Prologue from Ochrid - November 23 [December 6]
1. St Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium.
A fellow-countryman and friend of St Basil the Great and other great saints of the fourth century, Amphilochius early forsook the bustle of the world and withdrew to a cave where, as a solitary, he lived in asceticism for forty years. The episcopal throne in Iconium then fell empty, and Amphilochius was chosen in a wonderful way and consecrated as Bishop of Iconium. He was a marvellous shepherd and a great defender of the purity of the Orthodox faith, and took part in the Second Ecumenical Council in 381. He fought zealously against Macedonius, and against the Arians and the Eunomians. He personally begged Theodosius the Great to drive the Arians out of every city in the Empire, but the Emperor did not comply with his request. After a few days, Amphilochius came before the Emperor again. When the bishop was taken into the presence-chamber, the Emperor was sitting on his throne with his son Arcadius, whom he had taken as co-Emperor, sitting at his right hand. Entering the room, Amphilochius did reverence to Theodosius, but ignored Arcadius as though he were not there. Infuriated by this, the Emperor Theodosius commanded that Amphilochius be instantly driven from court. The saint then said to the Emperor: 'Do you see, 0 Emperor, how you do not tolerate a slight paid to your son? In the same way, God the Father does not tolerate dishonour paid to His Son, turning with loathing from those who blaspheme against Him, and being angered at that accursed Arian heresy.' Hearing this, the Emperor understood the reason for Amphilochius's seeming disrespect towards his son, and marvelled at his wisdom and daring. Among many other works, Amphilochius wrote several books on the Faith. He entered into rest in 395 in great old age, and went to immortal life.
2. St Gregory, Bishop of Agrigentum.
He was born in Sicily, near the town of Agrigentum (where he was later bishop), of his devout parents Chariton and Theodota. His whole life was woven through with God's wonders. He went to Jerusalem in a wonderful way, was chosen as bishop in a wonderful way and was saved from slander in a wonderful way. He himself was a great wonderworker, for he was greatly pleasing to God, and was a great spiritual guide and ascetic. He took part in the Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 553. After severe temptations, he entered peacefully into rest at the end of the sixth century or the beginning of the seventh.
3. St Alexander of the Neva (Nevsky).
The son of Prince Yaroslav, his heart was drawn to God from his youth. He overcame the Swedes on the river Neva on July 15th, 1240, whence he took the name 'of the Neva'. On that occasion, Ss Boris and Gleb appeared to one of Alexander's generals and promised their aid to the great prince, their kinsman. Among the Golden Horde of the Tartars, he refused to sacrifice to idols or pass through fire. The Tartar Khan valued him for his wisdom, and his physical strength and beauty. He built many churches, and performed innumerable works of mercy. He entered into rest at the age of forty-three, on November 14th, 1263, today being the commemoration of the translation of his relics to the city of Vladimir.
4. St Mitrophan, Bishop of Voronezh.
A famous Russian hierarch, ascetic and patriot, he was first a friend and then a strong critic of Peter the Great. He entered into rest on November 23rd, 1703. His wonderworking relics were discovered in 1832.
God permits misfortune to befall the righteous, that He might glorify them more greatly. The overcoming of misfortune reveals both the glory of God and the glory of the righteous. St. Gregory of Agrigentum was, in all things, righteous and pleasing to God. But God permitted misfortune to befall him, similar to that misfortune that once overtook St. Athanasius and St. Macarius. Two priests, Sabinus and Crescens, for whom Gregory had done much good, could not at all tolerate Gregory's virtuousness. For such is the nature of vice, that it cannot tolerate virtue. Consequently, Sabinus and Crescens found a notorious prostitute and bribed her to malign Gregory by saying that he had had immoral relations with her. So it was that when Gregory was in church, the woman crept into his bedroom, and just as Gregory came out of church with the people, she emerged from his room. The two priests began to revile Gregory as a libertine. However, Gregory was composed and prepared for every suffering. They confined him in prison and then transferred him to Rome. The pope believed the slanderers and kept Gregory in prison for two and a half years, without a trial or a verdict. A council was then convened to try Gregory's case, but God judged before man could judge. The woman went insane and was brought mad before the council. She was unable to answer any questions. Gregory, the miracle-worker, prayed to God for her and she was healed, for the evil spirit came out of her. Then, through her tears, she confessed that she had been bribed to malign the man of God, and that immediately after she had committed the slander, the evil spirit had entered her and held her in its power. Sabinus and Crescens, along with the other maligners-more than a hundred in number-found their faces suddenly turned as black as coal, and they were punished with exile. St. Gregory was returned to his diocese and was received with great exultation by his people.
Contemplate the wondrous creation of the world (Genesis 2):
- How God gave the first people all the plants and all the fruitful trees for food;
- How He forbade them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, lest they die.
On grace and gifts
But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ (Ephesians 4:7).
Here is the beginning of distinctions among Christians. At first, the Apostle enumerated that which unites us, that is, one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:5-6). Nevertheless, here he emphasizes that which makes us unwillingly different. The measure of the gift of Christ makes us different, the measure according to which the grace of the Holy Spirit is given. Christ is the Head of the great body that is called the Church. He creates that body and, individually, every member of that body; He is the Builder and He is the only One who knows the plan of that building. He does not allow one member in this building to be disproportionally great or small. He gives the proper measure to everything and everyone. Thus, He gives one five talents, another two, and another, one. He measures, and the Holy Spirit pours out His grace accordingly. No one should be angry or envious. No one should be angry, for if he has received less, he will have less to answer for. No one should be envious, for if someone has received more, it is not his, but God's. If he has much, much will be asked of him, as it is said in the divine parable of the talents.
O my brethren, let every one of us be conscious of the measure of our gift and our responsibility. Let us respect our gift and the gift of our neighbor, for all gifts are from God and are God's.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK