Prologue from Ochrid - December 28 [January 10]
1. The 20,000 Holy Martyrs of Nicomedia.
In the time of the wicked Emperor Maximian Hercules, the Christian faith flourished in Nicomedia, and spread from day to day. At one time the Emperor, staying in the city, came to know of the large number of Christians, and he was greatly enraged and devised a means of slaughtering them all. The feast of the Nativity of Christ was approaching, and the Emperor, discovering that all the Christians gathered in the church on this feast, ordered that, on that day, the church be surrounded by soldiers and set alight. When all the Christians were assembled in the church after midnight and the glorious celebration was beginning, the soldiers surrounded the church so that no-one could leave, and the Emperor's envoy went into the church and told the Christians of the Emperor's command that they either immediately offer sacrifice to idols or all be burned to death. Then the archdeacon, a courageous soldier of Christ, aflame with divine zeal, began to encourage the people, reminding them of the Three Holy Children in the furnace in Babylon. 'Look, my brethren,' he said, 'at the table of sacrifice in the Lord's attar, and understand that our true Lord and God will now sacrifice on this; so shall we not lay down our lives for Him in this holy place?' The people were fired with enthusiasm to die for Christ, and all the catechumens were baptised and chrismated. The soldiers then set fire to the church on all sides and the Christians, twenty thousand of them, were burned in the flame singing the glory of God. The church burned for five days, and a smoke with a fragrant and intoxicating smell rose from it, and a marvellous golden light was seen around it. Thus these many men, women and children died gloriously and received wreaths of eternal glory in the Kingdom of Christ. They suffered and were glorified in the year 302.
2. Our Holy Father Simon the Outpourer of Myrrh.
The founder of the monastery of Simonopetra on the Holy Mountain, he was famed for his asceticism, his visions and his miracles. He entered peacefully into rest and went to Christ in 1257.
3. The Holy Martyr Domna.
A virgin and priestess of the foul idols at the court of the Emperor Maximian, she read the Acts of the Apostles one day, came to faith in Christ and was baptised by Bishop Cyril in Nicomedia, together with a eunuch called Indes. St Cyril sent her to a women's monastery, where blessed Agatha was abbess. When the Emperor began to search for Domna, Agatha dressed her in men's clothing and sent her to a men's monastery. This was at the time that the twenty thousand Christians were burned in the church by the Emperor Maximian. Immediately after this, by the Emperor's command, Ss Indes, Gorgonius and Peter were thrown into the sea with rocks round their necks; Zeno the commander, who had openly denounced the Emperor for his idolatry, was beheaded; St Theophilus, a deacon with Bishop Anthimus, was killed with stones and arrows. Abbess Agatha, the nun Theophila and the nobles Dorotheus, Mardonius, Migdonius and Euthymius were also slain for the sake of Christ. One night, Domna was walking by the sea and saw some fishermen casting their nets into the water. She was grieving deeply for St Indes. Called by the fishermen to help them, she went to their aid and, by God's providence, drew out three human bodies in the net. Domna recognised Indes, Gorgonius and Peter, took their bodies and gave them burial. When the Emperor learned that a young man was tending and censing the graves of the Christian martyrs, he ordered that he be beheaded, and St Domna was seized and beheaded, and was crowned with a wreath of glory in the heavenly Kingdom with the other martyrs.
A story of the Divine Christ-child: When the Most-holy Virgin, with her Divine Child and the righteous Joseph, drew near to the city of Hermopolis [Cairo], they saw a tree before the gate of the city. The travelers from afar were weary from their journey and approached this tree to rest a while, even though the tree was very tall and did not offer adequate shade. The Egyptians called this tree "Persea" and worshiped it as a god, for they believed that some divinity was hidden in the tree. In reality, an evil spirit dwelt in this tree. As the holy family approached the tree, the tree shook fiercely, and the evil spirit, terrified by the approaching Christ-child, fled. Then the tree bent its top down to the ground and worshiped its Creator like a rational creature. Thus the bent tree cast a great shadow, under which the weary travelers rested. From that day, the tree received miraculous healing powers from Christ the Lord to heal every infirmity of men. Afterward, the holy sojourners went to the village of Matarea. Near the village they saw a fig tree, and, while Joseph went into the village on business, the Most-holy Virgin took refuge under the fig tree with the Lord. And, oh, what a miracle: the tree lowered its crown down to the ground to create a shadow for the travelers, and its lower half split open in such a way that the Mother with the Child could enter and rest. And what is even more miraculous: a living spring of water suddenly opened up near the fig tree. Joseph found a hut in the vicinity, where they settled. There they lived and drank water from that miraculous spring. This was the only spring of living water to be found in Egypt, for all the other water in Egypt comes from the Nile River, which branches off into innumerable canals. And thus, like brought forth like: the Lord Jesus, the Immortal and Heavenly Spring of living water, by His presence called forth this spring of living water from the earth.
Contemplate the assembly of Christ's holy martyrs:
- How they endured sufferings and did not deny Christ;
- How, out of love for Christ the Lord, they went to their sufferings and death as if to a feast;
- How they now rejoice in the Kingdom of Christ and help us by their prayers.
On the Most-holy Virgin, the Theotokos
His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it (John 2:5).
Here is joy for all the faithful: she who is closest to Christ the Savior in heaven, as she had been on earth, cares for the faithful, appears to them, helps them and advises them, Whatsoever He, my Son and my God, saith unto you, do it. Thus, she advised the servants at the marriage in Cana, and the servants obeyed her and saw a miracle. From those few words of the Most-holy Virgin, God's Bride, recorded in the Gospel, we receive a precious instruction, truly the one and only Gospel instruction that she gave to mankind during her life on earth. Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it! As though she wanted to say: "He knows all; He can do all; He loves you all; therefore, you should look neither here nor there, but hear Him and obey Him." She comprehended the responsibility in this world of living for Him and directing others to Him as the Source of life, and she voluntarily continues carrying out this responsibility even from heaven. Throughout the Church's entire history, she has taught the faithful to do whatsoever He said. And even today, from her heavenly glory, she mystically descends among the faithful to counsel them to do that which He has commanded. That is her Gospel-the Gospel of the Most-holy Virgin, the Theotokos. It consists not of the Four Gospels but of four words: Do whatsoever He saith. O my brethren, let us obey her! Let us obey her as a mother and more than our mother, for she desires the greatest good for us-to reign in the Eternal Kingdom of her Son.
O Most-holy Virgin, help us to fulfill His words.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK