Orthodox icon | The Beheading of Saint John | 24750.
In Orthodox tradition, the figure known as “John the Baptist” in Western theology is revered as “the Forerunner.” He performed the baptism of Christ and paved His path, as stated in the Gospel of Luke 1, 76. The Gospel of Matthew 3, 2 vividly portrays his attire: a garment made of camel’s hair, often depicted with unshod feet and a notably unkempt beard.
His audacious rebuke of Herod and Herodias — “You are not permitted to have your brother Philip’s wife.” (Mat. 14; Luke 3, 18) — led to his imprisonment, a depiction commonly observed in the top section of his iconography.
The centerpiece of the icon captures a chilling act of execution: the executioner delivers the final stroke, and John’s lifeless body descends. A gruesome trophy, his detached head, is then presented to Salome, positioned on the right side of the image. Against a backdrop of architectural design rendered in reverse perspective, the icon portrays three distinct episodes of the beheading.
The Baptist is venerated as the spiritual protector of monastic life. The Gospel of Matthew’s 14th chapter vividly narrates his martyrdom: “… Herod desired to put him to death but feared the public, for they revered him as a prophet… And so he ordered and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was served in a dish and given to the maiden.”
Contemporary iconographic interpretations portray this tragic and dramatic event with an unexpected sense of serenity. Both Eastern and Western traditions frequently depict John’s decapitated head alone in a dish.
His remembrance day falls on August 29, and it is commemorated every year.