Prologue from Ochrid - December 31 [January 13]
1. Our Holy Mother Melanie the Roman.
Born in Rome of devout and very wealthy parents, she was forced by them to marry a young nobleman, Pinian. She was taken very seriously ill in giving birth to her second child, and told her husband that she would be healed only if he vowed before God to live with her in future as brother and sister. Her husband agreed and Melanie, in her deep joy, was healed. When it pleased God to take both children to Himself, they agreed to sell all their possessions and give the proceeds to the destitute, the Church and the monasteries. They travelled through many lands and cities, everywhere doing good works. They visited famous spiritual guides in Upper and Lower Egypt, and received much instruction and inspiration from them. During all that time, Melanie lived in strict fasting, fervent prayer and the reading of the Holy Scriptures. She followed the practice of reading the Scriptures right through, the Old and New Testaments, every three years, living with her husband as with a brother and fellow-ascetic. Going to Alexandria, they received the blessing of the Patriarch, St Cyril. After that, they went to Jerusalem and settled on the Mount of Olives. There Melanie became an anchoress, and gave herself completely to pondering, fasting and prayer. She lived thus for fourteen years, after which she came out, to help others to salvation, and founded monasteries for men and women. At the invitation of her kinsman, the senator Volusianus, a pagan, she went to Constantinople and brought him to the Christian faith (something that Blessed Augustine, whom Volusianus knew, had been unable to do).She then returned to the Mount of Olives, where she went to God in 438, at the age of fifty-seven.
2. Holy and Righteous Joseph, King David and James the Lord's Brother.
They are commemorated on the Sunday after the Nativity of Christ. One can learn all about King David, the son of Jesse, from the Book of Kings, and for holy James see October 23rd. Righteous Joseph is so named in the Gospel (Matt. 1:19), and for this, God entrusted the most holy Virgin to his protection and gave him great honour in the economy of human salvation. Although Joseph was of the royal lineage of David, he himself was a simple carpenter in Nazareth. He took the most holy Virgin from the Temple into his home at the age of eighty, and entered into rest at the age of a hundred and ten.
3. Our Holy Father, the Martyr Zoticus, Protector of the Poor.
He was eminent both of birth and rank. He moved to Constantinople, cast off all worldly things and received ordination to the priesthood, founding a home for the poor, containing a place for the treatment of infectious diseases, and ministering to those cared for in it. He was a close acquaintance of the Emperor Constantine the Great. In retaliation for the gold that Zoticus had had from him for his plague-victims, Constantine's son Constantius tied him behind a wild ass, which was driven about until he died of his wounds. He suffered in the fourth century.
4. Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid.
Born on the island of Euboea, and educated in Constantinople by the most eminent teachers of his day, he became a priest in the Great Church. He was chosen as bishop, and sent, against his will, to Ochrid, where he spent about twenty-five years (from about 1082 to 1108). Chomatianus of Ochrid calls him 'the wisest archbishop'. He was a man of enormous learning, both secular and theological, of refined Byzantine tastes, and was by nature melancholy and sensitive. 'Meophylact felt himself among the Slavs of Ochrid like an exile among barbarians. He wrote commentaries an the Four Gospels and on other books of the New Testament. These are the finest works of their sort after St John Chrysostom, and ate read to this day with great benefit. Of his other works, we know of his Letters, and a Life of St Clenet of Ochrid. In old age, Theophylact withdrew from Ochrid to Salonica, and finishing his earthly course, went to the blessedness of eternity.
How wisely holy men and women knew how to handle their wealth! How skillfully they purchased the eternal goods of heaven with their earthly goods. Oh, how little they valued earthly goods in themselves-as dust and smoke! When St. Melania visited the holy desert fathers in Egypt with the intention of giving them some financial help, she was astonished at seeing their extreme abhorrence of goods and riches. Thus, she visited one hermit, Ephestion, and saw nothing in his cell but mats, a bowl for water, a little dry bread, and a salt pot. Knowing beforehand that the elder would not take any gold from her, she seized the opportunity and placed several gold pieces in the salt pot. However, when she was on her way back, she heard the elder running after her, and at the top of his voice he was calling to her to stop. She stopped. The elder held the gold pieces in the palm of his hand and, handing them to Melania, said: "I do not need this, take what is yours!" Melania said to him: "If you do not need it, give it to someone else." He replied: "No one in this place has any use for it." When Melania refused to accept the gold, the elder swung his arm and threw the gold pieces into the river and then returned to his cell.
During an outbreak of plague in Constantinople, Emperor Constantius ordered that everyone infected be immediately thrown into the sea. St. Zoticus ransomed those who were infected and brought them to his home, and there he cared for them. When his money ran out, he went to the emperor and asked for money to purchase precious pearls for him. The emperor gave him money, and with this money Zoticus continued his work of ransoming the contagious ones and caring for them. One day, the emperor asked Zoticus for the promised pearls, and Zoticus brought him and showed him the infected men in his home, saying: "These, O Emperor, are the living pearls that I acquired with labor and money for your salvation." The enraged emperor condemned Zoticus to death, but Zoticus entered into eternal life, and the emperor remained to atone and repent for his sins.
Contemplate the assembly of penitents:
- How they sinned, unknowingly or knowingly, against the Law of Christ;
- How they repented, corrected their lives and fulfilled the Law of Christ;
- How they now rejoice in Christ's Kingdom and help us by their prayers.
On the victory of the Lamb
These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them (Revelation 17:14).
Brethren, let us rejoice and be glad at the Lamb's victory over all the beasts. Lions and tigers, wolves and foxes, hyenas and snakes-the Lamb shall overcome them! Who has seen and heard this? Our ears have heard this and our eyes have seen this. The Lamb is Christ the Lord, and the beasts are all His adversaries, visible and invisible. In our day the Lamb carries the victories; in the future the Lamb shall conquer, even to the last day. The Lamb conquered and conquers and shall conquer all the kings and rulers of the world with their bestial natures, their armies and their mercenaries, their glorifiers and their followers. Such power is possessed by the meek Lamb of God. O my poor brethren, be not afraid; be not frightened; be not doubtful. The greatest Victor is your Leader, your Helper and your Friend. He is called "the Lamb" in order to teach us that we should be like lambs: quiet, meek, guileless, patient, ready for the victory-bearing sacrifice, and devoted to the will of our Shepherd. When God is with the lamb, then the lamb is stronger than the wolf, mightier than the lion, craftier than the snake and the fox. However, justice cannot be recognized or the final victory be seen until both worlds are taken into account. O my brethren, when we take into account both worlds, we recognize eternal justice and immortal victory. The Lamb conquers, and only the Lamb.
O Lord Jesus, King of kings, Victor in all conflicts and battles, the Lamb of God, meek and merciful, make us to be victory-bearing lambs.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK