Prologue from Ochrid - January 28 [February 10]
Venerable Ephrem The Syrian
Ephrem was born in Syria of poor parents during the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great. He spent his young life rather tempestuously; but all at once a change took place in his soul and he began to burn with love for the Lord Jesus. Ephrem was a disciple of St. James Nisibis (January 13). From the enormous Grace of God, wisdom flowed from his tongue as a brook of honey and ceaseless tears flowed from his eyes. Industrious as a bee, Ephrem continually either wrote books or orally taught the monks in the monastery and the people in the town of Edessa or he dedicated himself to prayer and contemplation. Numerous are his books and beautiful are his prayers. The most famous is his prayer recited during the Honorable Fast Season which reads:
Lord and Master of my life, give
me not a spirit of sloth, vain
curiosity, lust for power and idle talk.
But give to me, your servant, a spirit
of soberness, humility, patience and love.
O Lord and King, grant me to see
my own faults and not to condemn
my brother: for blessed are you
to the ages of ages. Amen.
When they wanted to appoint him a bishop by force, he pretended to be insane and began to race through the city of Edessa dragging his garment behind him. Seeing this, the people left him in peace. Ephrem was a contemporary and friend of St. Basil the Great. Saint Ephrem is considered mainly to be the Apostle of Repentance. Even today his works soften many hearts hardened by sin and return them to Christ. He died in extreme old age in the year 378 A.D.
Venerable Isaac The Syrian
Isaac was born in Nineveh and in his youth lived an ascetical life in the Monastery of Mar [Saint] Matthew in the proximity of Nineveh. When Isaac became known because of the sanctity of his life and of his many miracles, he was elected bishop of Nineveh and was forced to accept that rank. But, after only five months, he left the bishopric and secretly withdrew into the wilderness to the Monastery of Rabban Shabur. He complied many works of which about a hundred homilies on the spiritual life and asceticism, written primarily from his personal experience, have come down to us today. He was unequaled as a psychologist and as a director in the spiritual life. Even such saints as was St. Simeon [the New Stylite] of the Wonderful Mountain near Antioch sought counsel from him. Isaac died in extreme old age toward the end of the seventh century.
Venerable Palladius, Syrian Hermit
Palladius was a great ascetic and miracle-worker. In front of his cell there appeared a corpse of a certain wealthy man whom robbers had killed and looted. When Palladius was brought to court and, in order to be spared from misery, he prayed to God and through prayer resurrected the dead man. He died in the fourth century.
The Venerable Ephrem Of The Monastery Of The Caves In Kiev
Ephrem died in 1096 A.D. He instituted the Feast of the Translation of the Relics of St. Nicholas to Bari, Italy. This feast is celebrated on May 9.
The absence of envy among the saints is a startling and wonderful phenomenon. Not only did the saints not allow envy to seize their hearts but, with all their might, labored to uplift their companions and to diminish themselves. On one occasion when St. Hilarion of Palestine visited St. Anthony in Egypt, St. Anthony exclaimed: "Welcome Venus, the morning star!" To that St. Hilarion replied: "Greetings and health be to you, the shining pillar who sustains the universe!" When they praised St. Macarius as a monk, the saint replied: "Brethren, forgive me, I am not a monk but, I have seen monks!" When some people told St. Sisoes that he attained the same level of perfection as St. Anthony, Sisoes replied: "If only I had but a single thought as does Anthony, I would be all aflame."
To contemplate the Lord Jesus as a Servant:
- How He voluntarily descended among men to be a servant to all;
- How He never refused anyone a good service which was requested of Him;
- How, even today, as always, He invisibly and silently serves the whole world.
About the Man Whom no one knows
"'Who are you?' Jesus said to them: 'The beginning'" (St. John 8:25).
The Lord Jesus is the beginning of creation, the beginning of restoration, the beginning of salvation, the beginning of resurrection, and the beginning of immortal glory.
Wherever there is any evil in the world that needs to be uprooted, He is the beginning. Without Him, it is impossible. Wherever there is any good that is desired to be done in the world, He is the beginning. Without Him, it is impossible. If anyone desires to uproot dissent and malice in the family, in the village, in the town, in the entire world, without Him, it is impossible. One must begin with Him. If anyone desires to instill good-will, peace, love and unity in the family, in the village, in the town, among the peoples in the entire world, without Him it is impossible. He is the beginning.
Why is it that without Christ, one cannot uproot evil nor sow good? Because all evil is from sin and only He can forgive sins. When He and only He forgives sin, then sin is plucked out by the root. No type of good is possible to be sown without Him because in Him is the treasury of all good; all the seeds of good. He is the only Sower of Good in the field of the world.
The Apostle Paul, who understood all of this better than we, says: " I can do all things through [Jesus] Christ Who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). Without Jesus Christ, who can begin to heal oneself of evil, to heal others from evil and to sow good in oneself and to sow good in others? No one, truly no one.
Therefore, brethren, if we are determined to uproot evil in ourselves and in others and in place of evil to sow good in ourselves and in others, let us begin with the Beginning [Christ]; i.e., let us begin with the Conqueror over evil and the Sower of good; with the Lord Jesus Christ.
O Lord Jesus Christ, You be to us the beginning in every struggle against sin and in every good work.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK