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Prologue from Ochrid - December 14 [December 27]

1. The Holy Martyrs Thyrsus, Leucius and Callinicus.

Saints Thyrsus and Leucius were eminent citizens of Bithynian Caesarea; the latter being baptised and the former still a catechumen. Callinicus, however, was a pagan priest who offered sacrifice to idols. When Cumbricius, heir to the Emperor Decius, began to torture and murder the Christians, the intrepid Leucius stood before him and reproached him: 'Why have you begun to make war on your own soul, Cumbricius?' The enraged judge ordered that he be flogged and tortured, and then beheaded with the sword. In terrible torment, Leucius went to his execution as joyfully as if he were going to a wedding. When he beheld Leucius's courageous death, blessed Thyrsus was inflamed with divine zeal and, like Leucius, went before the judge and rebuked him for his crimes and his lack of belief in the one, true God. He was therefore beaten and cast into prison. He was healed of his wounds by the invisible hand of God, which also opened the prison doors and led him forth. Thyrsus went at once to Phileas, the Bishop of Caesarea, to be baptised by him. After his baptism, he was again seized and tortured, but he endured all the torments as if in a dream and not in reality. Many idols fell down through the power of his prayer. When he saw this, Callinicus, a pagan priest, was converted to the Christian faith, so both he and Thyrsus were condemned to death. Callinicus was beheaded with the sword, and Thyrsus was placed in a wooden coffin to be sawn asunder, but God's power prevented this and the saw could not penetrate the wood. Then Thyrsus arose from the coffin, praying and thanking God for his sufferings, and he peacefully gave his soul into the Lord's hands. At the end of the fourth century, the Emperor Flavian built a church to St Thyrsus near Constantinople, and placed his holy relics in it. The saint appeared in a vision to the Empress Pulcheria, and suggested that she bury the relics of the Forty Martyrs beside his own.

2. The Holy Martyrs Philemon, Apollonius, Arrian and others.

During the reign of Diocletian, Arrian, a judge in Egypt, cruelly persecuted the Christians there. He seized Apollonius and threatened him with torture. Apollonius became afraid of the tortures, and bribed an unknown musician, Philemon, a pagan, to offer sacrifice to the idols in his place, dressed in his clothes. When Philemon went before the idols, the light of the Christian faith suddenly shone in his heart, and he made the sign of the Cross. He then went out of the temple and began to shout: 'I am a Christian, a servant of Christ the living God!' Hearing this, the judge laughed, thinking that Philemon was mocking the Christians. Later, Philemon was subjected to fearful tortures, during which rain fell from heaven to baptise him. Finally, both Philemon and Apollonius were beheaded by Arrian the judge. Then Arrian himself became a Christian, because his blind eye was healed in a miraculous way at Philemon's grave. He was condemned to death by the Emperor, and perished together with four soldiers who had likewise declared themselves to be Christians.

Reflection

There are three types of praiseworthy zeal: zeal in cleansing oneself of sinful desires and thoughts, zeal for the truth of the Faith, and zeal for God's justice among men. All three of these filled the soul of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker to perfection. He showed zeal in purifying himself throughout his life, vigilantly guarding over his heart. He especially showed zeal for the truth of the Faith at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea [325] when he entered into a fearful confrontation with Arius. His zeal for God's justice among men was seen particularly in two notable events, when on each occasion he saved three innocent men from the punishment of death. Once, in his absence from the city of Myra, the avaricious commander Eustathius condemned three men to be beheaded, receiving a bribe for this from some of their enemies. Informed of this, St. Nicholas returned to Myra with the greatest haste. The condemned men had already been brought to the place of execution, and the executioner had already raised the sword over the innocent men. At that moment, Nicholas grabbed the sword, pulled it out of the executioner's hand, and freed the condemned men. Afterward, he rebuked the commander Eustathius and brought him to shame and repentance. In a similar way, three imperial commanders-Nepotian, Ursus and Herpylion-were slandered before Eulavius the Eparch of Constantinople and before the emperor himself. The emperor signed their death sentence. On the eve of their execution, the three commanders prayed to God, saying: "O God of Nicholas, deliver us innocent ones from death!" That night, St. Nicholas appeared to both the emperor and the eparch in a dream, rebuked them for this injustice, and ordered them to free the three commanders from prison immediately. The next day, the emperor and eparch each related to the other the same dream and they immediately freed the commanders, both from the death sentence and from prison.

Contemplation

Contemplate Abraham's obedience:

  1. How Abraham obeyed God when He ordered him to go out from his country, his kindred and his father's house (Genesis 12);
  2. How He obeyed God when He commanded him to offer his only son as a sacrifice (Genesis 22).

Homily

On Jacob

For I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved (Genesis 32:30).

The God of Abraham and Isaac is also the God of Jacob the faithful, the obedient, the merciful and the meek. The meek beholder of God, Jacob, can be called the "one who saw God." For in truth he was meek, and he saw God and spoke with God, and he saw the angels of God and the ladder from earth to heaven. By his meekness he defeated Laban his father-in-law, and Esau his brother; by his meekness he made peace between his wives, Leah and Rachel; for his meekness he was even dear to pharaoh. Jacob's meekness is a prefiguration of the meekness of Christ. Blessed are the meek, said the Lord, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). These words were also realized in Jacob. He inherited the land of his fathers; his descendants were delivered from Egypt and inherited the Promised Land; through Christ the Lord, his descendant according to the flesh, he inherited the whole earth, that is, the Church of God which spread over the entire world. I have seen God face to face. Jacob saw God in the form of man but not as true man. And even this vision was only a prefiguring of the true Incarnation of God as man. And my life is preserved. His soul was preserved from fear and from every unrighteousness. If Jacob was preserved by only seeing a vision of God, how much easier is it for us to be preserved who know God as true man and as the God-man.

O meek Lord, the strength and glory of the meek, as Thou didst preserve Jacob by Thy vision, preserve us also by Thy true Body and Blood.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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