Prologue from Ochrid - February 5 [February 18]
The Holy Martyr Agatha.
This glorious virgin and martyr for Christ was born in the Sicilian town of Palermo of noble and prosperous parents. When the Emperor Decius launched a persecution of Christians, St Agatha was arrested and brought to judgement before Quintian the judge. He saw Agatha's beauty and desired her for his wife. When he suggested this to her, she replied that she was the bride of Christ and could not be faithless to her Betrothed. The judge condemned her to cruel torture: Agatha was flogged, mocked, bound to a tree and beaten till the blood flowed. After that, the judge again urged her to deny Christ and so escape further torture, to which Christ's bride replied: 'These tortures are of great help to me. As wheat cannot come to the granary until it is cleansed of its chaff, so my soul cannot enter Paradise unless my body has first been broken by torture.' Then the torturer ordered that her breasts be cut off and then she be thrown into prison. The holy Apostle Peter appeared to her in the prison and restored her to physical wholeness and health. She was once again taken out for torture and again cast back into prison, where she gave her soul to God in the town of Catania in the year 25After her death, her torturer Quintian set out to appropriate her lands, but on the way the horses became maddened under him and his soldiers. They were savaged on the face, thrown onto the ground and trampled to death. Thus God's punishment came swiftly upon him for his ferocious crime against St Agatha.
The Holy Martyr Theodula.
She suffered for Christ in the time of Diocletian, the impious Roman Emperor. During her tortures, Theodula brought one of her torturers, Helladius, to his senses and to the Christian faith. When Helladius openly confessed his faith in Christ, he was beheaded. Theodula showed great courage at her trial, for which the judge considered her witless. To this, she retorted: 'It is you who are witless, for you forget the one true God and bow down to lifeless stones.' The judge put her to cruel torture, which Theodula endured with heroism, making her torturers marvel and bringing them to Christ. Among these were two eminent citizens, Macarius and Evagrius. With these two and many others, Theodula was thrown into a red-hot furnace, where they all finished this life with honour and were made worthy of the Kingdom of Christ.
St Polyeuctus, Patriarch of Constantinople.
For his great mind, his zeal for the Faith and his power of oratory, he was called a second Chrysostom. The Russian Princess Olga came to Constantinople in the time of Patriarch Polyeuctus and the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, and was baptised there in 957. The Patriarch baptised her, and the Emperor stood godfather. St Polyeuctus prophesied: 'Blessed art thou among Russian women, for thou hast desired the light and cast away darkness; the sons of Russia will bless thee to the last generation.' From being a simple monk, Polyeuctus was raised to the Patriarchate in 946, and remained on the patriarchal throne until his death in 970.
The monks ask of the great Abba Ischyrion: "What have we done?" "We have fulfilled the commandments of God," Ischyrion replied. "And, what will those do who come after us?" "They will be doing what we are doing, but only half as much." "And those after them?" "Before the end of time, they will not keep the monastic practice [rule] but such misfortunes and temptations will befall them that, through their patience during those assaults and temptations, they will prove themselves greater than us and our fathers in the kingdom of God."
To contemplate the Lord Jesus as the only true Enlightener:
- As the Enlightener of every individual man;
- As the Enlightener, consequently, of both society and the entire human race;
- As the Enlightener Who enlightens the mind, the heart and the will of man with eternal light.
About death as sleeping
"Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him" (St. John 11:11).
The Lord of life calls death "sleeping." O what an inexpressible comfort that is for us! O what sweet news for the world! Physical death, therefore, does not mean the annihilation of man rather only sleeping from which only He can awaken; He Who awakened the first dust to life by His word.
When the Lord cried out: "Lazarus!" (St. John 11:43), the man awoke and lived. The Lord knows the name of each of us. When Adam knew the names of every creature of God, why would not the Lord know each one of us by name? Not only does He know but He also calls us by name. O, the sweet and life-creating voice of the only Lover of mankind! This voice can create sons of God from stones. Why, then, can He not awaken us out of our sinful sleep?
It is told that a certain man raised a stone to kill his brother. But, at that moment, it seemed to him that he heard the voice of his mother calling him by name. He only heard the voice of his mother and his hand began to quiver. He dropped the stone and was ashamed of his evil intention. The voice of his mother awakened him from committing a deadly sin. If the voice of a mother saves and awakens from death, how much more, then, the voice of the Creator and Life-giver!
Whenever the Lord cried out to someone who was dead in the body [physically dead] all of them awoke and arose. But, everyone did not awaken and arise among those who were dead in the soul [spiritually dead] when the Lord cried out to them. But, for this awakening, for this resurrection, the agreement of the will of the deceased is necessary. Judas! Do you betray with a kiss? "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" (St. Luke 23:48). That is how the Life-creating Voice cried out, but the dead man [Judas] remained dead and the sinner did not awaken. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Act of the Apostles 9:4). The same Life-creating Voice cried out and he who was asleep in sin awakened and the dead man became alive. In truth, deeper is the sleep of sin than the sleep of death and the one who is asleep [in sin] does not easily awaken.
O Sweet Lord, awaken us from the sleep of sin; awaken O Lord!
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK