered and hands uplifted to God, the mothers sat beside their murdered sons, experiencing anew the pangs of childbirth. Tearing out their hair, throwing dust upon themselves, and weeping bitterly, they begged heaven to serve as witness to the injustice. They reproached Herod as if he were present: ‘For what reason have you issued such a command, O King? You are a father; you know what love parents, have for their children, Was it the Star that angered you? Then you would have done better to lose arrows into the sky and to have let milk continue to flow from our breasts. Did the Wise Men scorn you? If so, you should have launched an attack on Persia and allowed Bethlehem to keep her sons. Did you learn from books that a new king was born? Why, then, did you not lay hold of Gabriel, the Herald, and cast him into prison?’

Soon after the massacre of the holy children, Divine retribution overtook Herod. According to Saint Theophylact, he "came to a miserable end, with fever, spasms of the bowels, itching swelling of the feet, rotting of the private parts, breeding of worms, difficulty in breathing, trembling, and spasms in every member until he spat out his wicked soul. It is said that he was not satisfied with slaughtering the children of Bethlehem and that shortly before expiring he executed many of the most noble and eminent citizens of Jerusalem. Among those he put to the sword were the Jewish High Priest Hyrcanus and all the chief priests and scribes of the people. As for the holy infants slaughtered for Christ, they reside on High with the Angels, "FOR OF SUCH CHILDREN IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD" (Luke, Ch. 8), in Christ Jesus our Lord. Unto Him be glory forever. Amen. [Source: The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints)

_________

"Glory Be To GOD
For
All Things!"

– Saint John Chrysostomos

+ + +



With sincere agape in Our Incarnate Lord,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God,

+ Father George


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: