Prologue from Ochrid - March 28 [April 10]
1. Our Holy Father, the Martyr Eustratius of the Kiev Caves.
He was very wealthy, but, moved by the love of Christ, gave away all his goods for His sake, entered the Monastery of the Caves and became a monk. When the Polovtsians conquered Kiev in 1097, they looted the monastery, slew many Christians and monks and gave Eustratius and other of the faithful to a certain Jew in the town of Khorsun as slaves. This Jew mocked the Christian faith and tried to compel the Christians to convert to the Jewish faith. Seeing that they had no other alternative, they all decided to starve to death rather than deny the true Faith. Eustratius encouraged the Christians in this decision. They all perished from hunger, some after three days, some after four and some after seven days. Eustratius, accustomed to fasting, remained the only one alive, and survived fourteen days without food. Infuriated that he had lost the money he had paid for the slaves, the Jew took his revenge by having Eustratius nailed to a cross. But Eustratius gave thanks to God from the cross and predicted an imminent and vicious death for the Jew. Possessed by a furious anger, the Jew stabbed him with a spear. And thus the holy man of God gave his soul to his Saviour. They cast his body into the sea, but it rose to the surface and many were the great miracles performed over it. Soon after this, the Byzantine Emperor commanded that the Jews in Khorsun be punished for their wickedness towards the Christians, and the torturer of the Christians was hanged on a tree and received the wages of Judas.
2. Our Holy Father Mlarion the New, the Confessor.
He was abbot of the monastery of Pelekete near the Hellespont, and was irradiated like the sun with the spirit of God. He healed sicknesses among the people and drove out evil spirits. In the reign of Leo the Isaufian, the Iconoclast persecution began and this man of God suffered during it. He was exiled with his forty monks to a place near Ephesus, died there in prison in 754 and entered into the Kingdom of Christ.
3. Our Holy Father Hesychius of Jerusalem.
A priest and a profound theologian, he was a disciple of St Gregory the Theologian and a contemporary of St Euthymius the Great. He entered peacefully into rest in about 451.
4. The Holy Martyr Boyan.
A prince of Bulgaria, he was the son of Krutogan and grandson of Grubosh. He confessed the Christian faith while his brother, Milomir, remained a heathen, and was slain for the true Faith at the command of his brother in 827.
5. The Miraculous Experience of Taxiotis, a soldier of Carthage.
He spent his entire life in grievous sins, but finally repented, left his military service and adopted a way of life pleasing to God. Once when he had gone with his wife to their property close to the city, he fell into adultery with the wife of his workman, and immediately after this a snake bit him and he died. He lay dead for six hours, and after that he arose and, on the fourth day, broke his silence and related how he had somehow passed through all the toll-houses until he arrived at the toll-house for adultery. There he had fallen into the dark dwelling of the demons, but was then led out by an angel who vouched for him, and had returned to the body to expiate his last sin. He lived in penitence for forty days, going from church to church and striking his head against the doors and thresholds. Weeping incessantly, he spoke of the terrible torments in which sinners lived in that world, and implored people not to sin and to repent of sins already committed. On the fortieth day he went with joy to the Kingdom of the merciful God.
St. Simeon the New Theologian, in speaking about a handsome twenty year old youth, George by name, who, despite his beauty and youth and living among the conceited of the world, recognized the path of salvation and was enlightened by spiritual wisdom, concludes with these words: "Do you understand how youth does not hinder nor does old age help a man, if he does not have reason and the fear of God." What prevented the young Apostle John from believing in Christ the Lord? What were the benefits of age to the Jewish elders when they were blinded in mind and in their blindness sentenced the Son of God to death? Nothing, nothing prevents youth in the young, even in our time, from giving their faith and love to Christ, who created them out of love. Nothing benefits the age of the aged in our time if their souls are poisoned with maliciousness toward Christ. Young and old bodies are nothing more than a new and an old garment of the soul. One or the other of these garments can conceal a healthy or a sick soul. Our goal is a healthy and clean soul.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:
- How all of nature trembled when He gave up the Spirit, as though to protest against this criminal act of the race of men;
- How the earth quaked, the sun darkened, the rocks were split, the veil of the temple was rent and the graves were opened.
About the horror of nature at the death of Christ
"The earth quaked, rocks were split" (St. Matthew 27:51).
O, what a terrible reproach against mankind! Even dead nature recognized Him Whom men were unable to recognize. All mute things trembled and began to protest, each in its own way and in its own language. The mute earth quakes--that is its language. The stones split apart--that is their language. The sun withholds its light--that is its language. All of creation in its own way protested. For all of creation is submissive to Him, as it was to Adam at one time in Paradise, because all of creation recognizes Him as it did Adam in Paradise. How is it that irrational creation knew Him and was obedient to Him, we do not know. It is some kind of inner instinct of irrational creation, which came to them from the word of God, by which they were created. That instinct of irrational creation is more valuable than the mind of man when darkened by sin. Of all the things which are in existence, nothing is more blind than the mind of man when darkened by sin. Not only does he not see what was created to be seen, rather, he sees that which is contrary to being, contrary to God, and contrary to the truth. These are the degrees of the blindness; beneath blindness; these are numbers below zero. This is man of lower creation. For when the priests of God in Jerusalem did not recognize their God, the storms and winds recognized Him; vegetation and animals recognized Him; the seas, the rivers, the earth, the stones, the stars, the sun and even the demons recognized Him. O what kind of shame it is for mankind!
The earth quaked, the rocks split, the sun darkened, as much in anger as in sorrow. All creation grieved over the pain of the Son of God, in Whose pain the priests in Jerusalem rejoiced. Protests and sorrow and fear! The whole of creation was frightened at the death of Him Who cried to them arise from nothing and rejoice in your being. As though it wanted to say: with whom do we remain and who will now uphold us when the Almighty gives up the Spirit?
O brethren, let us be ashamed of this protest, these sorrows and this fear of the mutes of creation! With repentance let us cry out to the Lord, the Victor: forgive, O Compassionate Lord, for indeed, whenever we sin and offend You, we do not know what we are doing.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK