Prologue from Ochrid - August 5 [August 18]
1. The Holy Martyr Eusignius.
He was a soldier under the Emperor Maximian, the Emperor Constantine the Great and Constantine's sons, and was present at the martyrdom of the holy martyr Basiliscus (see May 22nd). He saw many angels, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself as He received the soul of this holy martyr from the angel's hands. He was a general under Constantine, and saw the Cross that appeared to the Emperor. Spending a full sixty years in military service, he withdrew from it in the time of Constantine's sons and went to Antioch, his home town. There he lived a godly life of fasting, prayer and good works. In the time of Julian the Apostate, two men at variance in the street called him to judge between them. He adjudged right to the righteous, at which the one at fault became enraged, went to the Emperor and denounced Eusignius as a Christian. The Emperor summoned him to trial, at which he fiercely denounced the Emperor for his apostasy from the Faith and rebuked him by citing the shining example of the great Constantine. The proud Julian ordered that he be beheaded. Eusignius suffered in great old age, in the year 362, and went to the Kingdom of heaven.
2. The Hieromartyr Fabian, Pope of Rome.
A Roman by birth, Fabian was first a village priest, but then, when a white dove was seen to descend on him during a papal election, he was chosen. He was meek and kindly. He gathered the bodies of the holy martyrs for burial with great diligence, and built churches over their graves. He also built chapels and shrines in the caves where the martyrs had hidden during fierce persecutions. He baptised the Emperor Philip and his son and heir, also called Philip, and with the help of the senator, Pontius, who was also baptised, destroyed many idols and temples. But, when the wicked Decius became Emperor, a terrible persecution of Christians arose in which Fabian suffered, being beheaded in the year 250. This Fabian established the custom of the blessing of oil on Holy Thursday.
3. The Holy Martyr Pontius the Senator.
Pontius was the son of the senator Marcus and his wife Julia, who was barren for twenty-two years before giving him birth. Baptised by Pope Pontianus, along with his friend Valerius (who wrote his life), he succeeded in bringing his father, Marcus, the Emperor Philip and his son, and many other eminent Romans to the Christian faith. He gave great protection and help to the Church as a senator, and was a close friend of Pope Fabian. When Decius's persecution began, Pontius fled from Rome and hid in the Alps, but, in the time of Valerian, he was taken and put to harsh torture, during which many miracles of God were revealed and many turned to Christ. There happened to be many Jews there, who cried to the judge: 'Kill him; kill this magician at once!' At this, Pontius raised his hands to heaven and said: 'I give thanks to Thee, O my God, that the Jews also cry against me, as their fathers once cried against Christ: "Crucify him; crucify him!" '. He was beheaded in 257 and was buried by his friend Valerius.
4. St Nonna.
The mother of St Gregory the Theologian, she was a Christian and a mighty wonderworker through prayer. By her prayers, she brought her husband back from the folly of idolatry to the Christian faith, and he later became bishop of the city of Nazianzus. By her prayers, St Nonna also saved her son, Gregory the Theologian, from a storm. She entered peacefully into rest as a deaconess in 374.
This is how Valerian begins the biography of his companion, St. Pontius: "Who can believe, if God does not grant it? Who can lead a life of asceticism, if the Lord does not help? Who can receive the wreath of martyrdom, if Christ does not give it?" God can do all and God wills all that is for the salvation of men, if only men pray to Him. By prayer, St. Nonna converted her husband Gregory and her son, Gregory the Theologian, to Christianity. By prayer, Monica brought Augustine back from a wayward life to the path of good works and faith. By prayer, St. Basil converted his teacher Evulios. By prayer, King Hezekiah prolonged his life for fifteen years. By prayer, St. Simeon the Stylite turned back the Persians and Scythians that they not attack the land of Greece with an army already prepared. Furthermore, all the stars in the heavens will be more readily counted then all the miracles worked on earth by prayer.
To contemplate the miraculous strength of Samson (Judges 14):
- How the Spirit of the Lord came upon him so that he was able to tear lions apart with his hands and to snap the rope by which he was bound and slew many Philistines;
- How the Spirit of the Lord withdrew from him [Samson] when he confided the secret of his strength to a heathen woman [Delilah] and was then slain [Judges 16].
About how God whitens the repentant sinners
"Though your sins be like scarlet, they may be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18).
O, the boundless mercy of God! In His greatest wrath upon the faithless and ungrateful people, upon the people "laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters" (Isaiah 1:4), as "princes [rulers] of Sodom" (Isaiah 1:10) and upon the people who have become as the "people of Gomorrah" (Isaiah 1:10) - in such wrath, the Lord does not abandon mercy but rather calls them to repentance. Just as after terrible lightnings, a gentle rain falls. Such is the Lord long-suffering [patient] and full of mercy and "neither will He keep His anger forever" (Psalm 103:9). Only if sinners cease to commit evil and learn to do good and turn to God with humility and repentance they will become "white as snow." The Lord is mighty and willing. No one, except Him, is able to cleanse the sinful soul of man from sin and, by cleansing, to whiten it. No matter how often linen is washed in water with ashes and soap, no matter how often it is washed and rewashed, it cannot receive whiteness until it is spread under the light of the sun. Thus, our soul cannot become white, no matter how often we cleanse it by our own effort and labor even with the help of all legal means of the law until we, at last, bring it beneath the feet of God, spread out and opened wide so that the light of God illumines it and whitens it. The Lord condones and even commends all of our labor and effort, i.e., He wants us to bathe our soul in tears, by repentance to constrain it by the pangs of the conscience to press it, to clothe it with good deeds and in the end of ends, He calls us to Him: "Come now," says the Lord, "and let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18). That is, I will look at you and I will see if there is Me in you and you will look upon Me as in a mirror and you will see what kind of person you are.
O Lord, slow to anger, have mercy on us before the last wrath of that Dreadful Day.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK