Prologue from Ochrid - December 16 [December 29]
1. The Holy Prophet Haggai.
Born in Babylon in the time of the captivity of Israel, he was of the tribe of Levi. He prophesied in 520 B.C., and visited Jerusalem as a young man. He urged Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest to restore the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, prophesying for this Temple greater glory than the former Temple of Solomon: 'The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, saith the Lord of Hosts' (2:9), for the Lord, the Saviour, would appear in the new Temple. He lived to see the first half of the new Temple completed by Zerubbabel, and died in old age, and rested with his fathers.
2. St Nicolas Chrysoverges, Patriarch of Constantinople.
He governed the Church from 984 to 996, and ordained the great Symeon the New Theologian priest when this spiritual giant was chosen as the superior of the monastery of the holy martyr Mamas in Constantinople. In his days, there came to pass a wonderful revelation of the Archangel Gabriel at Karyes, when he at that time taught the monk to praise the Mother of God with the hymn 'It is meet writing the hymn on tablets in a chapel of one of the cells, which has been known from that time by the name 'It is meet' (see June 13th). He was a great and eminent hierarch, and entered peacefully into rest in the Kingdom of God.
3. St Theophano the Empress.
She was born of eminent parents, Constantine and Anna, who were kin to several Emperors. Her parents were for a long time childless, and besought the Mother of God to give them a family. God gave them this daughter, Theophano. Imbued with a Christian spirit right from her youth, Theophano outstripped her companions in every Christian virtue. When she had grown up, she entered into marriage with Leo, the son of the Emperor Basil the Macedonian, and endured much misfortune alongside her husband. Reacting to the slander that Leo carried a knife in his breast with which, at the right opportunity, to kill his father, the Ilible Basil shut his son and daughter-in-law up in prison, and these two innocent souls spent three years there. Then, one day, on the feast of the holy prophet Elias, the Emperor summoned all his nobles to court for a feast. At one moment, the Emperor's parrot suddenly spoke these words: 'Alack, alack, my Lord Leo!', and it repeated these words a number of times. This caused great confusion among the courtiers, and they all begged the Emperor to release his son and daughter-in-law. The Emperor was touched, and did so. After his father's death, this Leo became Emperor, being called 'the Wise'. Theophano did not consider her imperial dignity to be of much account, but, being utterly given to God, she gave thought to the salvation of her soul, fasting and praying and giving alms, founding monasteries and churches. No lying word ever passed her lips, nor any unnecessary speech or the least slander. At the time of her death, she called together her closest friends and took leave of them, then gave her soul to God, in 892. The Emperor Leo wanted to build a church over her grave, and, when the Patriarch refused to allow this, built the church of All Saints, saying that, if Theophano were a saint, she would be glorified together with the others. At that time, the feast of All Saints was introduced, to be celebrated on the Sunday after the feast of the Holy Trinity.
The saints exerted great effort to subdue pride and selfishness in themselves and to accustom themselves to complete obedience and devotion, be it to their superiors when they had them, or to God Himself. The Monastery of St. Sava the Sanctified was distinguished by exceptional discipline, order and unmurmuring obedience. When St. John Damascene entered this monastery, not one of the eminent spiritual fathers would venture to take such a famous nobleman and writer as his novice. Then the abbot handed him over to a simple but strict elder. The elder ordered John not to do anything without his knowledge or approval. In the meantime it happened that a monk died who had a brother in this same monastery. The monk was in unspeakable grief over the death of his brother. For the sake of comforting the inconsolable brother, John wrote stichera for the departed monk-famous hymns that the Church uses even today at the funeral service. After composing them, John began to chant the hymns. When the elder heard the chanting, he became enraged and drove John away. Some of the brethren, hearing of John's banishment, dared to go to the elder to beg him to forgive John and receive him back, but the elder remained unwavering. John wept bitterly and lamented because he had transgressed his elder's command. Once again the brethren, on John's behalf, begged the elder to impose a penance on him and after that forgive him. The elder then imposed the following penance upon his disciple: to clean and wash all the lavatories of every cell in the monastery with his own hands if he desired forgiveness. The sorrowful brethren reported this to John, thinking that he would leave the monastery rather than do this. But when John heard the elder's message, he rejoiced greatly and with much joy carried out the elder's command. Upon seeing this, the elder wept, embraced John and said through his tears: "Oh, what a sufferer for Christ have I given birth to! Oh, what a true son of holy obedience this man is!"
Contemplate the generosity of Abraham (Genesis 13, 14):
- How Abraham did not want to quarrel with Lot because of the strife between their herdsmen but rather suggested that they separate;
- How, before parting, he left it to Lot to choose which direction, be it to the left or the right;
- How Abraham, defeating the King of Sodom, refused the offered goods and would not take even a thread or sandal strap.
Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3).
A chosen man, a great wonderworker, a type of the Lord Jesus Christ in his miracles, a victor in Egypt, a victor in the wilderness, the leader of a people-how could he not be proud? But if he had become proud, Moses would not have been all that he was. They become proud who think that they do their own works and not God's in this world, and who think that they work by their own power and not by God's power. But the great Moses knew that he was the doer of God's works, and that the power with which He did them was God's power and not his. That is why he did not become proud because of the awesome miracles he performed, or the great victories he obtained, or the wise laws that he gave to the people. The Lord is my strength and my song (Exodus 15:2), said Moses. Of the entire assembly of the Israelites in the wilderness, no one felt his own particular weakness as much as he, the greatest one of that assembly. In every task, in every place and in every moment, he expected help only from God. "What shall I do?" he cried to God, and he ceaselessly listened for God's reply and sought God's power. "Meek above all men on earth." For all the others considered themselves as being something, trusted themselves as being something, but he-nothing. He was completely absorbed in God, completely humbled before God. If the people needed to be fed and given drink, he turned to God; if it was necessary to do battle with his enemies, he raised his hands to heaven; if it was necessary to calm an uprising among the people, he cried to God. The meek, the all-meek Moses! And God rewarded his faithful servant with great glory and made him worthy to appear on Mount Tabor with Elias alongside the Lord Savior.
O Lord, the God of the meek, the Good Shepherd, make us also meek like Moses and the apostles.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK