Prologue from Ochrid - August 9 [August 22]
1. The Holy Apostle Matthias.
Born in Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah, he was a pupil of St Simeon the Host of God in Jerusalem. When the Lord began preaching the Kingdom of God, Matthias was among those who loved the Lord with all their hearts, heard His words and saw His works with delight. Matthias was at first included among the seventy, lesser apostles of Christ, but, after the Lord's Resurrection, because the place of Judas the betrayer fell vacant, the apostles chose this Matthias by lot in Judas's place as one of the twelve Great Apostles (Acts 1:23). Receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Matthias began to preach the Gospel, first in Judea then in Ethiopia, where he suffered greatly for the sake of Christ. It is held that he preached also in Macedonia, where they tried to bind him, but he became invisible to his tormentors and thus escaped danger. When he was imprisoned, the Lord appeared to him, gave him courage and set him free. He finally returned to work in Judea. There he was arrested and taken for trial before Ananias the High Priest, before whom he fearlessly witnessed to Christ. Ananias (the same who had earlier killed the Apostle James) condemed Matthias to death. They took Matthias out and stoned him to death, then cut off his head with an axe (the Roman way of executing those condemned to death. The hypocritical Jews used this method on the dead man, to prove to the Romans that he had opposed Rome). So died this great apostle of Christ, and went to the eternal joy of his Lord.
2. The Holy Martyr Antony.
He was a citizen of Alexandria. Brought before the pagan governor, he freely declared his faith and was tortured -whipped and flogged - but would not deny Christ. He was finally cast into the flames, from the midst of which he said to the people: 'My beloved brethren, do not be enslaved by your bodies, but give thought to your souls, given to you by God and kin to God and to the heavenly powers.' He thus instructed the people and, being burned in the fire, gave his holy soul to God.
3. The Holy Martyrs Julian and Marcian, and others with them.
They suffered at the hands of the iconoclasts under the wicked Emperor Leo the Isaurian, in 726, and were crowned with unfading glory.
To take another's sin upon one's self, that is one form of martyrdom and the sign of one's overwhelming love for one's fellow man. As death is the consequence of sin, to take another's sin on one's self means to add to your own death still another death, "And sin, when it is finished, brings forth death" (St. James 1:15). However, God rewards with resurrection those who, out of love, take another' s death upon themselves. There are many examples how the saints took upon themselves the sins of their fellow men. Thus, it is said of St. Ammon: a brother fell into sin and came to Ammon and said to him that because of the sin he committed, he must leave the monastery and return to the world. Ammon said to the brother that he will take his sin upon himself and counseled the brother to remain in the monastery. The brother remained in the monastery and the elder Ammon proceeded to offer repentance and prayers to God. After a short time, the elder Ammon received a revelation from God that that sin is forgiven because of his love for the brother. When St. Macarius, St. Simeon the "fool for Christ", St. Theodora and others were accused of promiscuity, they did not defend themselves but, taking upon themselves the sin of others, received the weighty punishment for sin and patiently endured all until God revealed their innocence to men.
To contemplate the punishment of God upon the people of Israel for the sins of the sons of Eli, the judge and high priest (1 Samuel 4 1 Kings 4):
- How the sons of the high priest [Hophni and Phinehas] sinned openly and secretly in Shiloh before the Ark of the Covenant;
- How God gave the victory in battle to the Philistines over Israel in which many thousands of Israelites were slain, together with the sons of the high priest and the Ark of the Covenant was seized;
- How, because of the sins of the elders of the people, God permits suffering on the entire nation.
About the nothingness of the sinful before the majesty of God
"Enter into the rock and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and for the glory of His majesty" (Isaiah 2:10).
This is a bitter sneer of the prophet to his people, an idolatrous people. The people had rejected the faith in the one true God and began to worship idols of stone and earth. What will you do, O evil people, when "the fear of the Lord" appears? Where will you flee, when the "glory of His majesty" appears? Flee into the rocks from which you have made a god for yourselves! Flee into the dust, from which you have made a god for yourselves! O, how terrifying is the sneer of this discerning prophet! Who can enter into a rock and hide themselves? Who can flee into the dust and conceal himself from the Most High?
However, brethren let us leave the idolatry of the Jews for which they have been punished enough and, for a moment, let us look at the idolatry among us Christians. What is amassed gold, if not idol? What are gleaned fields other than an idol of dust? What are luxurious clothes other than an idol made from the skins and hairs of animals? Where will the idolaters of our generation hide when "the fear of the Lord" appears and when "the glory of his majesty" appears? Flee to gold, worshippers of gold! Flee to the earth, worshippers of the earth! Hide in the skins of animals and bury yourself with the hairs of foxes and the fibers of the dead silk worm, O, you idolators! O bitter irony! All of this will be burned in the Day of the Lord, on that Dreadful Day. And man will stand face to face with the only Majestic and Eternal One. All the idols of mankind will be destroyed by fire before men and the Immortal Judge will ask the idolators: "quot;Where are your gods?"
Isaiah, the son of Amos, the prophet of God, lived on earth a long time ago but his vision, even today, is dreadful, beneficial and, again, dreadful.
To You, the only One, the only living Lord, do we worship! All else is passing dust. Help us Lord, help us that our mind and heart does not adhere to the passing dust but to You, only to You, the only Living One.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK