Prologue from Ochrid - April 5 [April 18]
1. The Holy Martyrs Agathopous and Theodulus.
The first was a deacon and the second a reader in the Church in Salonica; the first adorned with the white hairs of age and the second with the chastity of youth. In the time of Diocletian' hunting of Christians, these two were summoned for trial. They went there joyfully, and, each holding the other by the hand, went in crying: 'We are Christians!' The whole court's urging them to deny Christ and worship idols was in vain. After long imprisonment and starvation, they were condemned to death by drowning in the sea. Their hands were bound behind them and a large stone tied to their necks, and they were taken off to be drowned. When they went to throw Agathopous into the depths, he cried out: 'Lo, by second baptism we are washed from all our sins, and will go cleansed to Christ Jesus!' The sea quickly threw their drowned bodies onto the shore, and Christians gave them burial. St Theodulus appeared to his friends in the form of a shining angel in white raiment and commanded them to distribute all his remaining goods to the poor. These great soldiers of Christ suffered with honour under the Emperor Diocletian and Faustinus the governor of Salonica, in the year 30.
2. Our Holy Father Mark of Trache.
He is also known as 'the Athenian' because Athens was his birthplace. When he had finished his higher schooling in Athens, his parents died. He pondered within himself on the inevitability death, and that one must prepare in good time for a holy depart from this world. He gave his goods away to the poor and seated him self on a plank in the sea, with profound faith in God's help and the prayer that God would lead him wherever He desired. And, by the providence of God, he was kept safe and taken to Libya (or Ethiopia), to a mountain called Trache. Mark lived in asceticism that mountain for ninety-five years, seeing neither man nor beast. For thirty whole years he had an intense struggle with evil sprits, and was tormented by hunger and thirst, cold and heat. He ate earth and drank sea-water. After thirty years of the most intense sufferings, the conquered demons fled from him and angels of started bringing him food every day in the form of bread, fish and fruit. St Serapion visited him just before his death, and later recorded the wonderful life of this saint. Mark was asking Serapion if there were in the world any Christians who could say to the mountain they were on: 'Get up and cast yourself into the sea', and it would do so. At that moment the mountain began to move like a wave. But Mark raised a hand and quietened it, such being miraculous power of this man of God. At the time of his death, prayed for the salvation of all men and gave his soul into God's hands. St Serapion saw an angel bearing Mark's soul, and a hand extended from heaven to receive it. St Mark lived for a hundred and thirty years and entered into rest in about 400.
"Live as though you were not of this world and you will have peace." Thus spoke St. Anthony to his disciples. An amazing lesson but truthful. We bring about greater misfortunes and uneasiness upon ourselves when we desire to associate and identify ourselves, as much as possible, to remain in this world. Whenever a person retreats, as much as possible, from this world and as often as he contemplates this world as existing without him and the deeper he immerses himself in reflecting about his unworthiness in this world, he will stand closer to God and will have deeper spiritual peace. "Everyday I face death", says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:31), that is, everyday I feel that I am not in this world. That is why he daily felt like a heavenly citizen in the spirit. When the torturer Faustinus asked St. Theodulus: "Is not life better than a violent death?" St. Theodulus replied: "Indeed, even I think that life is better than death. Because of this, I decided to abhor this mortal and temporal life, barely existing on earth, so that I may be a partaker of life eternal."
To contemplate the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus:
- How the earth did quake at His return to the body as it did before His separation from the body;
- How the angels descended into the tomb to serve Him as they had always served Him when He allowed them to do so.
About the fulfillment of the prophecy
"Because You will not abandon My Soul to the nether world, nor will you suffer your faithful One to undergo corruption" (Psalm 16:10).
These are the words, the glowing prophetic words of the inspired discerner of mystery. This, David speaks about Christ the Lord, about His soul and about His body, i.e. about that which is human in Him. That these words of David pertain to the resurrected Christ was witnessed by the Apostle Peter in his first sermon immediately after the descent of the Holy Spirit: "Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption" (Acts of the Apostles 2:27). For the apostle says, "about the patriarch David that he died and was buried and his tomb is in our midst to this day" (Acts of the Apostles 2:29). It is not possible that those words refer to David, although David speaks as though they are from him and refer to him, but rather those words refer to a descendant of David according to the flesh. The body of David is decomposed as are the bodies of his other descendants. Christ, therefore, is David's descendant in the flesh, Who, neither remained in Hades nor did His body see corruption. "He [David] foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah" (Acts of the Apostles 2:31). Truly, a glowing prophecy! Truly, a wondrous foresight! Before the resurrection of the Lord, these words must have sounded unintelligible and irrational for all the Jewish interpreters of the Psalms! When the seal on the tomb is removed, then the seal of the many, totally obscure and unclear prophecies, is also removed. Christ resurrects and the mysteries become known. The seal of the tomb is removed not only from His body but also from the countless words and visions of the prophets. Christ resurrects and the prophetic words are also resurrected. Descending into Hades the Lord brought the heavenly light to the souls of the righteous fathers and prophets. By His resurrection, He brought their words and visions to the light of understanding and truth. Christ resurrects and all that is good, righteous and truthful, before and after the resurrection morning, resurrected also.
O, resurrected Lord, place us among the resurrected citizens of Your eternal kingdom.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK