Prologue from Ochrid - December 20 [January 2]
1. The Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer, Bishop of Antioch.
This holy man was named the 'God-Bearer' because he always carried the name of the living God in his heart and on his lips. Also, by tradition, he was thus named because he was held in the arms of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. On a day when the Lord was teaching His disciples humility, He took a child and set it among them, saying: 'Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:4). This child was Ignatius. He was later a disciple of St John the Theologian, together with Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna. As bishop in Antioch, he governed the Church of God as a good shepherd, and was the first to introduce antiphonal singing into the Church, in which two choirs alternate. This way of singing was revealed to St Ignatius from among the angels in heaven. When the Emperor Trajan passed through Antioch on his way to battle with the Persians, he heard about Ignatius, summoned him and urged him to offer sacrifice to idols, so that he could be made a senator. The Emperor's urgings and threats being in vain, holy Ignatius was put in irons and sent to Rome, escorted by ten bestial soldiers, to be thrown to the wild beasts. Ignatius rejoiced to be suffering for his Lord, and prayed to God that the wild beasts should be the tomb for his body, and that none should hinder his death. After a long and difficult journey from Asia through 'Mrace, Macedonia and Epirus, Ignatius reached Rome, where he was thrown to the lions in the circus. They tore him to pieces and devoured him, leaving only a few of the larger bones and his heart. This glorious lover of the Lord Christ suffered in the year 106 in Rome, in the time of the Emperor Trajan. He appeared many times from the other world and worked wonders, helping to this day all who call on him for help.
2. St Danilo, Archbishop of Serbia.
The son of rich and God-loving parents, he was given a careful upbringing. King Milutin took him to his court, but, from love of God, he fled and became a monk in the monastery of Konculsk near the Ibar. He was later abbot of Hilandar and suffered much at the hands of the plundering Latin crusaders. He was Bishop of Banja and then of Hum, and finally Archbishop of Serbia. He was from beginning to end a strict ascetic, with a special gift of tears. He made peace between Kings Dragutin and Milutin, and later between Milutin and Stephen of Decani, and fought fiercely against the Latins and the Bogomils. Under his supervision, the monasteries of Banja and Decani were built, and he restored and built many other churches. He also recorded the lives of the Serbian kings and saints. Untiring in the service of God to the end of his life, he entered peacefully into rest in the time of King Dusan, on the night of December 19/20th, 1338. He was a great hierarch, a great ascetic, a great worker and a great patriot.
The holy martyrs, seized with the love of Christ, were like unquenchable flames. This love eased their sufferings and made their deaths sweet. St. Chrysostom says of St. Ignatius: "He put off his body with as much ease as one takes off his clothes." Traveling to Rome to his death, Ignatius feared only one thing: that Christians would somehow prevent his martyrdom for Christ, by their prayers to God or in some outward manner. Therefore he continually implored them, in writing and in speech, not to do this. "Forgive me," he said. "I know what is for my benefit. I but begin to be a disciple of Christ when I desire nothing, either visible or invisible, save to attain Christ. May every diabolical torture come upon me: fire, crucifixion, wild beasts, the sword, tearing asunder, the crushing of my bones, and the dismemberment of my whole body-only that I may receive Jesus Christ. It is better for me to die for Christ than to reign to the ends of the earth…. My love is nailed to the Cross, and there is no fire of love in me for any earthly thing." When he was brought to the circus, he turned to the people with these words: "Citizens of Rome, know that I am not being punished for any crime, neither have I been condemned to death for any transgression, but rather for the sake of my God, by Whose love I am overcome and Whom I insatiably desire. I am His wheat, and the teeth of the wild beasts will grind me to be His pure bread." When he had been devoured by the wild beasts, by God's providence his heart remained among the bones. When the unbelievers cut open the saint's heart, they saw inside, inscribed in golden letters, the name Jesus Christ.
Contemplate the courage of Joshua the son of Nun:
- How Joshua held unswervingly to all the Lord's commandments;
- How, with faith in God's help, he courageously entered into every battle against the enemies of his people;
- How he was victorious everywhere and ascribed all his victories to God.
And David said to Nathan: I have sinned against the Lord (II Samuel 12:13).
My tears have been my food day and night (Psalm 42:3).
King David sinned against God and repented, and God forgave him. The king's sin was great, but greater still was his repentance. He was guilty before God of two grave sins: adultery and murder. But when Nathan the prophet of God denounced him, he cried out in anguish: I have sinned against the Lord! Thus he confessed his sin and repented bitterly, most bitterly. Grief-stricken, he prayed to God, weeping, fasting, lying on the ground, and enduring meekly the terrible blows that God sent upon him, his house and his people because of his sins. In his penitential Psalms he says: I am a worm and not a man (Psalm 22:6); Because of the sound of my groaning, my bones cling to my flesh (Psalm 102:5); I lie awake … for I have eaten ashes like bread and mingled my drink with weeping (Psalm 102:7, 9); My knees are grown weak through fasting (Psalm 109:24). Here is true repentance; here is a true penitent! He did not become hardened in sin nor did he fall into despair, but, hoping in the mercy of God, he repented unceasingly. And God, Who loves the penitent, showed mercy upon this model of penitence. God forgave him and glorified him above all the kings of Israel; He gave him the great grace to compose the most beautiful penitential prayers and to prophesy the coming into the world of the Holy Savior, Who would be of his seed. Brethren, do you see how wonderful is God's mercy toward penitents? So much mercy did God have on this repentant David that He was not ashamed to take upon Himself flesh from David's seed. Blessed are they who do not become hardened in sin and who do not fall into despair because of sin. Repentance saves both the one and the other from evil.
O Merciful Lord, soften our hearts with tears of repentance.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK