Prologue from Ochrid - August 12 [August 25]
1. The Holy Martyrs Anicetas and Photius.
The Emperor Diocletian at one time visited the city of Nicomedia with the evil intention of utterly exterminating the Christians there. But, when he began his merciless torture of the Christians, St Anicetas, one of the governors of the city, presented himself before him and courageously confessed before the Emperor his faith in Christ the Lord, God incarnate in the flesh for our salvation. Anicetas also denounced the worship of idols as that of deaf and dumb stones, unworthily worshipped by ignorant men. The furious Emperor commanded that his tongue be cut out, but Anicetas, by the power of God, continued to speak. Then a lion was let loose on him, which fawned about him. At that moment, the Temple of Hercules fell down. Photius, a kinsman of Anicetas', seeing the wonders and his kinsman's endurance, embraced him, confessed that he himself was a Christian and cried out to the Emperor: 'You should be ashamed, you idolater; your gods are nothing!' The Emperor ordered that he be beheaded immediately, but the executioner, lifting up his hand against St Photius, gave himself a blow with his sword and died. After harsh torture, the two of them were thrown into prison, where they remained for three years. They were then taken out and thrown into an enormous burning furnace. Many other Christians, men, women and children, went into the flames voluntarily after them, and the prayers of the Christians were heard rising from the flames, thanking God for their death by martyrdom. They all suffered in about 305. St Anicetas and St Photius are invoked in the prayers at the blessing of oil and water.
2. The Hieromartyr Alexander, Bishop of Comana.
He lived in the town of Comana near Neocaesarea as a simple charcoal-burner. When the Bishop of Comana died, St Gregory of Neocaesarea, the Wonderworker (Nov. 17th), was invited to preside over the Council to choose a new bishop. At the Council there were both clergy and laymen. They were unable to come to agreement on one person, estimating the candidates they selected according to their outward worth and behaviour. St Gregory told them that they must not give so much weight to the outward impression as to the soul and the spiritual aptitude. Then some wag called out mockingly: 'Then let's choose Alexander the charcoalburner as bishop!', and there was general laughter. St Gregory asked who this Alexander was. Thinking that his name would not have come before the Council except by the providence of God, he commanded that he be brought. Being a charcoal-burner, he was black with soot and in rags, and his appearance provoked further mirth in the Council. Then Gregory took him aside and asked him to tell the truth about himself. Alexander told him that he had been a Greek philosopher, enjoying great honour and position, but that he had set it all aside, demeaned himself and made himself as a fool for Christ from the time that he had read and understood the Holy Scriptures. Gregory commanded that he be bathed and clad in new clothes, then went into the Council with him and, before them all, began to examine him in the Scriptures. All were filled with amazement at the wisdom and grace of Alexander's words, and were quite unable to recognise the former charcoal-burner in this wise man. With one voice, they chose him as bishop, and he received the love of his flock for his holiness, his wisdom and his goodness. He died a martyr for Christ under Diocletian.
Learn to respect and to love the lowly and simple people. Such as these are the most on earth: such as these are the most in the Kingdom of Heaven. In them, there is no pride, i.e., the basic madness from which the souls of the rich and the powerful of this world suffer. They carry out their duty in this world perfectly and yet it appears to them amusing when someone praises them for it, while the self-seeking men of this world seek praise for all their work and often, it is imperfectly completed. St. Alexander was an eminent philosopher and he left everything, hid himself from exalted society, the praise of the world and mingled with the lowliest and the simplest of men, as a charcoal-burner among charcoal-burners. Instead of former praises and honors, he endured with rejoicing that children ran after him and laughed at him because of his sootiness and raggedness. However, Alexander was not the only one who liked to live with the lowly and simple. Many kings and princes, learning of the sweetness of Christ's Faith, removed the crowns from their heads and fled from aristocratic vanity to be among the simple people. Did not He alone, the King of Kings, the Lord our Christ appear among shepherds and fishermen? St. Zeno counsels: "Do not choose a glorious place for living and do not associate with a man of a prominent name."
To contemplate the wondrous Providence of God at the election of Saul as king (1 Samuel 9 1 Kings 9):︰
- How Saul went out to seek the lost asses;
- How Samuel, to whom God revealed that Saul should be accepted as the king of Israel, met him;
- How the Providence of God directs men and sometimes gives them that which they do not envision.
About the awesome vision of the Prophet Isaiah
"I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up" (Isaiah 6:1).
Here is the vision of visions! Here is the glory of glories and the majesty above majesties! God showed great mercy to all of mankind in that He gave them to see this great starry world to see, the work of His hands. Yet, He showed a yet greater mercy to those to whom He gave the eternal and wondrous angelic world to see. However, He showed the greatest mercy to a small number of His chosen ones, to whom He gave Himself to see, the Lord Sabaoth, the Only Uncreated One and Creator of both worlds. But, how can mortal man see the Immortal God? Did not God Himself say to Moses: "For there shall no man see me and live" (Exodus 33:20)? And, does not the Gospel say: "No man has seen God at any time" (St. John 1:18). Truly, no mortal one can see the face of God, i.e., the essence of God. But, by His condescension and infinite goodness and might, God can reveal to men, to some extent, and in some form, how accessible He is to men. In a particular form and appearance, He appeared to Moses, Elijah, Daniel and to John the Theologian not in His essence but in a particular form and appearance. Isaiah saw Him on a throne "high and lifted up" i.e., as the Judge raised above all the judges and all the earthly courts. The six-winged Seraphim stood around Him and cried one to another: "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts" (Isaiah 6:3). The Lord, therefore, is not alone but rather He is the King in His Invisible Kingdom surrounded by the most exalted of beings, who were created by His power. Around Him are the foremost orders of the heavenly hierarchy, the chief-commanders of His innumerable immortal hosts, the foremost lampstands of His light and His unendurable radiance.
This is the wondrous vision of Isaiah, the Son of Amos, the prophet of God.
O, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, Thrice Holy, have mercy on us and save us, impure and sinful.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK