Today the church remembers The Holy Innocents.Herod, who ruled Palestine at the time of our Lord's birth, held a dubious claim to the throne and was, understandably, threatened by the rumor of the birth of a legitimate king of the Jews. Only a person completely unversed in human history would question the possibility of his committing the heinous crime mentioned in Holy Scripture, the slaughter of the male infants of Bethlehem. Ghastly as the murder of innocent babies sounds to Christian ears, it is not without parallel in the annals of history. The famous Jewish historian Josephus testifies to the fact that Herod was "a man of great barbarity towards everybody," and tells us of crimes so shocking and bloody as to make the killing of the Holy Innocents appear mild by comparison. Bethlehem was a small town, but its few boy babies under two years of age were mercilessly taken from their parents and slain. Jesus was nearly one of them. The church has always honored these innocent children who died as martyrs without ever having even heard the name of Jesus. They were, as Augustine of Hippo wrote, "buds, killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves." Grant, most merciful Father, that, as we remember the slaughter of innocent babes by the order of a tyrant when our Lord was born, so we may be firm to defend all helpless people from cruelty and oppression. Amen.
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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.