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Prologue from Ochrid - August 13 [August 26]

1. The Holy Martyr Hippolytus.

Hippolytus was a military supervisor and prison governor in Rome, born and brought up a pagan. When St Laurence the archdeacon was thrown into prison, Hippolytus was ordered by the Emperor to keep a strict eye on this prisoner. Hippolytus saw with his own eyes how Laurence restored the sight of the blind Lucillus and how he healed many other of the sick, and he became a Christian. When St Laurence baptised him, Hippolytus had a heavenly vision and said: 'I see innocent souls in great joy'. He then took Laurence into his own home, and all those in it were baptised, including his old nurse, Concordia; nineteen souls in all. When Laurence was slain for Christ, Hippolytus took the martyr's body by night, wrapped it in a winding-sheet and buried it. This somehow came to the ears of the Emperor Valerian, and, on the third day after Laurence's death, Hippolytus was arrested and taken before the Emperor. Refusing to deny the true Faith, he was struck on the mouth with stones. The Emperor then ordered that he be stripped and flayed. Naked before the Emperor, Hippolytus said to him: 'You have not stripped me, but have begun to clothe me!' They then threw him to the ground and flayed him mercilessly, but Hippolytus only cried out: 'I am a Christian!' The Emperor, hearing that Hippolytus and his whole household were Christians, ordered that they all be brought. Old Concordia said: 'We prefer to die in honour in the Christian faith with our master than to live in dishonour with you.' She was killed first, and then the other eighteen, all before Hippolytus' eyes. Finally, Hippolytus was bound behind a wild horse and dragged hither and thither, until the martyr gave his soul to God.

2. St Tikhon of Zadonsk.

Born in 1724 in the village of Korotsk, in the Novgorod region, into a simple, peasant family, he received the monastic habit at the age of thirty-four and very soon, because of his ascesis and spiritual wisdom, was given higher and higher service until he was consecrated Bishop of Voronezh. He served as bishop for a little under seven years and then, because of ill-health, retired to the monastery of Zadonsk and entered into rest there in 1783. His wonderworking relics are kept there to this day. A great ascetic of the Russian Church, he was a rare shepherd, a man of prayer and the writer of beautiful spiritual works. In his wisdom, his holiness and asceticism, he could be counted an equal of the great Fathers of the Orthodox Church of former times. Because of the many witnessed miracles that were performed over his relics, he was first proclaimed a saint by the people, and then officially by the Church in 1861.

3. Our Holy Mother, the Empress Irene, in monasticism, Xenia.

She was the wife of the Emperor Kalo-John (John 11 Comnenus, 1118-1143). Apart from her monastic asceticism and good works, she is famed for having founded the Monastery of the Pantocrator in Constantinople, one of the most famous and most beautiful monasteries in that city. St Stephen of Decani later lived there in asceticism.

4. Our Holy Father Seridus.

Famed for founding a community near Gaza in Palestine, in which famous men such as St Barsanuphius, St John, Abba Dorotheus, Dositheus and others lived the ascetic life, St Seridus departed this earthly life in the sixth century and went to the eternal joy of his Lord.

Reflection

"Give thanks to the Lord but do not forget His great men, the poor and the needy, for they can accomplish much with God the Lord." These are the words of the illustrious Russian ascetic of the nineteenth century, Father Nazariah, the abbot of Valamo [Valaam]Monastery. He spoke these words to the wife of a high-ranking official in Petrograd [St. Petersburg] who fell into disfavor with the Tsar because of certain serious accusations. The accused official became ill from worry and lay in bed. Hearing that Father Nazariah arrived in Petrograd, the wife of this official hurriedly sought him out and related the misfortune which had befallen them and implored him to pray to the Lord for her husband. "Do you have any copper or silver coins in change?" Father Nazariah asked her. The woman brought the coins and gave them to him. And so, Father Nazariah left. The same evening Nazariah again returned and gladdened the wife with this news: "Glory to God, all those close to the Tsar [God, the King] have promised to pray for you." Naturally, the wife thought of Tsar Alexander Pavlovitch and his courtiers, while the spiritual father was thinking about the beggars on the streets to whom he had distributed the coins and sent them to pray to God for the husband of this woman. And suredly the news arrived that the emperor ordered that the matter concerning this official be taken up again and reviewed. And, it was just what the official wanted. When the woman began to thank Father Nazariah, he said: "Give thanks to the Lord but do not forget His great men, the poor and the needy, for they can accomplish much with God the Lord."

Contemplation

To contemplate the wondrous might of prophesying (1 Samuel 10 1 Kings 10):

  1. How Samuel prophesied to Saul all that will happen to him one day;
  2. How the Spirit of God came upon Saul and he also prophesied.

Homily

About the chief prophesy of the Prophet Isaiah

"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

This glorious prophecy concerning the birth of the Lord by a virgin was spoken by Isaiah, the prophet who saw God, at the moment of the greatest despair which befell Jerusalem. The multitudinous army of Syrians and Ephriams had surrounded the city, around the very walls of the city. King Ahaz, with neither an army nor weapons and the inhabitants of Jerusalem were in mortal fear. "The heart of the king [Ahaz] and the heart of the people trembled, as the trees of the forest tremble in the wind" (Isaiah 7:2). In that final hour of the king's despair, Isaiah came before the king and by command of God said to him: "Fear not neither be fainthearted" (Isaiah 7:4). Then Isaiah prophesied that the enemies would not take Jerusalem. Seeing that King Ahaz did not believe him, Isaiah told the king to ask for a sign, a miracle, be it from heaven or from earth. However, the unbelieving king did not want to ask but remained obstinate in his doubt. The prophet then said that God would give them a sign, even though they did not seek it. This sign refers to distant times and concerns the universal salvation of the mankind. "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel" which is to say: "God is with us." Why did not the prophet immediately give a sign so that the king would believe? Because, that prophecy about the salvation of Jerusalem, in the hour when the king thought that all had fallen, was sufficient enough to show both the power of God and the unbelief of the king. Why did the prophet, at that very moment and under such circumstances, foretell the prophecy of the birth of the Savior? Because mankind, at the time of the coming of the Savior, will be in the same kind of despair, pressured by and surrounded by the powers of the demons, as was Jerusalem at that moment. Did the prophet explicitly say Virgin and not a Woman? Naturally, he mentioned a Virgin. For if the prophesy were spoken of a woman, what kind of miracle would it be; what kind of sign? Are not all men born of women? All the weight of emphasis is on the word "Virgin."

Thus, the All-seeing God knows how to tie in the near with the distant and that, by fulfilling one prophecy in the present, He confirms a second prophecy in the future. "Emmanuel God is with us" - He saved Jerusalem then as an invisible God. "Emmanuel God is with us" He will save mankind in similar dangers later on as the Incarnate God, as God-Man, born of the All-Pure Virgin and the Holy Spirit.

O Lord, Who gave power to the prophets to see the truth as it comes from afar, give us the power to embrace that truth which has already come.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK