Prologue from Ochrid - July 21 [August 3]
1. The Holy Prophet Ezekiel.
The son of a priest from the city of Sarir, he was taken into captivity in Babylon with King Jehoiachin and many other Israelites. Living in captivity, Ezekiel prophesied for twenty-seven years. He was a contemporary of the Prophet Jeremiah. As Jeremiah taught and prophesied in Jerusalem, so Ezekiel taught and prophesied in Babylon. Jeremiah's prophecies were known in Babylon, as were Ezekiel's in Jerusalem. Both these holy men were in agreement in their prophecy, and they were both ill-treated and tormented by the faithless Jewish people. Ezekiel had vivid and indescribable visions. By the river Chebar, he saw the heavens open, and a cloud like fire and lightning, and four living creatures like molten copper. One of the living creatures had the face of a man, the second that of a lion, the third that of a calf and the fourth that of an eagle. The human face signified God incarnate as man, the lion's face His divinity, the calf s His sacrifice and the eagle's His Resurrection and Ascension. In another image, he was shown the resurrection of the dead. The prophet saw a valley filled with the dry bones of the dead, and when the Spirit of God came upon them, they came to life and stood on their feet. He also saw the terrible destruction of Jerusalem, when the wrath of God cut down all except those who had earlier been marked with the mark, that of the Greek Tav, our letter 'T', which is also the sign of the Cross. The malice of the Jews did not spare this holy man. Embittered against him for having denounced them, the Jews bound him to the tails of horses and he was torn asunder. He was buried in the self-same place in which Shem the son of Noah was buried.
2. Our Holy Fathers Simeon and John.
These two young men left their homes and kinsfolk: Simeon his old mother and John his wife, and were made monks in the community of St Gerasim, at the hands of Abbot Nikon. They went off into the desert, where they spent many years in the strictest asceticism. They mortified their bodies with this ascesis until they were like two pieces of dry wood. One day, Simeon said to John that, at God's command, he must leave the desert and return to the company of men, there to serve God. John gave him this advice: 'Keep your heart from all that you see in the world. Whatever there may be that touches your hand, let it not take hold of your heart. When food passes your lips, let not your heart be sweetened by it. If your feet have to move, let there be peace within you. Whatever you do outwardly, let your mind remain tranquil. Pray for me, that God may not part us from each other in the world to come.' Holy Simeon accepted his friend's advice, embraced him and then left the desert and went among men, to teach them through folly and turn them to the Christian faith. He made himself appear mad to men, but his heart was a temple of the Holy Spirit, a temple of unceasing prayer. He had abundant gifts from God, having discernment into all men's secrets, both close at hand and afar off, and healed men of evil spirits and other infirmities. Dancing through the streets like a madman, he drew near to people and whispered their sins in their ears, calling them to repentance. He appeared to sinners in dreams, reprimanding them for their sins and calling them also to repentance. Thus St Simeon appeared in a dream to a pagan actor, Bali, who publicly mocked the holy things of the Christians. He rebuked him and threatened him, and Bali repented and became a good Christian. A dissolute youth went out of his mind with lust. Seeing him, St Simeon, feigning madness, struck him a blow on the face, and said: 'Do not commit adultery!' At that moment, the unclean spirit left the young man and he was healed.
For the sake of his fellow man, St. Simeon left his only friend in the world, his peaceful cell in the wilderness, and made himself out to be a "fool for Christ". It is told how the Spartan King Lycerges, made great sacrifices for the benefit of his fellow citizens. He issued strict laws, instituting a completely new system of educating the young and instituting order in the State. When he issued these laws, he said to his fellow citizens that he desires to go to Delphi, where there was a great shrine and demanded that they all take an oath to faithfully adhere to his laws until his return. When all the citizenry laid down the oath, Lycerges left his country and never did return. It is a great sacrifice to leave one's homeland and voluntarily live in a strange country for the sake of the benefit of one's fellow man. But how much greater is the sacrifice to voluntarily leave one's mind and continually pretend before men to be as one without a mind. Is not insanity the greatest foreign land known to man? To live in this terrible strange land year after year and that, all for the benefit of your fellow men!
To contemplate the miraculous crossing of Israel over the Jordan river (Joshua 3):
- How by the power of God and through Joshua, the waters in the river Jordan parted and the priests with the people crossed over;
- How the priests with the Ark of the Covenant, during the time that the people crossed over "stood on dry land in the Jordan" (Joshua 3:17);
- How even I, need not be afraid of the floods of this world, as long as in the center of my being, i.e., in the heart, I firmly hold the covenant of the Lord.
About the false teachers
"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Peter 2:1).
Man is at war in this world. Continual is the battle and numerous are the enemies. Among the most dangerous enemies belong the false teachers. Only if the mind of man is directed toward the Living God will he be safeguarded from these dangerous enemies. False teachers are either as blindmen or as thieves; first, because of their blindness they [false teachers] lead both themselves and others into destruction and second, because of their hatred and envy they intentionally lead others astray, and hand over both their souls and bodies to the fires of hell. The Lord Himself prophesied: "Many false prophets shall rise and shall deceive many" (Matthew 24:11). The apostle only confirms the words of his Lord. Both false prophets and false teachers will sow the seed of destruction among the people. These are "damnable heresies" by which some will deny their Lord Who redeemed mankind by His All-pure Holy Blood. Many false teachers have already appeared and have sown many heresies, damnable as tares, throughout the world. Brethren, if you know those "damnable heresies" which the Holy Fathers condemned at the Councils, then you will be able to recognize the principle seed of poison, which the devil through his servants sow in the field, over which the Savior had sown pure wheat.
But even if you know or, if you do not know, direct your mind toward the Lord, enclose your mind with the sign of the Cross, call to your assistance the Holy and All-pure One [The Theotokos], chosen ones of God and especially your guardian angel and do not be afraid. Along with this always ask the Church and the Church, being more experienced and victorious against all falsehoods, will tell you what is the truth. For you are from yesterday and the Church is from time immemorial. Your memory is shorter than the memory of the Church.
O Lord Jesus, You are the only Path, the only Truth, the only Life. O Lord do not permit, that we be led by false teachers and to apostate ourselves from You.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK