Prologue from Ochrid - January 5 [January 18]
1. The Hieromartyr Theopemptus and the Holy Martyr Theonas.
When the Emperor Diocletian gave orders for the persecution of Christians, Theopemptus, Bishop of Nicomedia, was the first to suffer for Christ. He was brought before the Emperor, who threatened him with death if he did not deny Christ. To that threat, the courageous bishop replied: 'It is written: "Fear not those who are able to kill the soul". You, 0 King, have power over my body. Do with it whatever you will!' He was cruelly beaten and starved, and tortured in many ways. Finally the Emperor called in a magician, Theonas, to trick the man of God in some way with magic. Theonas dissolved a very strong poison in water and gave it to Theopemptus to drink. Theopemptus made the sign of the Cross over the cup and drank the poison. Theonas, seeing that it had no effect on Theopemptus, turned to the Emperor and cried out: 'I too am a Christian, and worship the Crucified!' They were both condemned to death; Theopemptus was slain with the sword and Theonas buried alive in the year 298. They suffered with honour and became citizens of the Kingdom of Christ.
2. The Holy Prophet Micah the First (or Micaiah).
Micah was a contemporary of the Prophet Elias (9th century B.C.), and prophesied evil to King Ahab, who was killed in battle against the Syrians (I Kings 22:8; II Chron. 18:7). He prophesied entirely orally, writing nothing down. There was another Micah, in the eighth century, who prophesied the birth of the Lord in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2) and wrote one of the prophetic books.
3. Our Holy Mother Syncietica.
A native of Macedonia and educated in Alexandria, she was a rich young woman of standing. She had many suitors, but refused them all and fled from her parents' home to a monastery. In the greatest self-denial, in vigils and prayer, she lived to the age of eighty. Her counsels to the nuns have always been regarded as true spiritual pearls, the wisdom she attained coming not from reading but through suffering and pain, through constant meditation and spiritual converse with the divine world. Her soul entered into that higher world in the year 350. Among other counsels, St Syncletica taught: 'Do not abandon a fast in time of sickness, for lo, those who do not fast fall into the same sicknesses.' Also: 'Treasure, when discovered, is quickly seized upon; so virtue, when it is made public, is quickly eclipsed and lost.'
4. Our Holy Mother Apollinaria.
She was the elder daughter of Anthemius, the regent during the minority of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger, his second-born daughter being insane. She refused to marry, being in her heart betrothed to Christ. Going off into the Egyptian desert, wearing man's dress and using the man's name Dorotheus, she entered a men's monastery where she lived in asceticism, lifting up her soul constantly to God and burning with love towards His whole creation.
It was suggested to Anthemius the Regent that he send his remaining, insane, daughter to the hermit, that prayers might be read over her. And so, by the providence of God, it came to pass that Apollinaria healed her insane sister by the power of prayer.
As soon as she died, the secret became known - that she had been a woman, not a man. The manly courage of this holy virgin has remained as an example and stimulus throughout the ages to all who take thought for their salvation. She entered into rest in the year 470.
Fruit, fruit, and only fruit does the Lord seek from every living tree, which is called man. Good fruit is a God-loving heart and an evil fruit is a self-loving heart. Everything else that a man possesses and enjoys - position, authority, honor, health, money and knowledge - are but the leaves on the tree. "Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (St. Matthew 3:10). Even the non-Christian peoples valued good deeds more than fine words. How much more must it be the rule for the followers of Christ. At a council of the Athenians, at which were present representatives of the Spartans, a certain elderly man moved from bench to bench, seeking a place to sit. The Athenians mocked him and did not relinquish a seat to him. When the old man approached the Spartans, everyone rose to their feet and offered him a seat. Upon seeing this, the Athenians, in eloquent terms praised the Spartans. To this, the Spartans replied: "The Athenians know what is good but they do not do good." Whoever performs good deeds resembles the tree which brings forth good fruit for his householder. The source of goodness in man is a good, God-loving heart.
To contemplate the perfection of Adam, the first man:
- His closeness to God;
- His strength, wisdom and beauty from God;
- The voluntary submission of the whole of nature to the authority of the sinless Adam.
About our helplessness without Christ the Lord
"Because without me you can do nothing" (St. John 15:5).
Our Lord did not have the habit of speaking in terms of exaggeration. No words in this world are weighed more than His words. When He says that we can do nothing without Him, then that must be taken and understood literally. Here, He speaks of good and not of evil. We can do no type of good work without Christ, aside from Christ and contrary to Christ. He is the proprietor, the giver and the inspirer for all good. No type of good stands outside Him, likewise no type of evil is contained in Him. Our Lord said, "I am the Vine, you are the branches" (St. John 15:5). What can the branches do without the vine? Can they grow and bring forth fruit? No, they can do nothing but become firewood. Man can think as hard as he wants, but he cannot conceive of one truthful good which is not in Christ and which does not stem from Christ. If someone were to say that he does good and humane works outside of Christ, you know that those, his works, are spoiled to the core and are corroded, be it from vanity or be it from hidden selfishness. Man, without Christ, is the same as branches without the vine. He Himself told us this. The vine is hidden and unseen, but the branches are seen. Nevertheless, the grapes on the branch and the branch itself depends on the vine. The vine of all-encompassing good grows from the heart of God the Father and is watered by the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. O Triune Lord God, have mercy on us and save us!
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK