The following is from A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land For Orthodox Christians by Holy Nativity Convent, St. Nectarios Press: Seattle, Washington, 1997.
THE CAVE OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS
St. Matthew 2:13-23
When the wise men were departed, behold, the Angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy Him. When he arose, he took the young child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the Prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called My son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the Prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted because they are not. But when Herod was dead, behold, an Angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Arise, and take the young child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they ae dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
An oral tradition was passed down through many generatiosn that the place being used as a garbage dump outside the Church of the Nativity was actually a holy site. In the early 1960’s the site was excavated revealing catacombs, a crypt, graves, a Holy Table, and many bones. Investigation showed that most of the bones were from children under the age of two, although there were also many bones from older children. It was surmised that these were many of the Holy Innocents, the children killed by Herod’s armies. Presumably, other children were buried with the Innocents by their relatives so they would be close to the relics. Early Christians gathered in the catacombs and served Liturgy near the relics. The Holy Innocents are commemorated on December 29/January 11.
Dismissal Troparion of the Holy Innocents
As acceptable victims, as newly-picked flowers and divine first fruits and newborn lambs were ye offered unto Christ Who was born as an infant, O pure Infants. And ye rebuked Herod’s wickedness and unceasingly pray in behalf of our souls.