On March 9, the Church celebrates the memory of the First and Second Finding of the Head of John the Baptist. In the Julian calendar, this day corresponds to February 24th.
Therefore, when the year is a leap year, that is, once every four years, this day of memory of John the Baptist in the Gregorian calendar moves to March 8th. This has a special semantics that needs attention. Because, according to the Gospel, the Baptist fell victim to the male recklessness of Herod and the female treachery of Herodias (cf. Mark 6:14-29).
It was John who pointed the people who came to him to Jesus the Messiah. John baptized Christ the Lord, who appeared to the world: “And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan,” says the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 1:9).
The Lord Jesus in the Gospel calls John "the greatest of all those born of women." “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11). John is the last of the Old Testament prophets. In it, the Old Testament Revelation ends, and the New Testament Gospel finds its beginning (cf. Luke 16:16).
John was beheaded by Herod. And Herod, when he heard, said, this is John, whom I beheaded; he has risen from the dead,” he admitted in superstitious anxiety his evil deed (Mk. 6:16).
It is extremely important to understand that this, from a human point of view, shameful and ridiculous death has become a type of the Crucifixion of the Lord. John was a prophet. The prophets in biblical revelation were given not only words, but also deeds and gestures, to indicate what was to come.
John was beheaded at Herod's feast. In such a death, the greatest of the prophets was an undeniable foreshadowing of the most ignominious death of the Lord Jesus on the Cross. This was the one and, at the same time, the greatest of prophecies that John was given to make.
The life of John from the moment of his conception to his death at the hands of Herod is part of the divine economy. By economy, the theology of the Church understands the divine plan of salvation. It is important to remember that this Greek word for the divine art of managing the world in the context of the plan of salvation – oikonomia - in the original language is identical to economy. This is an eloquent example of how non-theological factors in the modern world can have theological causation.
Since the life of John is part of the divine economy, the Church, unlike the remembrances of the saints, celebrates not only the birthday of John, that is, the day of his death, martyrdom, but also celebrates his birth and conception. In the same context, the celebration in honor of finding the head should also be perceived. It is important to understand that this day is not just a celebration in honor of the appearance of this great relic. Indeed, in the context of sacred history and the economy of salvation, a special mysterious, historical, and theological connection is visible between the Cross of Jesus and the Head of John.
So, after the Crucifixion of Jesus, the Cross of the Lord was initially hidden, but then found by Queen Elena in 326. Almost simultaneously with this event, Constantine the Great restored the city to its name. Then, three centuries later, during the Roman-Persian war, Jerusalem was taken, and the Cross was captured by the Persians. In 629 Heraclius brought him back to the Holy City.
During the reign of Constantine, the Head of the Baptist was found in Jerusalem. It was found by pilgrims to the Holy Sepulcher, which semantically connects this event itself with the decision of Constantine to restore Jerusalem as the biblical City. However, soon, according to Tradition, the shrine ended up in the hands of the Aryan heretics. The latter denied the deity of Christ. However, contrary to human delusion, healings and miracles began to occur from the Head of John. But soon the Lord hid the Head of his Prophet.
In 451, the IV Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon adopted a doctrinal decree, in which the doctrine of the true divine and human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ was revealed in a truly and Orthodox way. Just a year after this Triumph of Orthodoxy, in the reign of the pious Emperor Marcian and his wife, which is revered in the Orthodox Church as Saint Pulcheria, the Head of John was rediscovered. The shrine was moved to Constantinople. It is noteworthy that, like the two Exaltations of the Cross of the Lord, the First and Second Findings of the Head of John are also liturgically united and celebrated simultaneously, as a single holiday in the Orthodox Church.
Obviously, the Finding of the Head of John throughout the history of the Church should be understood not by analogy with the finding of the relics of great saints, but as a sign of the triumph of the Christian faith in the Empire and in the History of the Universe, and the holiday itself should be understood by analogy with the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord.