Prologue from Ochrid - December 26 [January 8]
1. The General Commemoration of the Most Holy Mother of God.
On the second day of Christmas, the Christian Church gives glory and praise to the most holy Mother of God, who bore our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. This feast is called a 'general commemoration' because, on this day, all the faithful come together to glorify her, the Mother of God, and to celebrate a triumphant, common feast in her honour. In Ochrid, it has been the custom from time immemorial that, on the eve of the second day of Christmas, Vespers has been celebrated only in the church of the Mother of God, the Chieftain. All the clergy and people there together glorify the most pure Mother of God.
2. Commemoration of the Flight into Egypt
The wise men, astrologers, from the East, having worshipped the Lord in Bethlehem, returned home, at the command of an angel, another way. Herod, that wicked King, planned to slaughter all the children in Bethlehem, but God saw Herod's intention and sent His angel to Joseph. The angel of God spoke to Joseph in a dream and commanded him to take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt. Joseph did this. Taking the divine Child and His most pure Mother, he travelled first to Nazareth (Lk. 2:39), where he set his household affairs in order and then, taking his son James with them, went off to Egypt (Matt. 2:14). And so the words of the prophet: 'The Lord, riding upon a swift cloud, shall come into Egypt' (Is. 19:1), were fulfilled. In old Cairo today the cave where the holy family lived can be seen, and in the village of Matarea near Cairo, the tree under which the Mother of God rested with the Lord Jesus, where a miraculous spring of water sprang up under the tree. They lived in Egypt for several years, and then the holy family returned to Palestine in response to a command by an angel of God. And so a second prophecy was fulfilled: 'Out of Egypt have I called My Son' (Hosea 11:1). Herod was dead, and on his bloodstained throne sat a worthy successor in his wicked son Archelaus. Joseph, hearing that Archelaus was reigning in Jerusalem, returned to Galilee, to his town of Nazareth, where he settled in his own home. Galilee was at that time ruled by another of Herod's sons, Herod the Younger, who was somewhat better than his wicked brother Archelaus.
3. Our Holy Father Evarestus.
Reading the works of St Ephraim the Syrian, he abandoned the diplomatic service and became a monk. He was very strict with himself and wore chains on his body, eating dry bread only once a week. He lived for seventy-five years, and went to the Lord in about 825.
4. St Euthymius the Confessor, Bishop of Sardis.
He took part in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, and spent about thirty years in exile for his veneration of icons. Under the Emperor Theophilus the Iconoclast, he was flogged with bull-whips, during which he died a martyr in 840 and received a wreath of glory in heaven.
5. Our Holy Father Constantine of Synnada.
He was a Jew who came to the Christian faith. When the Cross was made on his head at his baptism, it remained visible there till his death in Constantinople in the seventh century. He is famed for his fasting and for his many miracles. For seven years before his death, he foretold the day of it.
A story of the Divine Christ-child: When the holy family fled before Herod's sword to Egypt, robbers leapt out on the road with the intention of stealing something. The righteous Joseph was leading the donkey, on which were some belongings and on which the Most-holy Theotokos was riding with her Son at her breast. The robbers seized the donkey to lead it away. At that moment, one of the robbers approached the Mother of God to see what she was holding next to her breast. The robber, seeing the Christ-child, was astonished at His unusual beauty and said in his astonishment: "If God were to take upon Himself the flesh of man, He would not be more beautiful than this Child!" This robber then ordered his companions to take nothing from these travelers. Filled with gratitude toward this generous robber, the Most-holy Virgin said to him: "Know that this Child will repay you with a good reward because you protected Him today." Thirty-three years later, this same thief hung on the Cross for his crimes, crucified on the right side of Christ's Cross. His name was Dismas, and the name of the thief on the left side was Gestas. Beholding Christ the Lord innocently crucified, Dismas repented for all the evil of his life. While Gestas reviled the Lord, Dismas defended Him, saying: This man hath done nothing amiss. (Luke 23:41). Dismas, therefore, was the wise thief to whom our Lord said: Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). Thus the Lord granted Paradise to him who spared Him in childhood.
Contemplate the purity of the Most-holy Mother of God:
- On the immaculate purity of her body: passionless and disciplined by fasting;
- On the immaculate purity of her heart, in which a sinful desire never dwelt;
- On the immaculate purity of her mind, in which a sinful thought never dwelt.
On the Most-holy Virgin, the Theotokos
And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:38).
Here indeed, brethren, is a true handmaid of the Lord! If a handmaid is she who exchanges her will completely for the will of her Lord, then the Most-holy Virgin is the first among all of the Lord's handmaids. If a handmaid is she who, with intent and with complete attention, beholds her Lord, then again the Most-holy Virgin is the first among the handmaids of the Lord. If a handmaid is one who meekly and quietly endures all insults and trials, awaiting only the reward of her Lord, then again and again the Most-holy Virgin is the first and most excellent of all the handmaids of the Lord. She did not care to please the world, but only God; nor did she care to justify herself before the world, but only before God. She herself is obedience; she herself is service; she herself is meekness. The Most-holy Virgin could in truth say to the angel of God: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. The greatest perfection, and the greatest honor that a woman can attain on earth, is to be a handmaid of the Lord. Eve lost this perfection and honor in Paradise without effort, and the Virgin Mary achieved this perfection and this honor outside Paradise with her efforts.
Through the prayers of the Most-holy Virgin Theotokos, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK