"For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and a holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly." And yet... because of a foolish, ill-considered oath uttered in the midst of a drunken feast, while his base passions were inflamed by the lascivious dancing of his stepdaughter, he orders the beheading of the prophet whom our Lord declares to be the greatest of those born of woman. And truly he shall live to regret his moment of weakness for the rest of his ill-fated life.
So then.... Who is ultimately responsible for this atrocity? Who bears the burden of the blame? It was, of course, Herodias' daughter who (after consulting with her mother) requests the head of the Baptist on a platter in fulfillment of Herod's oath. But after all: she is nothing more than a damaged, dysfunctional girl, entangled in an unhealthy relationship with her evil mother. She is, perhaps, worthy of condemnation, but really--given her background and formation-- we could hardly expect her to discern the moral bankruptcy of her request.
And yes, Herodias is indeed an evil woman, consumed by the passion of lust, and burning with hatred toward the prophet who sought to thwart her self-centered desires. But again, one wonders... had she ever, from her earliest childhood, been exposed to a moral and God-centered perspective on life?
And so it was Herod alone who seems, for whatever reason, to possess a conscience, having developed a genuine respect for St. John and to understand, on however rudimentary a level, that the life choices he had made were wrong and morally repugnant to God. And yet it was he himself who actually orders the beheading of the Baptist. And he does so... even though he was "exceedingly sorry!" And so it is that the greatest guilt for this horrendous act falls squarely upon his shoulders.
There is, in this episode, a lesson to be gleaned concerning our everyday lives as Orthodox Christians: it is so easy to point the finger at others, to decry all the evil at work in the world today, while we--who have been enlightened in the waters of Baptism and sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit-- fall short time and again from fulfilling the commandment of love Christ has so clearly enjoined upon us. Those who have been nurtured in our pagan, post Christian society do not know any better (though perhaps, to some extent, they should), but we have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit--as we sing at every Divine Liturgy. We surely know the difference between good and evil, and yet--like Herod--we continually give in to the temptation to do those things we know in our hearts to be contrary to the Law of God. The fact is, we know better, but still we do not cease to willingly offend God in thought, word and deed.
Fortunately, Christ has given us through His Church the medicine of repentance as our means of redemption--the very means through which Herod himself might have been saved, had he so desired. So let us sincerely repent of our evil deeds, imploring our merciful God that He grant unto us forgiveness of sins and eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom.