Prologue from Ochrid - August 18 [August 31]
1. Our Holy Father John of Rila.
This great ascetic and light of the Orthodox Church was born near Sophia, in a place called Skrino, in the time of the Emperor Boris. He was born of poor but worthy parents. After their death, he became a monk and withdrew to a high mountain, where he began to live the ascetic life in a cave. He endured many assaults both by demons and men, from robbers and from his kinsmen. He afterwards moved to the mountain of Rila, and there took up residence in a hollow tree. He ate only the herbs and berries that grew, by God's providence, in the vicinity. He saw no man's face for many years until, again by God's providence, he was found by a herdsman searching for his lost sheep. The saint then became known among men, and people began to come to him, seeking help in sickness or trouble. The Bulgarian king, Peter, himself visited him, to ask his advice. Many who were seeking the spiritual life settled near to John, and a church and monastery were soon built there. St John entered into rest in the Lord on August 18th, 946, at the age of seventy, and appeared to his disciples after his death. His relics were first taken to Sophia, then to Hungary, to Trnovo and finally to the monastery of Rila, where they are preserved to this day. The monastery of Rila has, through the ages, been a lighthouse and a place of wonderworking power and spiritual support to the Christian people of Bulgaria, most especially during the time of slavery under the Turks.
2. The Holy Martyrs Florus and Laurus.
Brothers in both the flesh and the spirit, they were both zealous Christians, and stonemasons by craft. They lived in Illyria. Some pagan prince set them to build a pagan temple. It happened during the course of their work that a fragment of stone splintered off and flew into the eye of the pagan priest's son, who was watching the building work with curiosity. Seeing his son blinded and bleeding, the priest shouted at Florus and Laurus and tried to thrash them. Then the holy brothers told him that, if he would believe in the God in whom they believed, his son would be restored to health. The priest promised. Horus and Laurus prayed to the one, living Lord with tears and e the sign of the Cross over the child's stricken eye. The child was healed instantly and his eye became whole as it had been before. Then the priest, Merentius, and his son were baptised, and they both very soon suffered for Christ in the flames. But Florus and Laurus, when they had finished the temple, put a Cross on it, called together all the Christians and consecrated it in the name of the Lord Jesus with an all-night vigil of hymns. Hearing of this, the governor of Illyria burned many of these Christians by fire and had Florus and Laurus thrown alive into a well, which was then filled with earth. Their relics were later discovered and taken to Constantinople. These two wonderful brothers suffered for Christ, and were glorified by Him, in the second century.
3. The Hieromartyr Emilian the Bishop.
He was born in Armenia. He sought martyrdom, and went to Italy to preach Christ in the time of Diocletian, being chosen as bishop in Trevi. Through the many miracles associated with his martyrdom, about a thousand pagans came to faith in Christ. He was slain with the sword along with his spiritual father, Hilary, and two brothers, Dionysius and Hermippus.
It is not a rare occasion, especially in our time, that parents become the culprits for the spiritual death of their children. Whenever a child has an aspiration for the spiritual life, asceticism, monasticism and the parent curtails this aspiration instead of encouraging it, such a parent becomes the murderer of his child. And, such children, as a punishment to their parents, often turn to the opposite side and become perverted. A boy named Luke, the nephew of St. John of Rila, hearing about his uncle and drawn by the desire for the spiritual life, visited his uncle in the mountain. John received Luke with love and began to instruct and to strengthen him in the mortification of asceticism. However, one day Luke's father appeared at the cave of John and furiously began to scold the saint for keeping his son in that wilderness. John's words and counsels were of no avail. The father dragged the son home by force. However, on the way home a serpent bit the boy and Luke died. The cruel father saw in this the punishment of God and repented but it was all too late. He returned to John mourning and condemning himself. But the saint only said to him to bury the child and to return from wherever he came.
To contemplate God's wondrous choosing of David as king (1 Samuel 16 1 King 16):
- How the Lord instructed Samuel to go to the home of Jesse and anoint one of his sons as king;
- How the Lord instructed Samuel to anoint David, a herder of sheep, the eighth and youngest son of Jesse;
- How Samuel anointed David and how the Spirit of God descended upon David.
About peace between the wolf and the lamb
"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid" (Isaiah 11:6).
Thus, the true prophet foretold the truth. And he further added: "The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox" (Isaiah 11:6-7). And the child will place his hand in the hole of a poisonous snake [asp] and the snake will not harm him. Brethren, when will this wonder occur? This has already occurred when Christ the wonder-worker appeared on earth. This is a reality of Paradise, which was restored among men with the coming of the Savior upon earth. The prophet speaks enigmatically but, nevertheless, clearly; enigmatically, for the prophet does not speak about wild beasts but of men; for his prophecy was clearly fulfilled in Christ's Church. Men, who by their habits, were as wolves, wildcats, lions, bears, oxen, lambs, kids and serpents all stand before the Child of Bethlehem equalized by faith, tamed by grace, illumined by hope and softened by love.
The prophet further fortells why this will take place. "For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). When viewed physically, every man is earth. The man who believes in Christ and, in truth follows after Christ, becomes full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea, which is filled with water. Such were many individuals. Such were even entire companies of ascetics in Egypt, on the Holy Mountain [Athos], on Cyprus, in Russia, in Armenia and in other places. But this is not all. The knowledge of the Lord has spread today throughout the earth. Holy Scripture is distributed throughout all nations. There are few corners of the earth where the Gospel of Christ is not read, where the name of God is not known and where the Bloodless Sacrifice of the Lord is not offered. Some deny Christ, others embrace Him, some abandon the true Faith and others embrace the true Faith. And thus continues the one struggle throughout the entire world in the sign of the Lord Jesus. The overly filled waters pour out and flow into empty valleys; the empty valleys become filled and are made equal with the high waters. Everything is not glowing in the world as we Christians wish it to be, but the prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah was gloriously fulfilled most clearly and was accomplished. O how wonderful is the vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos, the true prophet. O, miracle-working Lord, tame the beastly nature of those men and people who are not tamed by the power of Your love. That we all may be fruitful from Your abundance. That we all may be glorious from Your Glory and alive Lord, alive from Your Immortal life.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK