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Prologue from Ochrid - December 2 [December 15]

1. The Holy Prophet Habakkuk.

The son of Sapnat, of the tribe of Simeon, he prophesied six hundred years before Christ, in the time of King Manasseh, and foretold the devastation of Jerusalem. When Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, attacked Jerusalem, Habakkuk went into the land of the Ishmaelites, whence he returned to Jerusalem and made his living working on the land. One day, when he was carrying lunch to the workers in the fields, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him and said: 'Go, carry the meal that thou hast into Babylon, unto Daniel who is in the lion's den.' Habakkuk replied: 'Lord, I never saw Babylon, neither do I know where the den is' (Daniel 14:33 in the Greek text. It is omitted in the Hebrew Bible, and is to be found in the Apocrypha under Bel and the Dragon). Then the angel seized him by the hair and carried him straight to Babylon, over an immense distance, to the lion's den where Daniel had been cast by King Cyrus because he would not worship idols. 'O Daniel, Daniel,' cried Habakkuk, 'take the dinner which God hath sent thee!' And Daniel took it and ate. 'Men the angel of God again took hold of Habakkuk and carried him back to his field in Judea. Habakkuk preached and prophesied about the liberation of Jerusalem and the coming of Christ. He entered into rest in great old age and was buried at Keilah. His relics were discovered during the reign of Theodosius the Great.

2. The Holy Martyr Myrope.

Myrope was born in Ephesus of Christian parents. After the death of her father, she went to the island of Chios with her mother, and there suffered for Christ. The passion of this holy virgin took place soon after the passion and death of the soldier-martyr Isidore (May 14th). When the torturers had beheaded Isidore, the courageous Myrope took the body away secretly and buried it in a special place. The wicked prince Numerian heard that the martyr's body had been stolen, and threatened to execute the guards. Hearing that innocent people were to suffer for her act, blessed Myrope came before the authorities and confessed that it was she who had taken the martyr's body and buried it. On the prince's orders, Christ's holy virgin was savagely beaten, and cast into prison covered with wounds. But the Lord did not leave His martyr comfortless. A heavenly light illumined the prison in the dead of night, and many angels, with St Isidore in their midst, appeared to her. 'Peace to thee, Myrope', St Isidore said to her, 'thy prayer has ascended to God, and thou shalt soon be with us and receive the crown prepared for thee'. The holy martyr was filled with joy, and at that moment surrendered her soul into God's hands. A sweet fragrance came forth from her body and filled the whole prison. One of the guards who witnessed all this was moved to belief in Christ and was baptised, and soon thereafter suffered a martyr's death. St Myrope entered into eternity in the year 251.

3. St Uros, King of Serbia.

The son of King Dusan, he ruled during the difficult time of the fall of the Kingdom of Serbia. Humble, pious and gentle, he refused to attempt to restrain the power of the powerful nobles by force. Amongst these was Vukasin, who brought about his death. Good King Uros suffered a martyr's death on December 2nd, 1367, at the age of thirty-one. Killed by men, he was glorified by God. His wonderworking relics were preserved in the monastery of Jazak in the Fruska Gora, whence they were taken to Belgrade in 1942, during the Second World War, and placed in the Cathedral beside the bodies of Prince Lazar and Despot Stephen Stiljanovic. During the reign of this benevolent king, the monastery of St Nahum was built beside Lake Ochrid by one of Uros's nobles, Grgur.

4. Our Holy Father Athanasius the Recluse Of the Kiev Caves.

After a long life of asceticism, this holy man died and was washed, attired and prepared for burial. He lay dead for two days, then suddenly returned to life. When they came to bury him, they found him sitting up and weeping. He shut himself in his cell and lived a further twelve years on bread and water, without a word to anyone. He entered into rest in the Lord in 1176.

5. St Jesse, Bishop of Tsiklan.

One of the thirteen Syrian fathers (May 7th), he was a great wonderworker. He changed the course of a distant river by his prayers, and caused it to flow close to the city of Tsiklan. His relics are preserved in the church dedicated to him in that Syrian city.

Reflection

"Who has ever returned from the other world to inform us of it?" Thus the unbelievers ask. One should reply to them: "Repent of your sins if you wish to find out; make yourselves worthy and you will see." St. Habakkuk traveled with an angel. St. Myrope saw a host of angels and among them the martyr, St. Isidore. St. Athanasius of the Kiev Caves was dead to this world for two days and alive only in the other world. Upon the return of his soul to his body, they gathered around him and asked him: "How did you return to life? What did you see? What did you hear?" He would say nothing about it, being totally in horror at that which he had seen in the other world, and would only say: "Save yourselves!" When they pressured him to tell a little more of what he had seen in the other world after death, he replied: "Even if I should tell you, you would not believe me or listen to me." When they urged him yet further, however, he said among other things: "Repent every moment and pray to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His Most-pure Mother." Even in our own time, there are cases of those who have temporarily died, and the visions and accounts of those who have returned to life in the body do not contradict but rather complement one another. For example, every person who dies sees one part of that other world that is vast and incomparably larger than this world. Many people, at death, see their long-dead relatives and speak with them. This is almost a common occurrence. In 1926, in the village of Vevèani, Meletije P. was on his deathbed. He spoke with his children, who had died twenty years earlier. When his living relatives said to him, "You're rambling!" he replied, "I am not rambling, but rather I am speaking with them as I am speaking with you, and I see them as I see you."

Contemplation

Contemplate the sinful fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3):

  1. How Adam and Eve, before their sin, were clothed in innocence and did not see themselves naked;
  2. How, after sinning, Adam and Eve saw themselves naked and hid themselves from God;
  3. How every virtue is clothing, and every sin is nakedness.

Homily

On the joyful revelations in the first sentence of the Bible

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

How compact and full is God's every word! It is like folded linen, which can be carried under the arm and spread upon the grass over a large area. How many, many priceless good things does this word of God reveal to us: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. First of all, it shows us that God is the only eternal and uncreated One. And this first revelation brings about in us the first inexpressible joy. In this whirlpool of change and transience, we are inexpressibly happy that our Creator is beyond change and transience. It further tells us that the one and only good God is the Creator of the world, and since He is the Creator, He is also both the Almighty and the Provider. And this second revelation brings about in us a second inexpressible joy. The world did not proceed out of chaos or chance, without thought and purpose, rather it proceeded from the All-wise God, omniscient and most-merciful, Who is in control of it and is guiding it toward its intended goal. It further reveals to us that this world had a beginning, and consequently it will have an end. And this third revelation brings about in us inexpressible joy. For it would be sad if this world were eternal, and if all its goals, immediate and distant, were to be found only within itself. This would indeed cause a whirlpool in the mind of the intelligent, and sadness in the heart of the righteous. It finally points out to us that God created two worlds, the heavenly and the earthly, or the incorporeal and the corporeal. And this fourth revelation brings us a fourth inexpressible joy. As we now raise our gaze to the heights and rejoice in the sun, moon and stars above our heads, so we can raise our spirit to the spiritual world, toward the angelic world, which is akin to us but purer and brighter than us. We rejoice, for we know that there is a world better than ours, which we will also enter and, like weary travelers, return home and find rest. Oh, how sadly would men's gaze wander around the world if this were the only world and there were no starry heavens! And how sorrowfully would the spirit of man wander in the material world if there were not a spiritual world, the heavenly!

O Most-gracious Lord, glory to Thee and praise.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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