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Prologue from Ochrid - November 22 [December 5]

1. The Holy Martyr Cecilia.

Born in Rome of rich and eminent parents, she had a firm faith in Christ the Lord and a great zeal for the Faith. Vowing life-long virginity to God, holy Cecilia wore a rough hair-shirt underneath the costly raiment that her parents gave her. When they forced her into marriage with a pagan, Valerian, she spent the first night urging her new-wedded bridegroom to go to Bishop Urban for baptism, and then himself to live a life of virginity. Embracing the Christian faith, Valerian also brought his brother Tibertius to it. Both brothers were very soon condemned to death for their faith, but their zeal did not falter in the face of death itself. Taken to the scaffold, these two brothers succeeded in bringing the captain of the guard, Maximus, to the Faith, and they all three suffered together for Christ the Lord. St Cecilia buried their bodies together and was then herself taken for trial, having unwearyingly won over many pagans to the Christian faith. In one evening, she had won over four hundred souls. When the judge asked her whence came her daring, she answered: 'From a pure conscience and an unquestioning faith'. After harsh torture, she was condemned to be beheaded with the sword. The executioner brought the sword down on her neck three times, but failed to kill her; he only wounded her and the blood ran down from her wounds, being caught in kerchiefs and bowls by the faithful to use for healing. Three days later, Christ's martyr and virgin gave her spirit into the hands of her Lord, to rejoice with him in eternity. St Cecilia suffered with the others in about the year 230. Her relics are preserved in the church dedicated to her name in Rome . In the Western Church, St Cecilia is regarded as the patron of Church Music.

2. St Kallistos, Patriarch of Constantinople.

He was named `Xanthopoulos' after the cell of that name on Mount Athos, where he lived for a long time in asceticism with his friend Ignatius. Together with this Ignatius, St Kallistos wrote of his personal experience of a life of silence in a book containing a hundred chapters. This book holds a very important place in ascetic literature. Kallistos was greatly influenced by his teacher, St Gregory the Sinaite, whose life he recorded.

3. The Holy Martyr Menignus.

Born on the Hellespont, he worked as a linen-bleacher, and so was called 'the Bleacher'. In the time of the Emperor Decius (249-25 1), he tore up the imperial decree on the persecution of Christians, and was consequently thrown into prison. There, the Lord Himself appeared to him and encouraged him, saying: 'Fear not; I am with thee.' At that moment, his shackles melted like wax, the prison opened of itself and he went out. He was again seized and brought to trial. He was inhumanly tortured: his fingers and toes were cut off, and then he was beheaded. His severed head glowed at night like a lamp.

4. Holy and Righteous Michael the Soldier.

He was a Bulgarian by birth. With his friends, he went into the Greek army to fight against the Hagarenes in Ethiopia, there displaying an extraordinary fearlessness. He killed a poisonous snake and freed a maiden. Very soon after that, this righteous man entered into eternal life. He was first buried somewhere in Thrace, but in 1206 the Emperor Kalo-John translated his relics to Trnovo. He lived and died in the ninth century.

5. The Holy Apostles Philemon, Archippus and Apphia.

Their lives are recorded on February 19th.

Reflection

Every effort of learning is in vain without the effort of attaining purity of faith and life. The heavenly world is revealed not to the learned but to the pure. When St. Cecilia was led to the bridal chamber with her bridegroom Valerian on the first night, she said him: "I want to tell you a mystery: standing here is an angel of God, the guardian of my virginity, whom you do not see. He stands ready to protect me, his handmaid, from assault. If you only touch me, he will kill you." Valerian begged Cecilia to show him the angel, so that he could see it, too. The virgin replied: "You are a man who knows not the true God. You cannot see the angel of God until you cleanse yourself of the foulness of your unbelief." When Valerian was baptized, he saw the angel in great light and ineffable beauty. So, too, when Valerian's brother Tiburtius changed his life from impurity to purity in baptism, he saw holy angels and spoke with them. Maximus their fellow sufferer as well, when the two brothers were beheaded, vowed with a great oath before the executioners and the people, saying: "I see angels of God shining like the sun, taking the souls of these martyrs from their bodies like beautiful virgins from the bridal chamber, and leading them to heaven with great glory." But that which he saw, none of the impure unbelievers were able to see.

Contemplation

Contemplate the wondrous creation of the world (Genesis 2):

  1. How God planted a paradisal garden in Eden and placed man there;
  2. How God made trees in Paradise, beautiful to look at and good for food;
  3. How God brought all the animals before man and he named them.

Homily

On that which constitutes the unity of the faithful

… One Lord, one Faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:5-6).

Here is the all-important and extremely obvious reason for all Christians to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3) and be one body and one spirit (Ephesians 4:4). For the One Lord Jesus Christ is our Creator, Redeemer and Resurrector. There are not two true Christs, that there should be division among us. One and the same blood was shed upon the Cross for us all, just as one and the same mouth prayed for us all in Gethsemane. We have one Faith in the Holy Trinity, undivided and life-creating-the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one in Essence and three in Persons-the Unbegotten Father, the Begotten Son and the Spirit proceeding from the Father. We have one Baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This Baptism is by threefold immersion in water, for death to sin and the devil, and for the resurrection and life in Christ the Lord. One God and Father of all-the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, Who through Christ and because of Christ adopts us and gives us the right to say to Him, Our Father.

Do you see, my brethren, how strong are the bonds that unite us? Not even the stars themselves are bound by stronger bonds, nor the water to the earth, nor fire to the air. Do you see the overwhelming reasons that we have for unity? Everything else that, from the left hand, would urge us to division is inconsequential compared to these reasons, like a grain of sand compared to the high mountains. The devil cannot destroy our unity if we do not help him. The devil can never conquer us if we do not surrender ourselves to him.

O Lord Jesus, sweet and gracious, how firmly Thou hast bound us for eternal good! Keep us, we pray, in this bond.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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