Prologue from Ochrid - March 29 [April 11]
1. St Mark the Confessor, Bishop of Arethusa in Syria.
St Gregory the Theologian and Blessed Theodoretus have given us an account of his sufferings. According to these accounts, Mark destroyed some pagan temples and brought many to the Christian faith during the reign of the Emperor Constantine. But when the Emperor Julian came to the throne and quickly became an apostate from the Faith, some of the inhabitants of Arethusa renounced Christ and lapsed into paganism. They rose up against Mark because he had demolished the temple and demanded that he either rebuild it or pay them a very large sum of money. As Mark refused to do either the one or the other, he was flogged and flayed and dragged through the streets. They then cut off his ears with strong, fine threads, stripped him naked, smeared him with honey and left him bound to a tree in the summer heat for the wasps, mosquitoes and hornets to eat. The martyr of Christ endured all this without complaint. He was quite old, and his face shone like an angel of the Lord. The pagans lowered the price of their temple again and again, finally demanding a quite insignificant amount which Mark could easily have given. But he refused to give even a single coin for that purpose. His endurance made a great impression on the citizens, and they began to admire him for it and to feel sorry for him, and gradually reduced the price of their temple to nothing just to allow him to remain alive. Finally, they let him go free and, one by one, all came to him to receive instruction and become Christians again. A deacon, Cyril, also suffered at this time for a similar cause in Heliopolis at the foot of mount Lebanon. He had broken some idols at the time of the liberation of Christianity and was cruelly tortured under Julian for this. The pagans were so enraged with him that, after they had killed him, they tore out his teeth and ripped open his stomach. Many others suffered on the same day as St Cyril. The evil pagans cut their bodies into small pieces, coated them with barley and fed them to the pigs. But retribution came swiftly upon them; all their teeth fell out and their mouths emitted an unbearable stench.
2. Our Holy Father John the Hermit.
He was the son of Juliana, a Christian woman of Armenia. While still a child, he left his mother and ran off to the desert. He was utterly aflame with love for Christ the Lord. In the beginning he entrusted himself to the guidance of a spiritual father, Pharmutius, who was so pleasing to God that an angel brought him bread every day. John later left him and withdrew into solitude. He let himself down into a dry well and lived there for a full ten years in fasting, prayer and vigils. St Pharmutius used to bring him some of the angel's bread, for the angel of God did not wish to bring bread to the young John in person, lest he grow proud through this, so sent it through Pharmutius his spiritual father. After ten years of arduous asceticism in his well, St John went to the Lord and his relics revealed wonderworking power. He lived and was glorified by God and men in the 4th century.
Spiritists of our day accept every manifestation from the spiritual world as though sent by God, and immediately they boast that God has been "revealed" to them. I knew an eighty year old monk whom everyone respected as a great spiritual director. To my question: "Have you ever in your life seen anything from the spiritual world?", the monk answered me, "No, never, praise be to God's Mercy." Seeing that I was astonished at this, he said, "I have constantly prayed to God that nothing appear to me, so that, by chance, I would not succumb to pride and receive a fallen devil as an angel. Thus far, God has heard my prayers." This recorded example shows how humble and cautious the elders were. The devil, clothed in the light of an angel, appeared to a certain monk and said to him: "I am the Archangel Gabriel and I am sent to you." To that, the brother responded, "Think! Were you not sent to someone else, for I am not worthy to see an angel?" The devil instantly became invisible and vanished.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:
- How darkness encompasses everyone;
- How fear enters into everyone present beneath the cross;
- How the frightened captain of the guard cried out: "Truly, this was the Son of God!" (St. Matthew 27:54).
- How the prophecy of our Lord's death was fulfilled.
About the miraculous opening of the graves
"Tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised" (St. Matthew 27:52).
O, what a great sign! The dead bodies of holy men and women recognized Him, Who, on the cross, died in pain; but the dead souls of the elders of the Jews did not recognize Him. The whole of creation trembled, but only the criminal souls of Anna, Caiphas and Herod did not tremble. Dead saints showed themselves more sensitive than living sinners. How could the dead saints remain indifferent toward their Creator on the cross when not even the dead stones could not remain indifferent? How is it that during this event from which the earth quaked and the sun darkened, the bodies of those righteous could sleep in the graves, those who fulfilled His Dispensation of Old, those who hoped in Him for life, those who prophesied about Him and, with hope in Him, closed their eyes?
O, what a great sign! O, what a great comfort it is for us who hope in the resurrection! For according to our weakness and little faith, we could say, "Truly, Christ is Risen." But will we also be resurrected? Christ resurrected by His Own power but, how shall we resurrect? Who knows if God will resurrect us by His own Power. Here is consolation, here is proof: "Tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised." This means that death was unable to annihilate even ordinary man. This means that those who are much lower than Christ are not dead as stones, rather are alive as angels. This means that one day even our bodies will arise from the tombs, that we will live also. All that our Lord said is substantiated and overflowing with countless testimonies. Knowing the weakness of our faith, He proved the prophecy of His resurrection not also by His particular resurrection, but also by His raising many bodies from the tombs at the time of His own death.
O brethren, not one of us will have the least excuse for not believing in life after death.
O Lord, All-Merciful, strengthen the faithful in the Faith and return the unfaithful to the Faith.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK