Prologue from Ochrid - December 30 [January 12]
1. The Holy Martyr Anysia.
Born in Salonica of wealthy and eminent parents, she was brought up in the Christian faith. She was orphaned young, and gave herself over to pondering on God and prayer in her own home. Fired with the love of Christ, she often said: 'Oh, how false is the life of youth, for you either create scandal or are scandalised. Better is age, but oh, I am seized with sorrow at the length of time that separates us from heaven!' She sold her goods and gave away the proceeds to the poor, and herself lived from the labour of her own hands. She kept strict fasts, slept very little and always wept in prayer. When sleep overtook her, she said to herself: 'It is dangerous to sleep while the enemy keeps vigil.' At that time, the wicked Emperor Maximian issued a decree that any man was free to kill Christians when and where he came across them, without trial or sentence. This holy maiden once went out into the street to go to church. It was the day of a pagan festival of the sun. A soldier saw her fairness of face and went up to her with impure lust, asking her name. She made the sign of the Cross and said to him: 'I am Christ's handmaid, and I'm going to church.' When the impudent soldier came closer and began to speak as one deranged, she pushed him away and spat in his face. The soldier aimed a blow at her with his sword, and ran her through under the rib. This holy maiden suffered in 298 and was buried by Christians, and was crowned with a wreath of glory by God in the heavenly Kingdom. A church was built over her grave.
2. Our Holy Mother Theodora of Constantinople.
She was a nun and a servant of St Basil the New (March 26th). After her death, she appeared to St Gregory, a disciple of St Basil's, and wrote down for him the details of all the twenty toll-gates through which her soul had passed until, helped by St Basil's prayers, she had entered into eternal rest. She left this world on December 30th, 940.
3. The Holy Apostle Timon.
One of the seven deacons (Acts 6:5), and of the Seventy Apostles, he was made bishop of Bostra in Arabia an there preached the Gospel, enduring much ill-treatment at the hands of the pagans. He was thrown into fire, but remained unharmed. He finally died by crucifixion, and entered into the kingdom of Christ.
4. Our holy Mother Theodora of Caesarea.
After strict asceticism in the monastery of St Anna, she entered peacefully into rest in 755.
5. Our Holy Father, the Martyr Gideon.
A Greek by birth, of very poor parents, he was forced to embrace Islam as a youth. In remorse, he fled to the Holy Mountain, where, in the monastery of Karakallou, he received the monastic habit. Desiring martyrdom for Christ, he received the blessing of his spiritual father and went to the place where he had been forced into Islam, and there, openly before the Turks, confessed the Christian faith and denounced Mohamet as a false prophet. The Turks shaved his head, placed him upside-down on a donkey and led him through the town. He rejoiced at this ridicule for the sake of Christ. They then chopped off all his fingers and toes with an axe, as they had once done to St James the Persian (Nov. 27th), and finally threw him into a place of excrement, where he gave his holy soul to God in the year 1818, in Turnovo in Thrace. His wonderworking relics are preserved in the church of the Holy Apostles in the village of Turnovo, and a part of them is to be found in his monastery of Karakallou.
Here are two more examples of how the Merciful God helps those in misfortune who hope in Him with faith. Blessed Theodora of Caesarea was born into a noble house and then entrusted to the Convent of St. Anna for her education. There Theodora was not only educated but also lived a life of asceticism, preparing herself to receive the monastic tonsure. Emperor Leo the Isaurian took her from the convent by force and betrothed her to one of his commanders. Theodora protested this marriage with all her soul, but was as powerless as a lamb in the paws of a wolf. She lamented and prayed constantly in her heart to God that He would not forsake her. On the day of the marriage, while the guests were feasting, news unexpectedly came to the emperor that the Scythians had attacked his empire. The emperor ordered his commander to go out immediately against the Scythians. The commander went and never returned, for he was killed in battle. Thus, by God's help, St. Theodora was freed. As a pure maiden she returned to her convent, where she received the monastic tonsure and, as a nun, became famous for her rare asceticism.
A second example: In the Monastery of the "Sleepless Ones," there was great want during a year of famine. St. Marcellus, the abbot, received some poor men one day, refreshed them, and then wanted to give them some money for their journey. Marcellus asked the steward of the monastery how much money they had altogether. The steward told him they had ten silver coins. The abbot ordered that all ten silver coins be given to these poor men. However, the steward did not give them all ten; instead he gave them nine and kept one for the needs of the monastery. The steward was very concerned about the monastery, for it was in extreme poverty. A rich man suddenly visited the monastery and brought the abbot ninety talents of gold. Then the discerning Marcellus summoned the steward and said to him: "Behold, God wanted to send us one hundred talents through this devout man, but because you disobeyed me and withheld one silver coin, the Provider of all deprived us of ten talents."
Contemplate the assembly of ascetics and virgins, both male and female:
- How they, out of love for Christ, renounced everything and gave themselves up to voluntary suffering;
- How they conquered themselves, the world and the devil by their persevering endurance;
- How they now rejoice in the Kingdom of Christ and help us by their prayers.
On the Kingdom of the saints
But the saints of the most High shall take the Kingdom and possess the Kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever (Daniel 7:18).
Abased and oppressed in the kingdoms of the world, the saints will reign eternally in the Kingdom of Heaven. The last on earth, they will rejoice as the first in heaven. Hungry, thirsty, barefoot and naked in the transitory kingdoms, they will be like king's sons, satisfied and clothed in royal raiment in the enduring Kingdom. Strangers in the kingdoms of decay, they will be lords in their Kingdom, the Kingdom of Incorruption. This is the final Kingdom; in truth, the only kingdom that can be called a kingdom. All others are transitory, temporary schools of deceit and vanity. For the Eternal Kingdom, the saints were recruited on earth from the citizens of all earthly kingdoms through the ages. They are the sons and daughters of Christ the Savior, the children of the Living God. They are those who have passed from this life to the other life and who now reign. But all the splendor and all the majesty of their reign has not yet been revealed. This will be displayed after the Second Coming of Christ, the Judge of the living and the dead. Then will all the splendor and all the majesty of the Kingdom of the saints be shown. This is the Eternal Kingdom of Christ our God. Of this Kingdom there will be neither change nor end for ever, even for ever and ever.
O Lord Jesus, the Builder of the Kingdom of the saints, have mercy on us sinners and prepare us for the Eternal Kingdom of Thy saints.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK