Prologue from Ochrid - March 30 [April 12]
1. Our Holy Father John Climacus (of the Ladder).
The author of the famous 'Ladder', he came from an unknown place to Mount Sinai as a sixteen-year-old boy and remained there, first as a novice, then as a hermit and finally as abbot of Sinai, until he died at the age of eighty, in about 649. His biographer, the monk Daniel, says of him: 'He brought his body up to Mount Sinai, but his spirit he brought to the Mount of Heaven'. He spent nineteen years in obedience to his spiritual father, Martyrios. Anastasius of Mount Sinai, who saw John once as a young man, foretold that he would be abbot of Mount Sinai. After the death of his spiritual father, John took himself off to a cave, where he lived for twenty years in strict asceticism. His disciple, Moses, fell asleep one day in the cool shade of a huge rock. John was at prayer in his cell, and, perceiving that his disciple was in danger, began to pray for him. Moses came up to him later, fell to his knees and began to thank him for saving him from certain death. And he related how he had heard John calling him in his sleep and had jumped up at the very moment that a rock fell. Had he not jumped out of the way, the rock would certainly have killed him. At the importunate urging of the brethren, John accepted the abbacy, and guided their souls to salvation with loving zeal. He once heard a monk reproach him for being too verbose. He was not in the least angered, but was silent for an entire year, not uttering a single word until the brethren begged him to speak. He then began to instruct them with the wisdom with which God had endowed him. Once 600 pilgrims came to Mount Sinai. At supper they all noticed an agile young man dressed as a Jew who was serving at table and giving orders to the other servants, taking charge of everything. Suddenly, he disappeared. While everyone was pondering this and asking questions among themselves, John said: 'Do not bother to look for him; that was the prophet Moses serving you in his own home.' During the time that he was silent in his cave, John wrote many instructive books, of which the most famous, 'The Ladder', is much read to this day. It describes the way to raise the soul to God as if on a ladder. Before his death, John appointed his own brother, George, to the abbacy, but George began to grieve greatly at the approaching parting with John. Then John said that, if he were found worthy to stand close to God in the next world, he would pray that George be taken up to heaven in the same year. And so it came to pass. After ten months, George also fell asleep and departed to take his place among heaven's citizens alongside his brother John.
2. Commemoration of an Uncondemning Monk.
This monk died joyfully because he had never in his life condemned anyone. He was lazy, careless, disinclined to prayer, but throughout his entire life he had never judged anyone. And when he lay dying, he was full of joy. The brethren asked him how he could die so joyfully with all his sins, and he replied: 'I have just seen the angels, and they showed me a page with all my many sins. I said to them: "The Lord said: 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.' I have never judged anyone and I hope in the mercy of God, that He will not judge me." And the angels tore up the sheet of paper.' Hearing this, the monks wondered at it and learned from it.
If humility before men is necessary for the sake of being exalted before God and temporal effort for the sake of eternal life, what do you care if someone wags their head and laughs at your humility? John the Silentary [the Hesychast] was a bishop in Ascalon for ten years. Seeing that the honors of men hindered him, he disguised himself as a simple monk and entered the Monastery of St. Sabas the Sanctified, where he was assigned to gather wood and to boil lentils for the laborers. When he was recognized, he closed himself in a cell, where he lived for forty-seven years, feeding on vegetables only. This is how the Fathers avoided worldly honors, for which many in our day, in neck-breaking struggle, squander their souls away to dust and ashes.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:
- How His body is taken down from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea;
- How Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped the Body of the Lord in a pure linen cloth, anointed Him with ointments and placed Him in a new tomb;
- How faithful and unafraid were these two distinguished men among the many enemies of Christ in the midst of general fear and denials.
About recognizing the Son of Man among the common darkness
"Truly, this was the Son of God" (St. Matthew 27:54).
These words were spoken by the captain who carried out his duties conscientiously as a soldier. Under orders of his superiors, he had to guard the body of Christ on Golgotha. Externally, like a machine, but internally, a soul wide awake.
He, a Roman soldier, a pagan, and an idolater, saw all that had occurred at the time of the death of Christ the Lord, and cried out: "Truly, this was the Son of God." Not knowing about the One God and not knowing the Law and the Prophets, he immediately comprehended that which the priests of the One God and authorities of the Law and the Prophets were unable to comprehend! On this occasion, the word of God came true. "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see, might see, and those who do see, might become blind" (St. John 9:39). Truly, he who was blind in the spirit saw and those who thought they could see were completely blinded. Was it not possible that the elders of the Jews did not see the darkened sun, did not feel the earthquake, did not notice how the rocks were split, did not see that the veil in the Temple was rent, did not recognize many of the saints who came out from opened graves and appeared in Jerusalem? They saw all of this and all of them accurately witnessed all of this. Nevertheless, their spirits remained blind and their hearts, stony. All of these manifestations, the awesome and the unusual, they probably interpreted as the unbelieving would do today - accidents and illusions. The pagans of all times interpret everything as accidents or self-deceptions whenever the finger of God appears to reprimand men, to direct or to inform them. The Roman captain Longinus, which was the soldier's name, saw all that occurred without prejudice and beneath the cross confessed his faith in the Son of God. His exclamation was not wrested accidentally from his frightened heart. But that was his confession of faith, for which he later on laid down his life to embrace a better life in the Kingdom of Christ.
O brethren, how great is this Roman captain, who upon seeing the lifeless Lord between thieves crucified on the dunghill of Golgotha, recognized Him as God and confessed Him as God. O brethren, how petty are those Christians who recognize the Lord as resurrected, as Glorified, as the Victor and the Victor-bearer through thousands of His saints but, nevertheless, retain in their hearts doubt like a poisonous serpent who poisons them every day and buries their lives in eternal darkness.
O crucified and resurrected Lord, have mercy on us and save us!
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK