Prologue from Ochrid - August 11 [August 24]
1. The Holy Martyr Euplus.
He was a deacon from Catania in Sicily. 'Me Emperor Diocletian sent a commander, Pentagurus, to Sicily to exterminate any Christians that he found there. Pentagurus did not find a single Christian, for they had hidden from the persecutor and did not show themselves. Then someone accused Euplus of taking a book to some secret Christians and reading to them. This book was the holy Gospel. He was therefore soon taken for trial, and, with the book hung round his neck, put in prison. After seven days of imprisonment and hunger, he was put to torture. When they whipped him with iron flails, Euplus mockingly said to the torturing judge: 'You fool; don't you see that these tortures are, to me, like a cobweb? If you can, find other, harsher tortures, as these are like playthings.' Finally, they led Christ's martyr to the scaffold. Then St Euplus opened the holy Gospel and read from it to the people for a long time. Many turned to the Christian faith, and St Euplus was beheaded, in the year 304, and went to the heavenly Kingdom. His wonderworking relics lie in a village near Naples called Vico della Batonia.
2. The Holy Martyr Susanna the Virgin, and others with her.
The daughter of Gavinius, a Christian priest in Rome, she was niece to Pope Gaius, of blood and kin with the reigning Emperor, Diocletian. This Emperor had an adopted son, Maximian Galerius, who wanted to marry Susanna, but she was utterly dedicated to Christ the Lord and had no desire for marriage, especially with an unbaptised man. Susanna brought those who had requested her for the Emperor's son, the patricians Claudia and Maxima, to the Christian faith with all their households. Infuriated by this, the Emperor issued orders and the executioners took Claudia and Maxima, with their families, to Ostia, where they were burned and their ashes cast into the sea. Susanna was beheaded in Gavinius's house. The Emperor's wife, Serena, a secret Christian, took Susanna's martyred body by night and buried it, and Pope Gaius turned the house where Susanna was killed into a church and held services there. Soon after this bride of Christ suffered, her father Gavinius and Pope Gaius also suffered. They all suffered with honour for the Lord, and received wreaths of glory, in the years 295 and 296.
3. St Niphon, Patriarch of Constantinople.
Born in Greece, he became a monk in his youth and lived in asceticism, first away from the Holy Mountain and then on it in various monasteries, staying longest in Vatopedi and Dionysiou. He was beloved by all on the Holy Mountain, both for his rare wisdom and for his meekness. He was made Bishop of Salonica against his will, and, two years later, went to Constantinople in the course of his work and was there chosen for the vacant patriarchal throne. He was banished by the Sultan to Jedrene, where he lived in exile. Prince Radul of Wallachia asked the Sultan for him, and made him his archbishop. Because of Radul's transgressions, Niphon left the province of Wallachia and went to the Holy Mountain, to the community of Dionysiou, where he lived in asceticism till the age of ninety, going to the Kingdom of God in 1508. He compiled the 'Prayer at Departing' that is read at funerals.
4. Our Holy Fathers Basil and Theodore of the Kiev Caves.
They both died under the tyranny of the covetous Prince Istislav, in 1098. The life of St Theodore is especially instructive to the covetous. Theodore was very rich, but he gave all his wealth to the poor and became a monk. He then repented and grieved for his riches, and was greatly tempted by a spirit of covetousness, from which he was freed by St Basil.
If a man sets off on the path of righteousness let him walk only by the path of righteousness with both feet and let him not step with one foot on the righteous path and, with the other foot on the unrighteous path. For God said through the prophet about the righteous who commit unrighteousness: "All his righteousness that he has done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he has trespassed and in his sins that he has sinned, in them shall he die" (Ezekiel 18:24). The Wallachian Prince Radul was a just man and performed many good deeds. He brought St. Niphon out of bondage in Jedrene and made him the Archbishop of Bucharest. But suddenly, Radul committed a dreadful transgression: he gave his sister to be the wife of the corrupt Prince Bogdan of Moldavia while Bogdan's wife was still living. Radul did not heed the protests of Niphon. Niphon prophesied an evil end for Radul, publicly excommunicating him from the Church and departed from Wallachia. Shortly thereafter, there was a drought and a great famine in Wallachia and Radul fell into an incurable illness and his entire body was covered with sores. And because of the stench, no one was able to approach him. When Radul was buried, his grave shook for three days, as once did the grave of Empress Eudoxia, the persecutor of St. John Chrysostom.
To contemplate the self-will of the Jewish people (1 Samuel 8 1 Kings 8):
- How the Jews sought of Samuel that he appoint a king for them;
- How Samuel protested this in the name of the Lord Who proclaimed that He is the only King;
- How the people remained stubborn, rejecting the will of God and the counsels of Samuel.
About how ugliness comes with sin
"Instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness and burning instead of beauty" (Isaiah 3:24).
This is the word about extravagant and wayward women, about the daughters of Zion who have become haughty and "walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go and making a tinkling with their feet" (Isaiah 3:16). What was it that made the Hebrew women proud? Was it virtue? Virtue never made anyone proud for, in fact, virtue is a cure against pride. Was it the strength of a people and the stability of the State? No, on the contrary, the prophet exactly fortells the imminent bondage of the people and the destruction of the State. And, as one of the main causes for slavery and destruction, the prophet cites vain extravagance, spiritual nothingness and wayward women. What, therefore, made them so proud and haughty? Ornaments and embroideries stranded beads and necklaces, trinkets and hairpins, garters and girdles, perfumes and rings, quivers and mirrors. Behold, this is what made them proud and haughty! Exactly, all of this is an expression of their ignorant pride but the true cause of their pride is spiritual nothingness. From spiritual nothingness comes pride and that external melange [mixture] of colors which women drape over their bodies is only an obvious manifestation of their ignorant pride. What will become of all this in the end? Stench, disheveledness, baldness and burning. This will occur when the people fall into bondage. As usually happens: first, the spirit is enslaved by the body and then the body is enslaved by an external enemy.
Thus, that will be even then when the inescapable conqueror of our bodies comes death. Sweet smells will not help in the grave, the kingdom of stench. Neither will there be a need for girdles for a naked spine [skeleton]. Neither will braided hair save the skull from baldness nor all the beauty from the black remains of burning. This is the inescapable fate of the most beautiful, the healthiest the wealthiest and the most extravagant women. But this is not the greatest misfortune. The greatest misfortune is that the souls of these women with their stench, disheveledness, baldness, and burning will come before God and before the heavenly hosts of the most beautiful of God's angels and righteous ones. For the stench of the body connotes the stench of the soul from depraved vices; a disheveled body connotes the insatiability of the soul for bodily pleasures; the baldness of the body connotes the baldness of the soul of good works and pure thoughts; burning of the body connotes the burning of the conscience and the mind.
O, how dreadful is the vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos; dreadful then and even dreadful today; dreadful, because it is true.
O, Lord Holy and All-pure, help the women who make the sign with Your Cross, that they may remember their souls and to cleanse their souls before Your Righteous Judgment, so that their souls, together, with their bodies do not become eternal stench.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK