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Prologue from Ochrid - April 3 [April 16]

1. St Nicetas the Confessor.

He was born in Bithynia, in the town of Caesarea. His father, Philaret, losing his wife, became a monk. Nicetas remained with his paternal grandmother. After he had grown up and finished his schooling, he went to a monastery in Midikion, where Nicephorus, the abbot, tonsured him as a monk. After seven years of toil and asceticism, he was ordained hieromonk by Patriarch Tarasius. After the deaths of Nicephorus and Nicetas's great friend, Athanasius, the brethren chose Nicetas as abbot, much against his will. St Nicetas was a holy example of life and asceticism to his brethren for many years. But when Leo V, the Armenian, came to the throne, following the devout Empress Irene and the pious Emperors Nicephorus and Michael, the iconoclast heresy sprang up again. The Emperor deposed Patriarch Nicephorus and sent him into exile, and in his place put a heretic, Theodotus Cassiteras, a man of impure life. Nicetas was imprisoned and tortured, but remained unwavering in his Orthodoxy. He was taken from prison to prison and tortured by hunger and thirst, by cold and heat and malice. But he remained utterly unwavering. A certain Nicolas pestered him particularly with his derision and malice. But one night the dead father of this Nicolas appeared to him in a dream and said: 'Leave that servant of God alone! 'From that moment Nicolas repented, and not only refrained from pestering him but prevented others doing likewise. When the Emperor Leo the Armenian had made an evil end, the throne passed to the Orthodox Emperor Michael Balbus, who freed all the Orthodox sufferers. Nicetas retired to a lonely place near Constantinople, where he spent the remaining days of his earthly life in prayer and thanksgiving to God. When he died, his body was taken to his monastery and, during that journey, many of the sick, on touching his body, were healed. His relics were placed close to the graves of his spiritual father, Nicephorus, and his friend Athanasius. This great hierarch entered into rest in 824.

2. St Paul the Wretched.

A Russian by birth, he was enslaved by the Turks as a boy. Refusing to betray the Christian faith and embrace Islam, he was tortured and beheaded in Constantinople in 1683.

3. The Holy Martyr Ulphianus.

A young man from the city of Tyre, he was tortured for Christ by the governor, Urban, the torturer of St Amphianus (April 2nd). He was finally sewn into a sack, together with a dog and a snake, and thrown into the sea. He suffered and was glorified in 306.

Reflection

"I await a thousand deaths for myself," wrote St. Athanasius the Great to his flock in Egypt at the time of the terrible Arian heresy. Every religious man can say this about himself who, in the spirit, has glanced and seen the net in which is contained every human soul in this world. The more spiritual a man is, the denser the net becomes. Such is the will of God: that the most spiritual are saved by the most narrow path. The Psalmist David also says: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous" (Psalm 34:19). However, in the end, victory and glory belong to the righteous. They need only to arm themselves with faith and forbearance. Whoever believes also understands their suffering. He who clothes himself with patience, will see victory and glory. To him who loves the Lord, even the narrowest path is sufficiently wide enough, the greatest pain an easy yoke and the most violent death, a joyful wedding feast.

Contemplation

To contemplate the Lord Jesus in Hades:

  1. How He descended into Hades with great power, by which Hades trembles;
  2. How the evil spirits, the then lords of Hades, flee before His Face;
  3. How the souls of the righteous ancestors and prophets overwhelmingly rejoice at His coming.

Homily

About the great desire of God

"Who wills everyone to be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4).

God wants that all men be saved, that is why He descended into Hades to save those who lived on earth before His coming. For, had He not descended into Hades, an enormous number of righteous souls would have perished forever. And yet, had He not descended into Hades, the main habitat of evil against God and the human race, Hades would have remained undestroyed. Therefore, the two reasons which motivated Christ, the Giver-of-Life, to descend into Hades in the Spirit are: First, to destroy the nest of the powers of Hades and, Second, to bring from Hades to Heaven, the souls of ancestors, prophets and righteous men and women, who have fulfilled the Old Dispensation (The Old Law of God) and, by that, pleased God. Before Satan was totally jubilant at gazing upon Christ humiliated and lifeless on the Cross, Christ appeared alive and almighty in the midst of Hades, the primary abode of Satan. What unexpected and dreadful news for Satan! For three years Satan wove snares against Christ on earth and in three days, behold, Christ destroyed Satan's kingdom and carried away the most precious booty in the form of a swarm of righteous souls.

O Lord, You want that all men be saved. We pray to You, save even us. For there is no salvation nor Savior outside of You. In You do we hope, You alone do we worship, You, the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always. Amen.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK