Prologue from Ochrid - December 4 [December 17]
1. The Holy and Great Martyr Barbara.
This famous follower of Christ was betrothed to Him from her early years. Her father, Dioscorus, was a pagan in the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and was famed for his wealth and standing. Dioscorus shut up his only daughter, who was both intelligent and beautiful, in a high tower, surrounded her with all possible comforts, gave her a host of attendants, set up idols for worship and built her a bathroom with two windows. As she gazed through the windows of the tower upon the earth below and the starry sky above, Barbara's mind was opened by the grace of God, and she came to know Him as the one, true God and Creator, although she had no human teacher to bring her to the knowledge of Him. Once, when her father was away from the city, she came out of the tower and, by God's providence, met some Christians who told her about the true Christian faith. Barbara's heart was set on fire with love for Christ. She had a third window cut in the bathroom as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, and traced a Cross with her finger on one wall of it, which etched itself deep in the stone as if cut by a chisel. A spring of water gushed forth from the bathroom floor from her footprint, and it later gave healing from sickness to many. When Dioscorus found out about his daughter's faith, he beat her harshly and drove her from the tower, chasing after her to kill her, but a cliff opened and hid Barbara from her irate father. When she appeared again, Dioscorus took her to Marcian, the governor of the city, who handed her over for torture. The innocent Barbara was stripped and beaten until her entire body was covered in bloody wounds, but the Lord Himself appeared to her in the prison with many angels, and healed her. A certain woman, Juliana, beheld this and conceived a desire for martyrdom herself. Both of them were fearfully tortured and taken around the city to be mocked, then their breasts were cut off and much blood flowed from them. They were finally led out to the place of execution, and Juliana was slain by soldiers while Barbara was killed by her own father. On the same day, lightning struck Dioscorus's house, killing both him and Marcian. St Barbara suffered in 306, and her wonderworking relics are preserved in Kiev. Greatly glorified in the Kingdom of Christ, she has appeared many times down to our own days, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of the most holy Mother of God.
2. St John Damacene.
He was first a minister of Caliph Abdul-Malek, and then became a monk in the monastery of St Sava the Sanctified. For his ardent advocacy of the veneration of icons while still a courtier during the reign of the iconoclast Emperor Leo the Isaurian, he was slandered by the Emperor to the Caliph, who had his right hand cut off. John fell down in prayer before the icon of the most holy Mother of God, and his hand was re-joined to his arm and miraculously healed. When he beheld this wonder, the Caliph repented, but John no longer desired to remain at court as a nobleman, but to withdraw to a monastery. There, he was from the beginning a model of humility and obedience, and of all the works of asceticism prescribed for monks. He wrote the hymns for the Parting of the Soul from the Body, put together the Octoechos, the Irmologion, the Menologion and the Easter Canon, and wrote many theological works of an inspired profundity. A great monk, hymnographer and theologian, and a great warrior for the truth of Christ, Damascene is counted among the great Fathers of the Church. He entered peacefully into rest in about 749, being seventy-five years old.
3. St Gennadius, Archbishop of Novgorod.
A writer of note, a champion of truth and one who suffered for the truth of Christ he brought the various books of Sacred Scripture together in one book, and composed a system to find the date of Easter (the Pachalia) for the next five hundred and thirty-two years. He entered into rest in the Lord in 1505. His wonderworking relics are preserved in the Chudov monastery in Moscow.
Obedience, coupled with humility, is the foundation of the spiritual life, the foundation of salvation and the foundation of the overall structure of the Church of God. The great John Damascene-great in every good thing-as a monk left a deep impression on the history of the Church by his exceptional example of obedience and humility. Testing him one day, his elder and spiritual father handed him woven baskets and ordered him to take them to Damascus and sell them there. The elder established a very high price for the baskets, thinking that John would not be able to sell them at that price but would have to return with them. John, therefore, firstly had to go on a long journey; secondly, he had to go as a poor monk to the city where he, at one time, had been the most powerful man after the Caliph; thirdly, he had to seek a ridiculously high price for the baskets; and fourthly, should he not sell the baskets, he would have made this enormous journey, there and back, for nothing. In this way, the elder wished to test the obedience, humility and patience of his famous disciple. John silently prostrated before the elder and, without a word, took the baskets and started on his journey. Arriving in Damascus, he stood in the market place and awaited a buyer. When he told the interested passers-by the price of his goods, they laughed at and mocked him as a lunatic. He stood there the whole day, and the whole day he was exposed to derision and ridicule. But God, Who sees all things, did not abandon His patient servant. A certain citizen passed by and looked at John. Even though John was clad in a poor monk's habit and his face was withered and pale from fasting, this citizen recognized in him the one-time lord and first minister of the Caliph, in whose service he had also been. John also recognized him, but they both began to deal as strangers. Even though John named the all-too-high price of the baskets, the citizen purchased and paid for them without a word, recalling the good that John Damascene had once done for him. As a victor, holy John returned to the monastery rejoicing, and brought joy to his elder.
Contemplate the sinful fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3):
- How Adam and Eve, having sinned, hid themselves from God;
- How, hearing the voice of God, they fled and hid themselves among the trees;
- How, even now, every sin estranges us from God;
- How a sinner, hearing the voice of God through his conscience, hides himself in irrational nature.
On how everything is good that is of God
And God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25).
Brethren, only good works proceed from the good Creator. Therefore, let all those who say that both good and evil proceed from God be silent. After His every act, God Himself affirms that it is good. Six times He repeated that what He created was good, and finally, the seventh time, when He saw all in its entirety, He pronounced His judgment that all He had created was very good (Genesis 1:31). Therefore, in total He repeated seven times that everything was good that came into existence by His holy will. Is it not a great wonder that some people come up with the godless assertion that both good and evil equally proceed from God? God, as if He knew that such slanders would be cast against Him-or, better to say, that such slanders would be cast throughout the centuries-gave His defense in advance and repeated it seven times, for all times and for all generations. Evil comes from sin, and there is no sin in God. Therefore, God can do no evil. He is called the Almighty because He is powerful to do every good. Wicked and twisted are the commentators on God who claim that God is "Almighty" because He can do both good and evil. God is the source of good and is darkened by nothing, and nothing can proceed from Him that is contrary to good. It is obvious to every normal man that evil is contrary to good. Know, brethren, that those who speak of duality in God, in the eternal Source of good, are those in whom is found the duality of good and evil. However, all those who love good, follow the path of goodness, and yearn for good have a clear revelation within themselves that God is good, and only good.
O our God, our Creator, Thou art the Creator of all good, and all Thy works are good.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK