Prologue from Ochrid - December 24 [January 6]
1. Our Holy Mother, the Martyr Eugenia, and those with her.
The daughter of Philip, Eparch of all Egypt, she was born in Rome. At that time, the Christians had been driven out of Alexandria and were living outside the town. The maiden Eugenia visited the Christians and received their Faith with all her heart. She fled from her parents with her two faithful eunuchs, was baptised by Bishop Elias and, wearing man's clothing, went to a men's monastery where she received the monastic habit. She so purified her heart by voluntary asceticism that she received from God the gift of healing the sick, and thus healed a rich woman, Melanthia. After this, though, the woman conceived a physical passion for her, not suspecting that she was a woman. Being firmly repulsed by Eugenia, this wicked woman, out of revenge, went to the Eparch and slandered her just as Potiphar's wife had slandered chaste Joseph. The eparch ordered that all the monks be bound and thrown into prison together with Eugenia. When they were brought out for trial, Eugenia revealed herself to her father as his daughter. The overjoyed Philip was baptised, with his whole household, and Philip was chosen as Bishop of Alexandria. Hearing of this, the Roman Emperor sent a wicked general, Terence, who, coming to Alexandria, secretly killed Philip. Then St Eugenia moved to Rome with her mother and brothers. In Rome, she fearlessly and zealously brought pagans to the true Faith, especially maidens, and thus brought a beautiful maiden, VassiIia, to the Faith. Vassilia was quickly beheaded for Christ, as Eugenia had foretold to her, and then her two eunuchs, Protus and Hyacinthus, were beheaded. Finally, martyrdom came to Eugenia, whose presence had caused the Temple of Diana to fall in ruins. The torturers first threw her into water and then into fire, but God preserved her. The Lord Jesus Himself appeared to her in the prison and told her that she would suffer on the day of His Nativity. And so it came about. She was beheaded with the sword on December 25th, 262, in Rome. After her death, Eugenia appeared to her mother in great glory, and comforted her.
2. Our Holy Father Nicolas the Soldier.
Some people think that this great saint was a Slav of Balkan origin. In the time of the Emperor Nicephorus, Nicolas was commander of the part of the army that went to war against the Bulgars. On the road, Nicolas spent the night in an inn, where he experienced a great temptation and had a strange dream. This dream came true in the war, when the Greeks were utterly routed by the Bulgars in 811. Nicolas was preserved and, out of gratitude to God, left his command and became a monk. In long asceticism, he attained such perfection that he became a great seer and man of God. He died peacefully in the ninth century, and entered into the blessed Kingdom of Christ the Lord.
In the Greek Synaxarion, Our Holy Father Antiochus, a monk of Palestine, is also commemorated. He was an eye-witness of the sufferings of our holy Fathers of St Sava's (May 16th), and, as an eye-witness, recorded their sufferings at the hands of the Saracens. He also compiled another book entitled 'Pandect'. He wrote many prayers, of which the best-known is the one read daily at Compline: 'And grant us, O Master, as we lay us down to sleep, repose both of body and soul...'.
The Holy New Monk Achmed is also commemorated. A Turk by birth and a builder by trade, he embraced the Christian faith and laid down his life for it. He suffered at the hands of the Turks in Constantinople in 1682.
Victory over temptation is victory over death. This is shown by a wondrous experience of St. Nicholas the Commander. When this commander went off with King Nicephorus's army against the Bulgarians, it happened that he spent the night in a wayside inn. The innkeeper had a daughter, a young girl, who, attracted by the imperial commander's outward beauty, began to entice him into sin. Nicholas refused her once, saying to her that this was enticing him into a satanic act. Nevertheless, the shameless girl came a second and a third time to the commander's room and again tempted him to an impure act. The commander refused both the second and third propositions even more decisively, counseling her to preserve her virginity and not to give her body and soul over to the devil. Finally, he said to her that he was a soldier and was going to war, and that it was unworthy and dangerous for a soldier to soil himself with such a misdeed, which would anger God and lead him to certain death. Thus, this God-loving man conquered temptation. The following day, he moved farther on with the army. The next night, he saw the following vision: He was standing in a spacious field and saw near him a powerful man sitting with his right leg crossed over his left. Before them stood two armies in the field, one facing the other, the Greeks and the Bulgarians. This powerful man told him to watch carefully what was about to happen. Nicholas looked and saw the following: As long as the powerful man kept his right leg crossed over the left, the Greek army overcame the Bulgarian army, and when he changed his position and placed his left leg over the right leg, the Bulgarians charged and ferociously cut down the Greeks. Then this powerful man brought the commander closer to the slaughtered Greek army. The entire field was covered with corpses, body beside body. Only in the middle of these corpses was there an empty space, large enough for the body of a man. Then the man said to Nicholas: "This place was appointed for your body, but since you defeated the devil's temptations three times last night, you saved your body and soul from death." That which Nicholas saw in his dream, he saw precisely in reality at the time of the battle. The entire Greek army perished on the battlefield, but Nicholas returned home alive, not to the barracks anymore, but to a monastery.
Contemplate the assembly of the forefathers, prophets and righteous ones in the heavens:
- How, before Christ, they fulfilled God's law;
- How they foretold Christ the Lord both in word and in the image of their lives;
- How they now rejoice in the Kingdom of Christ.
On the righteous Joseph
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man … did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him (Matthew 1:19, 24).
One must fear God more than men, and one must obey God more than men. This is the lesson from the life of the Righteous Joseph, the kinsman and guardian of the Holy Virgin Mary. He lived at the time of the juncture between the Law and grace, and was faithful to the Law until grace appeared; then, when the new grace of God appeared, he became faithful to grace. Obedient to the letter of the Law, he wanted to put the Holy Virgin away when she conceived the Savior of the world in her most pure body. But when an angel of God announced to him that Mary had conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20), he abandoned his intention and did not put her away, but did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him. He did not reason for himself, but obeyed the will of God. Therefore, God made him worthy of great glory, both on earth and in heaven. Quietly and secretly he served God, and God glorified him openly. Not only was he made worthy of the Kingdom of God but also his sons and daughters were. What father would want anything more than that his son would be an apostle of Christ? And Joseph had two sons who were apostles. Thus, God glorifies those who fear Him and obey Him.
O great Lord, God of the righteous Joseph, help us sinners also to love Thy righteousness and to fear only Thee.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK