The Holy Innocents
After the Magi visited the Holy Family and departed, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel instructed him to take Mary and Jesus into Eqypt as King Herod sought to kill the child.
King Herod was continually in fear of losing his throne. Unsurprisingly, the Magi’s report of the birth of an infant King of the Jews (Matthew 2) caused him great fear and anger. Although the exact event was not recorded in secular history, the story of the massacre of the Innocents is totally in keeping with what is known of Herod’s character. To protect himself against being supplanted by an infant king, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under 2 years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. No one knows how many were killed, but the church has always honored these innocent children as martyrs. Augustine of Hippo called them “buds, killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”
We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive we pray into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims, and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph In a dream “Get up, he said, “take the Child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So, he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and then left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod, And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my Son,”
Such an atrocity evokes disgust and condemnation in us. How few of these children, if they had lived, would have escaped even more terror and possible death? What future miseries were these infants spared from? So, while we often lament as misfortune many tragedies. In the eyes of heaven these are mercies. Before leaving the Innocents, let us rejoice that their lives were not in vain, but rather they were living offerings to God in Heaven and for the Savior of the world. As the icon depicts the infants who died were swept up immediately by the Resurrected Jesus to join him. Note the artist who had each Innocent wrapped in swaddling clothes like their brother, Jesus. Let us labor tirelessly to protect the young and to do what we can to help children to be healthy, safe, and educated.