Prologue from Ochrid - January 10 [January 23]
1. St Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa.
The brother of St Basil the Great, he was at first a married priest, but when his wife, the blessed Theosevia, died, he was chosen and consecrated as Bishop of Nyssa. He was distinguished by great secular learning and spiritual experience, and was a great preacher, a translator of the Scriptures and a theologian. As a result of his opposition to the Arians, they did everything in their power to crush him, regarding him as their chief enemy. They were so successful in this that, in the reign of the Emperor Valens, their confederate, they managed to depose him from his episcopal seat and drive him into exile. This was in 376. The holy Father spent several years in patient exile, enduring poverty and humiliation. In 381, he took part in the Second Ecumenical Council, and it is thought that he formulated the final part of the Creed concerning the Holy Spirit. Finally, finishing his life at a great age in about the year 395, he entered into the Kingdom of God and has been commemorated through all succeeding ages as a great light in the Church.
2. Our Holy Father Ammon of Egypt.
He was an Egyptian ascetic. At the age of fourteen, he strove and prayed to God to kill all anger in him. He achieved such perfection of goodness that he was no longer aware of the existence of evil in the world. He was an outstanding expert in the Scriptures, and entered into rest at the beginning of the fifth century.
3. St Marcian.
He was born in Rome, but lived as a priest in Constantinople to the end of his life, during the greater part of the reign of Marcian and Pulcheria. The inheritor of great wealth from his parents, he spent it unstintingly on two objects: the building or restoring of churches, and charity to the poor. He built two new churches in Constantinople, dedicated to St Anastasia and St Irene and famed as beautiful and holy places. When asked why he spent so much of his wealth on churches, he re lied- "If I had a daughter and was-giving her in marriage to some nobleman, would I not expend much gold to adorn her as a worthy bride? Here, I am adorning the Church, the Bride of Christ." This great man, while being so generous to the churches and the poor, was very hard towards himself, following the evangelical counsel: "Having food and raiment, let us therewith be content" (I Tim. 6:8). It was written of him: "He was utterly in God and God in him", and he went to God, full of years and good works, in the year 471.
Vanity because of clothing occupies special momentum in our time. He who has nothing else of which to be proud becomes proud of his attire. He who would have something more costly than clothes of which to be proud, does he not become proud? Just as gold, which does not come out from the surface of the earth, so it is that neither the spiritual values of a man not show outwardly. It is said, that a certain distinguished philosopher saw a young man who displayed pride in his clothing. He approached the young man and whispered in his ear: "The same fleece was previously worn by a ram, but, nevertheless, he was still a ram!" To be a Christian and to display pride in clothing is more insane than to be an emperor and to be proud of the dust under his feet. While St. Arsenius wore cloth of gold in the royal court, no one called him great. He was called Great only then when he unselfishly gave himself over completely to God and dressed in rags.
To contemplate the lowliness of the Lord Jesus:
- The lowliness of the King Who was born in a cave;
- The lowliness of the most wealthy One, Who hungered and thirsted;
- The lowliness of the Almighty in relationship with the lowly on earth.
About contentment with that which is most necessary to us
"If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that" (I Timothy 6:8).
The apostles of God taught others that which they themselves fulfilled in their own lives. When they had food and clothing they were content. Even when it occurred that they had neither food nor clothing they were content. For their contentment did not emanate from the outside but emanated from within. Their contentment was not so cheap as the contentment of an animal, but costly, more costly and more rare. Internal contentment, the contentment of peace and love of God in the heart, that is the contentment of greater men, that was the apostolic contentment. In great battles, generals are dressed and fed as ordinary soldiers and they do not seek contentment in food nor in clothes but in victory. Victory is the primary principle of contentment of those who battle. Brethren, Christians are constantly in battle, in battle for the victory of the spirit over the material, in battle for conquest of the higher over the lower, man over beast. Is it not, therefore, absurd to engage in battle and not to worry about victory but to concern oneself with external decorations and ornaments? Is it not foolish to give to one's enemies the marks of identification? Our invisible enemy [Satan] rejoices at our vanity and supports us in every vain thought. The invisible enemy occupies us with every possible unreasonable pettiness and idleness only to impose upon our minds the heavy forgetfulness relative to that for which we are here on earth. The invisible enemy [Satan] presents to us the worthless as important, the irrelevant as essential and that which is detrimental as beneficial only in order to achieve victory and to destroy us forever.
O Lord, Holy, Mighty and Immortal, Who created us from the mud and breathed a living soul into mud, do not allow, O Lord, that the mud overwhelms! Help our spirit that it always be stronger than the earth.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK