Prologue from Ochrid - July 25 [August 7]
1. Saint Anna, the Mother of the Most Holy Mother of God.
Today is the commemoration of her falling asleep; her main feast is on September 9th, where her life is written. Anna was of the tribe of Levi, and was the daughter of Matthan the priest. After a long life pleasing to God, she entered into rest at a great age.
2. St Olympias the Deaconess.
Olympias was born in Constantinople of very eminent parents. Her father, Anysius Secundus, was a senator and her mother was the daughter of the famous aristocrat Eulavius, who is mentioned in the life of St Nicolas the Wonderworker. When Olympias was fully grown, she was betrothed to a nobleman who died before his marriage to this honoured maiden. The Emperor and others exhorted her to take another husband, but in vain; she refused them all and devoted herself to a life pleasing to God, giving of her inherited wealth great gifts to the Church and alms to the poor. She served in the Church as a deaconess, first in the time of Patriarch Nectarius and, after his death, under St John Chrysostom. When Chrysostom went into exile, he advised Olympias to remain in the Church as before and serve it, whichever Patriarch should succeed him. But, immediately after the exile of this great hierarch, someone set fire to a large church, and the conflagration took hold of many of the public buildings in the capital. Chrysostom's enemies accused this holy woman of being a malicious fire-raiser. Olympias was exiled from Constantinople to Nicomedia, where she entered into rest in 408, leaving instructions that her body be placed in a coffin and cast into the sea, and that she be buried wherever the waves threw the coffin up. The coffin was cast up at a place called Vrochthoi, where there was a church dedicated to the Apostle Thomas. Great miracles of healing have been performed through the centuries by her relics. The exiled Chrysostom wrote beautiful letters to the exiled Olympias, which to this day serve to give support to all who suffer for God's justice. Among other things, Chrysostom wrote to Olympias: 'Now I am deeply joyful, not only because you have been delivered from sickness, but even more because you are bearing adversities with such fortitude, calling them trifles - a characteristic of a soul filled with power and abounding in the rich fruits of courage. You are not only enduring misfortune with fortitude, but are making light of it in a seemingly effortless way, rejoicing and triumphing over it - this is a proof of the greatest wisdom' (Letter 6 of the seventeen that have come down to us) -
3. Our Holy Mother Eupraxia the Virgin.
She was the daughter of a Constantinopolitan nobleman, Antigonus, and a kinswoman of the Emperor Theodosius the Great. With her mother, a young widow, she went to Egypt and travelled around the monasteries, giving alms and praying to God. The seven-year-old Eupraxia, in fulfilment of her burning desire, received the monastic habit in a women's monastery. As she grew older, she took on herself harsher and harsher asceticism, once fasting for forty days. She entered into rest in the year 413, at the age of thirty. She had great grace from God to heal the gravest sicknesses.
4. Commemoration of the Fifth Ecumenical Council.
This Council was held in Constantinople in the time of the Emperor Justinian the Great, in 553. All the Monophysite heresies were condemned at this Council, and also the heretical writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus and Origen (his writings against the resurrection of the dead).
"As virginity is better than marriage, so the first marriage is better than the second." Thus, St. John Chrysostom wrote to the young widow of Tarasius, a deceased nobleman of Constantinople, counseling her not to enter into marriage for the second time. The Church blesses first marriages with joy but the second marriage with sorrow. Eupraxia the elder, the mother of St. Eupraxia and relative of Emperor Theodosius the Great, remained a young widow following the death of her husband Antigonus, with whom she lived in physical contact for only two years and three months, and further lived one more year as brother and sister by mutual pledge. The emperor and empress counseled her to enter into marriage with another nobleman. She would not hear of it, but took her child Eupraxia and together they fled to Egypt. What can we say about St. Olympias and St. Eupraxia the younger? As with St. Macrina, not only was she also betrothed as a virgin but when her betrothed died, she considered herself a widow and would not even in her thoughts consider entering into marriage. What purity of heart! What fidelity to one's betrothed! What fear of God! What obvious faith in the future life in which the betrothed maiden hopes to see her betrothed.
To contemplate the miraculous standing still of the sun and the moon (Joshua 10):
- How Joshua, in order to complete the victory over the Gibeonites, ordered the sun and the moon to stand still in their courses;
- How God heard the voice of the righteous man and by His power caused the sun and the moon to stand still;
- How God created even nature to serve man and how God acts according to the will of the righteous.
About slaves who preach liberty
"While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants (slaves) of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage" (2 Peter 2:19).
The apostle still speaks of "the impure, the impudent, and the self-willed", reminding the faithful, to beware of their misleading "proud and false words". He first said about them that: "they speak evil of dignities of the glory of God" and second: "that they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness" (1 Peter 2:18). Now he further speaks about how they promise liberty i.e., they promise something which they themselves do not possess, for being overcome by impure passions, they are slaves to their own passions, submissive slaves to the greatest tyranny of this world. O my brethren, how relevant for us are these apostolic words written some nineteen hundred years ago! Behold, how everywhere around us they get carried away declaiming liberty, those who do not have even a little bit of liberty! Listen to the cry of the despairing slaves of passions and vices; how deceived, they are deceiving; how blinded, preaching light. Passions are a woven net, woven by the devil, to ensnare mankind. Captured in this net, they refer to other men as slaves and themselves as freemen to the laughter of the devil, who silently gathers in the net hauling it toward his shore. O brethren, guard yourselves from those desperate ones who call themselves the heralds of liberty, while they serve their master and lord, the devil, day and night. Their poverty they call wealth and the wealth of others they call poverty, as does the ignorant one calls the entire world ignorant and himself intelligent. Thus, those who are least free call others enslaved. Service to God and to fellow men out of love, they call slavery, while service to the devil, they call liberty. They are malicious both to God and to men, as is the devil himself malicious to God and to men. Whenever you hear anyone who speaks to you of liberty, question him well, as to whether he is not a slave of some passion or vice. By the impurity of their life, by their impudence and their self-will, you will recognize all false teachers of liberty. The apostle reminds you of this.
O Lord, the only Giver of true liberty, safeguard us from the net of all those who are malicious toward You and us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK