Prologue from Ochrid - July 1 [July 14]
1. The Holy Martyrs Cosmas and Damian.
Unmercenary doctors and wonderworkers, these two saints were brothers. Born in Rome, baptised as children and given a Christian education, they were endowed by God with the gift of healing, generally by the laying-on of their hands, of both men and animals. They sought no reward for their work, only urging the sick to faith in Christ the Lord. Inheriting great wealth, they compassionately divided it among the poor and needy. The Emperor Galerius was on the throne in Rome at that time. Persecutors of the Christian faith brought these two holy brothers, bound in chains, before him. After prolonged interrogation, the Emperor charged them to deny Christ and offer sacrifice to idols. Cosmas and Damian not only refused to obey the Emperor; they urged him to forsake dead idols and come to the knowledge of the one, true God. 'Our God is not created, but is the Creator of all, and your gods come of the imaginings of men and the hands of artists. If there were no artists to make your gods, you would have nothing to worship.' After a miracle performed on the Emperor himself - healing him of a grave infirmity - the Emperor declared his faith in Christ and let the holy brothers go in peace. They continued to glorify Christ our God and to heal the sick, and were themselves glorified on all sides by the people. A doctor, a former teacher of theirs, envying their fame, lured them into the hills on the pretext of collecting herbs and stoned them to death. They suffered with honour for the Christian faith in 284. Their memory endures in the Church on earth, and their souls went to the Kingdom of the Lord, to live eternally in glory and joy.
2. Our Holy Father Peter the Patrician.
This saint was a nobleman of Constantinople and a military commander in the time of the Emperor Nicephorus I (802-11). In a war against Bulgaria, the Emperor was killed and Peter, together with fifty other Greek generals and princes, was captured and cast into prison. He was miraculously delivered from prison by St John the Theologian. He then forsook all worldly glory, left his wife and son and withdrew to Mount Olympus, where, as a monk and a disciple of St Joannicius the Great, he lived in monasticism for thirty-four years. After the deaths of his wife and son, he settled in Constantinople, where he spent eight further years in fasting and prayer and entered into rest in the Lord in 865, at the age of seventy-seven.
3. The Holy Martyr Potitus.
A thirteen-year-old youth from Sardinia, he endured many trials for the sake of Christ, both from his father and from the official persecutors of Christianity. Potitus was beheaded in the time of the Emperor Antoninus (138-161), after healing and baptising the Emperor's daughter Agnes.
Through their prayers and alms for the deceased, Christians display the relationship between this world and the world to come. The Church in this world and the Church in the other world are one and the same - one body, one in being - as does the root of a tree beneath the earth comprise one organism with the trunk and the branches of the tree above the earth. It is clear from this how we who comprise the Church on earth can receive help from the saints and the righteous ones from the Heavenly Church as well as the deceased sinners in the other world can receive help from us on earth. St. Athanasius says: "As it happens with wine inside a barrel which, when the vineyard blooms in the field, senses it and the wine itself blossoms together with it, so it is with the souls of sinners. They receive some relief from the Bloodless Sacrifice offered for them and from charity" performed for their repose. St. Ephren the Syrian cites that same example with wine and the vineyard and concludes: "And so, when there exists such mutual sensitivity even among plants, is not the prayer and sacrifice felt even more for the departed ones?"
To contemplate the miraculous change of water into wine (St. John 2):
- How the Lord, at the marriage at Cana, changed the water into wine;
- How, even my soul, if it is wedded to the Living God, transforms its wateriness into divine beverage.
About how we should rejoice in Christ
"In this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials" (1 Peter 1:6).
Thus speaks St. Peter the Apostle whose life was filled with many temptations and frequent sorrows. Thus speaks the man who left his home and family members and followed after Christ and who, for the sake of Christ, endured many difficulties: from hunger, from thirst, from the Jews, from the Romans, from false prophets, from cruel heathens and who, in the end was crucified on the cross, all for the sake of the Lord Christ. He, who in this life was unmercifully scourged with great sorrows and great temptations, counsels us to rejoice in Christ so that this joy may swallow up all our proportionally lessor sorrows and temptations.
But why brethren should we rejoice in Christ?
Because He revealed and showed us the reality of the greatest and most beautiful hopes and dreams of mankind;
He revealed to us the One God, Living, Omnipotent, All-wise All-merciful and He gave us the privilege to call ourselves His sons;
He revealed and showed us the immortal and eternal life; life incomparably better than this life on earth;
He revealed to us the spiritual kingdom; the kingdom of angels and the righteous; the kingdom of all good and the light of truth and justice;
He revealed and showed us the goal of our existence here on earth and the purpose for all our efforts and sufferings in this transient life;
He revealed to us the ocean of heavenly joy compared to all of our sorrows and temptations as a drop of muddy water, which cannot disturb or muddy that ocean.
O brethren, what joy awaits us! O brethren, how small a price does our Lord ask of us to purchase this joy in which the angels bathe and in which the righteous swim! Only to fulfill a few of His short commandments that is the entire price!
O Lord Jesus, the all-miraculous source of our joy, our boast and our pleasure, our glory and our thanks, place Your finger on our mouths and do not allow a drop of muddy sorrow and temptations to poison us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK