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Prologue from Ochrid - December 8 [December 21]

1. Our Holy Father Patapius.

Born and brought up in the Faith and in the fear of God by pious parents in the Egyptian city of Thebes, he early perceived and rejected the empty vanity of the world and went into the Egyptian desert, where he devoted himself to cleansing his heart from every worldly thought and desire for the sake of divine love. When his virtues became known among the people, they began to come to him and seek relief from their troubles. Afraid of human glory, which darkens a man's mind and separates it from God, Patapius fled from the desert to Constantinople, for this wonderful saint thought that he could more easily hide himself from men in the heart of a city than in the desert. He built himself a hut close to the Blachernae church and there, enclosed and unknown, took up again his interrupted life of asceticism. But the light cannot be hidden. A child, blind from birth, was led by divine Providence to St Patapius and begged him to offer a prayer that he might be given his sight and look upon God's creation, and praise God all the more. Patapius had pity on the suffering child and prayed to God, and the child saw. Through this miracle, Patapius's godly life became known throughout the entire capital, and people began to turn to him for healing, comfort and teaching. Patapius healed one eminent man of dropsy after blessing him with a cross and anointing him with oil. Making the sign of the Cross in the air, he freed a youth from an unclean spirit which had cruelly tormented him, and the evil spirit went out of God's creature like smoke, uttering a great cry. He made the sign of the Cross over a woman who had sores on her breasts all filled with worms, and she was healed. St Patapius worked many other miracles, all through prayer in the name of Christ and by the power of the Cross. He entered into rest in great old age, going to the Kingdom of God in the seventh century.

2. The Holy Apostles Sosthenes, Apollos, Tychicus, Epaphroditus, Onesiphorus, Cephas and Caesar.

All these are commemorated on January 4th with the other lesser apostles. St Apollos is also commemorated on September 10th, St Onesiphorus on September 7th, and Cephas and Caesar on March 30th. St Sosthenes was Bishop of Caesarea and Tychicus succeeded him in the same city. Epaphroditus was bishop in Colophon in Pamphylia, Cephas in Iconium and Caesar in the Peloponnese. They all preached the Gospel of Christ with burning love, and endured suffering for His name's sake before they entered into the Kingdom of eternal joy.

3. The Holy Martyrs in Africa.

They suffered for the truth of Orthodoxy in the reign of Gunerik of the Vandals (477-484), at the hands of the heretical Arians. Two priests were burned. sixty, had their tongues torn out and three hundred laymen were beheaded. All of them suffered terribly, but they overcame falsehood by their deaths, and Orthodoxy was strengthened and was handed down to us pure and untarnished. The Lord crowned them with crowns of glory in His immortal Kingdom.

Reflection

He who surrenders himself completely to God is guided by God to salvation, and is used by Him for the benefit of many others. St. Nicholas, devoted to the will of God, fled from the glory of men, from his city of Patara, and came to the city of Myra in Lycia, where he knew no one and was known by no one. Without any means-for, although he had been wealthy by virtue of his family, he had abandoned everything-without acquaintances and without plans, he walked as an unknown one throughout the city, waiting for God to direct his steps. At that time John the Archbishop of Myra died, and the Synod gathered for the election of a new archbishop, but could not agree on any person who had been nominated. Finally, the members of the Synod decided to fast and pray to God that He would designate the one who was most worthy of this calling. God heeded the prayers of His servants and revealed to them the one most worthy. When the presiding bishop stood for prayer, a man appeared to him in light and told him to go out early, stand in front of the church, and await the first one who would enter for morning prayer. "Appoint him as archbishop; his name is Nicholas," he said. Seeing and hearing this, the bishop informed all of his companions. Early the next day, he went in front of the church and waited. At that moment St. Nicholas, who had the habit of rising early for prayer, appeared. Seeing him, the bishop asked him: "What is your name, son?" Nicholas remained silent. The bishop again asked him, and he replied: "I am called Nicholas, O Bishop, the servant of your holiness." Then the bishop took him by the hand, brought him before the Synod, and said: "Receive, brethren, your shepherd, who was anointed by the Holy Spirit and was elected not by the Synod of men but rather by the providence of God."

Contemplation

Contemplate the first brotherhood of men upon earth (Genesis 4):

  1. How Cain and Abel were the first brothers on earth;
  2. How Abel was virtuous and God-fearing, and Cain was envious and self-willed;
  3. How the envious Cain slew the virtuous Abel.

Homily

On the curse of sinful works

Cursed is the ground in thy works (Genesis 3:17).

After Adam and Eve's sin, God pronounced a punishment. He did not pronounce the punishment immediately but after waiting a period of time for their repentance. This is shown in the conversation into which God entered with Adam after his sin. Where art thou? (Genesis 3:9), God asked Adam. And when Adam said that he hid because of his nakedness, God asked him again: Who told thee that thou wast naked? (Genesis 3:11). Instead of repenting, Adam then began to accuse his wife. After that, God pronounced the punishment. Upon the serpent, which served as the weapon of the devil, fell the infinite curse. The woman was condemned to bear children in pain and to have her will subject to the authority of her husband. This is not a curse but rather a punishment with hope. Man was condemned to work the land. But what do the words, Cursed is the ground in thy works, mean? Did God curse the ground as He cursed the serpent with an infinite curse? By no means! The ground is cursed only in the sinful works of man. Because of man's sin, the earth produces thorns; because of sin, there is infertility; because of sin, there are droughts, floods, earthquakes, plagues, and destructive insects such as grasshoppers and caterpillars. That the ground is not cursed in its entirety is clear from this: that the earth also produces good fruits. God, through the prayers of the righteous, has always blessed the fruits of the earth necessary for human life, and even the angels of God, as the guests of Abraham, tasted the earth's harvest (Genesis 18:1-8). For in what way is the earth and all the rest of God's creation (except the serpent) culpable for Adam's sin? Nevertheless, the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now (Romans 8:22). All creation does not groan or travail because of a curse upon itself but rather because of man's sinful works, which are cursed. O my brethren, let us be ashamed of our sin, for which even God's innocent creation suffers.

O Gracious God, forgive us our past sins and protect us from future sins. O Merciful God, have mercy on all Thine innocent creatures, who suffer because of us, and ease their suffering.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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