Prologue from Ochrid - April 10 [April 23]
1. The Holy Martyrs Terence, Africanus, Maximus, Pompeius and 36 others with them.
They suffered for Christ and were crowned with wreaths of glory in the time of the Emperor Decius. By the Emperor's orders, the governor of Africa notified all the people that they must offer sacrifice to idols. In the case of opposition, the governor was to put the stubborn to harsh torture. Hearing this threat, many lapsed from the Faith and worshipped idols. But these forty martyrs remained steadfast, for which they were put to torture. St Terence encouraged his companions with these words: 'Let us, my brethren, keep ourselves from denying Christ our God; that He may not deny us before His heavenly Father and the holy angels.' The governor divided them into two groups; thirty-six of them, after flogging and having salt rubbed in their open wounds, he beheaded. But the first four he cast into prison with heavy chains round their necks and on their hands and feet. An angel of God appeared to them in the prison and touched their chains, which fell from them. Then the angel brought them a table abundantly heaped with food, and fed them. They were again taken out and tortured, and again shut up in the prison. Also, the governor ordered sorcerers to gather as many poisonous reptiles as possible, such as snakes and scorpions, and to shut them up with the martyrs. But the reptiles would not touch the men of God, but huddled together in one corner, where they remained for three days. When the prison was opened on the third day, the reptiles fell on the sorcerers and bit them. At last the governor passed sentence of death on these four martyrs. When they were taken to the scaffold, they joyfully sang psalms and hymns of thanksgiving to God, who had accounted them worthy of a martyr's death. They suffered with honour and attained to the Kingdom in the year 250.
2. The 6,000 Holy Martyrs in Georgia.
In the wilderness of David-Garejeli in Georgia there were twelve monasteries, in which monks had lived the ascetic life for centuries. In 1615, Shah Abbas I invaded Georgia, laid it waste and slew innumerable Christians. One day, while out hunting at dawn on Easter Day itself, he saw the light of many candles shining in the hills. This was the monks of all twelve monasteries in procession all round the Church of the Resurrection, walking with candles in their hands. When the Shah discovered that it was monks, he asked in disbelief: 'Isn't the whole of Georgia put to the sword by now?', and ordered his generals to go and slaughter the monks at once. An angel of God appeared to Abbot Arsenius, and revealed their imminent death to him, and Arsenius informed the brethren. They then all received Communion in the Holy Mysteries and prepared for death. Then the attackers arrived, hacked the abbot to pieces when he came out ahead of the others, and then killed all the rest. They all suffered with honour and were crowned with unfading wreaths in 1615. Thus ended the history of these famous monasteries, which had been like a flame of spiritual enlightenment in Georgia for more than 1,000 years. There remain just two today: St David and St John the Baptist. The King of Georgia, Archil, gathered the remains of all the martyrs and buried them. Their relics are to this day full of myrrh for the healing of those in sickness.
When a man detaches his mind from earth, opens it toward God with the desire to please God, then God reveals His will in various ways. St. Peter of Damascus writes: "If a man has a full intention to please God, then God teaches him His will either through thoughts, through some other person or through Holy Scripture." Such a man becomes attentive, keen and awaits God's promptings from within and from without. For him, chances cease to exist. The entire world becomes as a ten-stringed harp which does not give out one sound without the finger of God.
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How He appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus and they did not recognize Him;
- How the hearts of these two disciples burned within when He spoke to them and how they recognized Him only when He blessed and broke bread for them;
- How, all at once, before their eyes the Lord became invisible to them.
About living hope
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who in His mercy gave us a new the resurrection of Jesus Christ birth to a living hope through from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).
Brethren, who has dead hope and who has living hope? He who hopes in dead things has a dead hope. He who hopes in the Living God has a living hope.
Further, he who hopes in himself and in other people has a dead hope. He who hopes in the Living God has a living hope.
Further, he who hopes in luck and well-being in this brief earthly existence and does not extend his hope beyond the grave, has a dead hope. He who hopes in the resurrection and eternal life in the kingdom of heaven has a living hope.
Truly, a living hope is better than a dead hope; as life is better than death; as light is better than darkness; as health is better than sickness; as understanding is better than ignorance.
But, Who brought and showed man that living hope; Who, and how? The Apostle Peter gives an answer to that question: Our Lord Jesus Christ and that, by His resurrection from the dead. No one else but the Lord Jesus Christ and by nothing else than His own resurrection from the dead. By His resurrection, the Lord gave wings to the pathetic hopes of man, extended him beyond the grave and showed him the goal, purpose and fruit beyond the grave.
All of this is not confirmed by a credulous man but by an apostle who wavered for a long while in his faith and who denied Christ three times. That is why St. Peter's witness of the resurrected Lord and the significance of His resurrection is inexpressibly priceless for us.
O resurrected Lord, Victor over death, uproot from us dead hope and plant a living hope in us through the prayers of St. Peter, Your great apostle.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK