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Prologue from Ochrid - January 8 [January 21]

1. The Holy Martyrs Julian and Vasilissa.

They were both of rich and noble families and, though married, agreed to live in celibacy as brother and sister. They gave their goods to the poor and embraced the monastic state; Julian founding a men's monastery of about 10,000 monks and Vasilissa one for about a thousand nuns. When a violent persecution of Christians was launched under Diocletian, Vasilissa besought God that none of her nuns should suffer torture nor repudiate the Orthodox faith. The Lord hearkened to the petition of His worthy servant and, during the next six months, took all the nuns to Himself, one by one, and finally their abbess Vasilissa. Before her own death, Vasilissa had a vision of her sisters in the other world. They were all bathed in light and were rejoicing like the angels. They appealed to their spiritual mother to join them as quickly as possible.

Julian's monastery was burned by fire, and Julian was inhumanely tortured, being killed only after the most horrible sufferings. The Lord inspired and strengthened him in his torments and he endured them with heroism, keeping faith and glorifying the name of Christ. Together with Julian were beheaded the son and wife of the persecutor Marcian, Celsus and Maronilla, who, seeing Julian's heroic and patient sufferings, were themselves converted to Christianity. Also martyred with him were twenty Roman soldiers, seven brothers from that locality, a priest named Antony and a man called Anastasius whom Julian, at the time of his own martyrdom, raised from the dead by his prayers. They all suffered with honour for Christ and became citizens of the Kingdom of heaven in about the year 313.

2. Our Holy Father George the Chozebite.

He lived the ascetic life in the seventh century in the Chozebite community on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, where our holy Father John the Chozebite first lived as a monk.

3. St Domnica.

A pagan, she came from Carthage in the reign of the Emperor Theodosius to Patriarch Macarius, accompanied by four girls who were likewise ignorant of God. He baptised them and blessed them to live as nuns. St Domnica devoted herself to asceticism with whole-hearted zeal, and did not falter in that zeal right up to the time of her death at a great age. She entered into rest in about the year 474. By the illumination of the Holy Spirit, she was able to predict the future and perform miracles through prayer.

4. St Gregory, Bishop of Ochrid.

A pious teacher and pastor of Christ's flock, he entered into rest in the year 1012. On an inscription in the Church of St Sophia in Ochrid, he is called 'Gregory the Wise'.

Reflection

On one of the stones in the Church of St. Sophia, the following words were engraved: "Wash your sins, not only your face." Whoever entered this glorious church read this inscription and remembered that the Christian Faith requires of him moral purity: purity of the soul, purity of the heart and purity of the mind. Just as in the heart of man is concentrated the complete spiritual man, this is what the Lord also said, "Blessed are the pure of heart" (St. Matthew 5:8). Total external cleanliness does not help at all in gaining the kingdom of heaven. Oh, if only we would invest as much effort in washing ourselves from sins as we invest daily in washing our faces, then God would truly be seen in our hearts as though in a mirror!

Contemplation

To contemplate the three temptations by which Satan tempted the Lord Jesus:

  1. Gluttony: The temptation with bread;
  2. Vainglory: Lifting Him above the Temple;
  3. Avarice: Offering Him the possession of the entire world.

Homily

About the needed caution for those who think that they are secure

"Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall" (I Corinthians 10:12).

The apostle who gives such advice knew human nature perfectly and all its weakness. Day after day, this experience is confirmed: that as soon as man straightens up from the mud of sin, he then sways and falls again. As soon as he is cured of the sin of avarice, he falls into the vice of vainglory. Or, as soon as he extends his hand to help a poor man, pride then topples him to the other side. Or, as soon as he becomes accustomed to prayer, he then opens wide his mouth to degrade those who are not yet accustomed to prayer. Or, as soon as he felt that the Spirit of God is directing him to the path of salvation, he then immediately sets himself up as a teacher to the entire world until unfortunately by that he completely drives away the Spirit from within himself.

When the Lord foretold to His disciples that they would all deny Him and flee, then Peter confident in his stability cried out: "Though all may have their faith in You shaken, mine will never be" (St. Matthew 26:33). Discerning his very heart only and seeing him already fallen into self-conceit and pride, the Lord responded to him, "This very night before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times" (St. Matthew 26:34). And when such a fall happened to the apostle in the immediate proximity of the Lord, why would it not happen to us? This is why, brethren, when we rise and turn from a certain sin and stand erect, we should ascribe this to the power and mercy of God and not to ourselves and we should be very vigilant to protect ourselves and to implore God that we, again, do not fall, be it to one side or the other side, but walk on the upright path of the Lord.

O All-seeing Lord, help us to stand straight before You by the Spirit, and when we become erect, uphold us that we do not fall anymore.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK