Prologue from Ochrid - January 21 [February 3]
Venerable Maximus, The Confessor
Maximus was a Constantinopolian by birth and, at first, a high-ranking courtier at the court of Emperor Heraclius and, after that, a monk and abbot of a monastery not too far from the capitol. He was the greatest defender of Orthodoxy against the so-called Monothelite heresy which proceeded from the heresy of Eutyches. That is to say: As Eutyches claimed that there is only one nature in Christ [Monophysitism], so the Monothelites claimed that there is only one will in Christ [Monothelitism]. Maximus opposed that claim and found himself as an opponent of the emperor and the patriarch. Maximus did not frighten easily but endured to the end in proving that there were two wills as well as two natures in Christ. Because of his efforts, a council was held in Carthage and another in Rome. Both councils anathematized the teachings of the Monothelites. The suffering of Maximus for Orthodoxy cannot be described: he was tortured by princes, deceived by prelates, spat upon by the masses of the people, beaten by soldiers, exiled, imprisoned, until finally, with a severed tongue and hand, he was condemned to exile for life in the land of Skhemaris [near Batum on the Black Sea] where he spent three years in prison and gave up his soul to God in the year 666 A.D.
Blessed Maximus, The Greek
Maximus was born in Greece and from there was invited to the court of Russian Tsar Basil [Vasilii] Ivanovitch to act as the Tsar's librarian and translator. He labored much, but he also suffered much for the truth. He spent a long time in prison where he wrote the well-known Canon to the Holy Spirit which is still used today in the Church. He died in the Lord in the year 1556 A.D.
The Holy Priest-Martyr Neophytus
Neophytus was born in Nicaea. While he was still a child and with God's Grace, he worked great miracles. Neophytus brought forth water from a rock and raised his dead mother. He was led by a white dove to Mount Olympus where he drove a lion from its cave and there, took up residence. At age fifteen, he was tortured for Christ in Nicaea during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. By no means would he deny Christ. After beatings and imprisonment, Neophytus was thrown into the fire, but God preserved his life. Then, they placed him before a hungry lion, but the lion ingratiated himself to Neophytus. The saint recognizing this lion as the same one in whose cave he practiced asceticism, began to pet him and ordered the lion to return to the cave. Then Neophytus was pierced with a lance and his soul took up habitation in the mansion of the Lord.
The Holy Female Martyr Agnes
As a thirteen year old girl, Agnes was thrown into the fire for the Faith of Christ and was then beheaded. She showed great miracle-working power during life and after death. Agnes suffered during the reign of Diocletian in the year 305 A.D.
The Christian Faith is the only Faith in the world that has one determined and never changing standard of values. About how it [Christianity] measures and classifies its values, St. John Chrysostom speaks clearly. He says, "Things have a three-fold distinction: the first are good and cannot be evil, for example: wisdom, charity and the like; the second are evil and can never be good, for example: perversion, inhumanity and cruelty. The third, at times becomes this or at times becomes that, whenever, according to the disposition of those who make use of it." This divine teacher explains, "how riches and poverty, and freedom and slavery, and power and disease and even death itself fall into the neutral distinction which, are neither good nor evil by themselves, but become either this or that according to the disposition of men and according to the use which men make of them. For example, if riches were good and poverty evil, then all rich men would be good and all the poor would be evil. However, we are daily convinced that as there are good and evil rich men, so also are there good and evil poor men. The same can be applied to the healthy and the sick, to the free and the enslaved, to the satiated and the hungry, to those who are in authority and to those under subjugation. Even death is not evil for "the martyrs, through death, became more fortunate than all."
To contemplate the Lord Jesus as "a City set on a mountain" (St. Matthew 5:14):
- As a City on the mountain of the Higher Zion [Heavenly Zion]; that is, above the created world in the kingdom of eternity;
- As a City on the mountain of human history;
- As a City on the mountain of my own life; that is, on the peak of my ideals; on the zenith of my thoughts and yearnings.
About understanding through doing
"Whoever chooses to do His will [God's Will] shall know whether my teaching is from God" (St. John 7:17).
It benefits little to prove by human logic and words that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God. The fastest and most reliable way to know this is truth is to do the will of God in the same way that Christ proclaimed it and testified to it. Whosoever would do this, that one will know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God.
If you cry for the sake of God, you will know what kind of comfort He is. If you are merciful, you know the mercy of God. If you build peace, you will know how it becomes you to be called the Son of God. If you forgive men, you will know God forgives you.
Never can anyone be able to know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God, except he who does the Will of God. For only doing the Will of God, fulfilling the commandments of God, that is the key for unlocking Paradise in which God is seen. That is the key for understanding Holy Scripture and all the mysteries of revelation.
St. Basil writes: "In order to understand that which is hidden in Sacred Scripture, purity of life is needed."
What else does the Lord want from us when He teaches us that through doing His will, we arrive at the understanding of the divinity of His teaching? He simply wants that we, by our deeds, become convinced of the divinity of His teaching. He does not want that we be convinced of this in an easy manner, but rather in a more difficult manner, not only by listening but by doing, because whoever is convinced in an easy manner will easily waver and change his mind and for him who is convinced in a difficult manner, it would be difficult for him to change his mind. Brethren, that is why we must endeavor to fulfill the Will of God in order that we may know God and save our soul.
O Lord, All-Wise, help us by the power of Your Holy Spirit to do Your will.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK