Prologue from Ochrid - April 9 [April 22]
1. The Holy Martyr Eupsychius.
He was of gentle birth and was reared in faith and devotion. In the time of the Emperor Julian the Apostate, when St Basil the Great was governing the Church in Caesarea, Eupsychius married a girl of good family. But he was not given even one day to live in wedlock, for, on his wedding day itself, there was a pagan festival with sacrifices to the idol of Fortune. Eupsychius went out with some others and smashed all the idols in the temple, then pulled down the temple itself. Julian was furious, and commanded that the culprits be beheaded, that many Christians be taken into the army, that an enormous levy be imposed on Christians, the proceeds of which were to be used to rebuild the Temple of Fortune, and that the town cease to be called Caesarea (as it had been named by Claudius Caesar), and revert to its former name, Maza. Eupsychius was first bound to a tree and cruelly tortured, and then beheaded, in 362. A little after this time, the wicked Emperor Julian visited that town on his way to Persia, against which he was waging war. St Basil went to meet him, bearing three barley loaves as a sign-of honour and welcome. The Emperor ordered that, as a return gift, the saint be given a fistful of hay. Basil said to the Emperor: 'You ridicule us now, O King; we bring you bread, by which we are fed, and you give us miserable food which you, with all your power, are not able to turn into nourishment for men!' To this the Emperor replied: 'You can be sure that I will feed you with this hay when I return from Persia!' But the wicked apostate did not return alive from Persia, but perished there by a fitting and unnatural death.
2. Our Holy Father Vadim the Martyr.
In the time of the Persian King Sapor, Vadim, abbot of a monastery and a man famed for his grace, was thrown into prison with seven of his disciples. With him in prison was a Prince Nirsan, also a Christian. Every day they were taken out and flogged. Prince Nirsan was afraid, and promised to forsake his faith and worship the sun. This was pleasing Sapor, and he promised Nirsan all the possessions of Vadim's monastery if he would, with his own hands, behead Vadim. Nirsan agreed to this. With trembling hands, terrified by the dignity of St Vadim's face, he let the sword fall several times on the holy man's neck , hardly succeeding in beheading him. But, very quickly after that, he fell into despair and ran himself through with his own sword; thus receiving at his own hands the punishment for slaying a righteous man. St Vadim suffered in 376.
It is said about Pericles that he was a man of almost perfect human beauty but that his head was oblong and resembled a squash, so that he incurred being ridiculed when he appeared bareheaded in public. In order to conceal the defect of this great man of his people, Greek sculptors always portrayed him with a helmet on his head. When some, among the pagans, knew how to conceal the defects of their friends, how much more, therefore, are we as Christians obligated to do the same? "Love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10), commands the apostle to those who cling to Christ. How can we say that we adhere to the meek and All-pure Christ, if we daily poison the air with tales about the sins and shortcomings of others? To conceal your own virtue and the shortcomings of others, this is the preeminent spiritual wisdom.
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How He appears to Mary Magdalene in the Garden and at first glance, Mary does not recognize Him;
- How He tenderheartedly addresses Mary and Mary recognizes Him, rejoices in Him and she imparts her joy to the disciples.
About the need for death in order to bring forth much fruit
"Amen, Amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit " (St. John 12:24).
Why does the sower throw wheat into the ground? Does he do this so that the wheat will die and rot? No, he does this so that it would live and bear fruit. In sowing the seed, the sower does not think about the death and decay of the seed, but rather about its life and its yield. Indeed, with joy does the sower sow his seed, not thinking about the death of the seed, but rather about life and fruit-bearing yield.
The Sower is Christ the Lord and men are His wheat. He was pleased to call us wheat. There are many other types of seed on earth but nothing is more priceless than wheat. Why did the Lord sow us throughout the world? So that we should die and decay? No, rather that we should live and bring forth fruit. He alludes to our death along the way. He alludes to death only as a condition for life and multiple yield. The goal of sowing is not death but life. The seed must first die and decay. He only mentions this because He knows that we are fully aware of this. He reminds us of this along the way, whereas His Gospel is primarily a narrative of life, about life and about bringing forth good fruit. He speaks to us a great deal about the latter because He knows that we are not aware of this and that we are suffocating from ignorance and doubt. Not only does He speak to us abundantly about life but He also shows us life. By His resurrection, He demonstrates to us life and the multitude of fruit which is brighter than the sun. The entire history of His Church is a clear map of life.
O Lord of Life, Invincible, save us from a sinful death. Redeem us from a spiritual death.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK