Prologue from Ochrid - December 15 [December 28]
1. The Hieromartyr Eleutherius.
A good fruit of a good tree, this wonderful saint had noble and eminent parents. He was born in Rome, where his father was in imperial service. His mother, Anthea, heard the Gospel from the great Apostle Paul himself, and was baptised by him. Being early left a widow, she entrusted her only son to the education and service of the Bishop of Rome, Anacietus. Seeing how greatly Eleutherius was gifted and illumined by the grace of God, the bishop ordained him deacon at the age of fifteen, priest at eighteen and bishop at twenty. Endowed by God with wisdom, he made up for what he lacked in years. This godly man was made bishop in Illyria, with his seat at Valona in Albania. He kept his flock like a good shepherd, adding to their number from day to day. The Emperor Hadrian, a persecutor of Christians, sent a commander, Felix, with soldiers, to seize Eleutherius and take him to Rome. When the furious Felix arrived in Valona and went into the church, and heard and saw God's holy hierarch, his heart was suddenly changed and he became a Christian. Eleutherius baptised him and set off with him for Rome, as merrily as though he were going to a feast, not to trial and torture. The Emperor put the gently-born Eleutherius to harsh torture, flogging him, burning him on an iron grid, boiling him in pitch and burning him in a fiery furnace. But, by God's power, Eleutherius was delivered from all these deadly torments. Seeing all this, Choribus the governor proclaimed that he himself was a Christian. Choribus was tortured and then beheaded, and so also blessed Felix. Finally, the imperial executioners cut off the honoured head of St Eleutherius. When his mother, holy Anthea, came and stood over the dead body of her son, she was also beheaded. Their bodies were taken to Valona, where St Eleutherius glorifies the name of Christ to this day by many wonders. He suffered in the time of Hadrian, in the year 120.
2. St Stephen the Confessor of Sourozh.
Born in Cappadocia and educated under the care of the Patriarch, St Germanus, he went off into solitude and lived hidden from the world. An angel appeared to St Germanus and told him to make Stephen bishop of the town of Sourozh (now Sudak in the Crimea), and this the Patriarch did. Stephen brought many to the Christian faith by his zeal, and suffered much at the hands of the Emperor Leo the Isaurian because of his, Stephen's, struggle against the iconoclasts, prophesying to the Emperor his imminent decease. After the evil death of this evil ruler, Stephen returned to his diocese and was pastor to his flock as a true man of God, departing this life peacefully at the end of the eighth century.
3. Our Holy Father Paul of Latros.
Born in Pergamum, he lived in asceticism on a mountain called Latros in Asia Minor. He was glorified by his asceticism and his many miracles, and entered peacefully into rest in old age, going to the Lord in the year 950.
4. Our Holy Father Pardus the Solitary.
In his youth, he was a waggoner, but because of an unintentional sin, he left the world and withdrew to the desert to live in asceticism. He lived in Palestine in the sixth century.
For unintentional murder, the earthly court frees the murderer. The Church, however, imposes a penance on someone who commits murder unintentionally: a penance much lighter than that for a voluntary murder, but does not leave him without a penance. If a priest kills unintentionally, the Church places him under a lifelong suspension of priestly functions. Christians with sensitive souls and keen consciences impose upon themselves a more difficult penance than the Church would impose. St. Pardus once came to Jericho as a cart-driver. Leaving his mules in front of an inn, he entered it. At that moment, a child fell under the mule, and the mule trampled the child with its hooves and killed it. When Pardus saw the bloody and dead child killed by his mule, he was so crushed in heart that he felt himself intentionally responsible for the child's death. And this man of conscience imposed the harshest penance upon himself. He abandoned his trade, left the world and, even though he was relatively young, withdrew to the harsh wilderness, where he undertook a life of difficult asceticism consisting of physical and spiritual labor and repentance. With many tears, he offered repentance to God for the murder of the child. He desired to pay for the life of the child with his own life, and he prayed to God that He would somehow make this possible. He teased a lion so that the lion would tear him apart, but the lion fled from him. He lay on the narrow path on which the lion walked so that he would be killed by the beast, but the lion leapt over him and would not touch him. Seeing, therefore, that it was God's will for him to live and not perish, he was at peace with himself but remained a contrite penitent until his death. Is not this a sensitive, man-loving and God-fearing soul? Is not this the refined and sharpened conscience of a true Christian?
Contemplate the powerful faith of Abraham (Genesis 15):
- How God promised the childless and aged Abraham many descendants;
- How God promised him as many descendants as the stars in the heavens;
- How Abraham believed God, despite everything, and how God counted this for righteousness.
And Joseph left his garment in her hand, and fled outdoors (Genesis 39:12).
The innocent and chaste Joseph endured two great and difficult temptations and overcame them: the temptation of wicked envy on the part of his blood brothers, and the temptation of adulterous passion from the Egyptian temptress. Jealousy sold him as a slave, and the passion of adultery drove the innocent one to prison. In both cases he returned good for evil: he gave food to his hungry brothers and preserved the life, throne and people of frightened Pharaoh. His brothers thought to slay him, but God saved him; the adulterous woman thought to destroy him, but God saved him. Out of slavery and imprisonment, God crowned him with glory and unlimited authority. And him whom his evil brothers could have killed with one stroke and whom Potiphar's powerful wife could have crushed in an instant, God made the unlimited master over the lives of millions of people and the only nourisher of his starving brothers. Such is the wondrous mercy of God toward the righteous. Thus does the Lord know how to save and glorify the innocent and the chaste. In the greatness of the destiny of Joseph, we see the greatness of God's mercy. There is one eye that never sleeps, my brethren. Let us cling to God and not fear anyone. Let us be innocent and chaste and not fear evil, or slander, or prison, or ridicule, or misfortune. On the contrary, let us rejoice when all of this befalls us because of our innocence and chastity; let us rejoice and await with faith the revelation of God's wonders toward us. Let us, in every storm, await the thunder of God's justice-and afterward the calm.
O mysterious Lord, Who secretly but vigilantly accompanies the righteous in slavery and in prison, and manifests Thy mercy in Thine own time, help us to be innocent and chaste.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK