Prologue from Ochrid - July 2 [July 15]
1. The Deposition of the Vesture of the Most Holy Mother of God in the Blachernae Church in Constantinople.
In the time of the Emperor Leo the Great (457-474) and the Empress Verina and Patriarch Gennadius, two Constantinopolitan nobles, Galbius and Candidus, were travelling in the Holy Land to venerate the holy places there. In Nazareth, they stayed in the house of a Jewish girl who had the vesture of the Mother of God kept in a secret place. Many of the sick and wretched had received healing through prayer and the touching of this vesture. Galbius and Candidus took this holy relic to Constantinople and informed the Emperor and the Patriarch of its existence. It was the cause of great rejoicing in the imperial city. The vesture was ceremonially placed in the Blachernae church (a church built by the Emperor Marcian and Empress Pulcheria on the shore of a bay, and named 'Blachernae' after a General Blacheran from Scetis, who was killed there), and this commemorative feast was instituted.
2. St Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
A contemporary of Euthymius, Theodosius, Gerasim, Simeon Stylites and other great lights of the Church, he took part in two Ecumenical Councils - the Third in Ephesus and the Fourth in Chalcedon, striving with great power and zeal against the blasphemous heretics - at Ephesus against Nestorius, who spoke of the Mother of God as Mother of Christ, denying that Christ is God and man in one Person, and at Chalcedon against Eutyches and Dioscorus, who taught that Christ has only one nature, divine but not human. After the victory of Orthodoxy at both these Councils, Juvenal returned to his see in Jerusalem. But, though the heresies were condemned, the heretics were not subdued. By the plots and violence of one Theodosius, a friend of Dioscorus, Juvenal was driven from his episcopal throne and Theodosius installed in his place. The Empress Eudocia, widow of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger, first gave her assistance to this heretic while she was staying in Jerusalem. The hesitant and meddlesome Empress went at length to St Simeon Stylites, to ask him where the truth lay. This saint of God denounced the heretical teaching and instructed the Empress to keep to Orthodox teaching as upheld by the Councils. The Empress obeyed him, repented and herself condemned the false Patriarch Theodosius. Marcian and Pulcheria were at that time on the throne in Constantinople. A letter was sent from the Emperor to the governor, instructing him to exile Theodosius and re-instate Juvenal, which the governor did without delay. Juvenal governed the Church in Jerusalem as its hierarch for thirty-eight years and went to the Lord in great old age, in 458, to receive at His hands the reward for the manifold sufferings he had endured for the truth's sake.
3. St Photius, Metropolitan of Moscow.
A Greek by birth, he governed the Russian Church wisely for twenty years, entering into rest in 1430. A week before his death, an angel of God appeared to him and revealed to him the precise time of his departure from this world.
Every device of which man boasts as an invention of his mind is revealed by Divine Providence and every invented device has its two-fold significance one physical, the other spiritual. Even the clock is a wonderful device but it was not invented merely to tell us the time of day and night but also to remind us of death. This is its spiritual significance. When the small hand completes its rounds of seconds and minutes then the large hand arrives at the ordered hour and the clock strikes. So will the clock of our life strike when the days, months and years of our life are numbered. That is why St. Tikhon of Zadonsk counsels every Christian to reflect:
- How the time of our life continually passes;
- How it is impossible to bring back time that is past;
- How the past and future times are not in our control but only that time in which we are now living;
- How the end of our life is unknown;
- How we must be prepared for death every day, every hour and every minute;
- How because of that we must always be in the state of continual repentance;
- How we must be repentant in every hour and spiritually disposed as we would wish to be at the hour of our death.
To contemplate the burning bush on Horeb (Exodus 3):
- How, the bush was completely engulfed by flame and was not consumed;
- How also, the All-pure Virgin bearing within herself the Divine Fire, the Lord God-Man, and was not consumed by Him;
- How, the Grace of the Divine Fire, also rejuvenates, heals and illuminates even my sinful soul.
About the trial of our faith
"That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearance of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7).
Brethren, our faith is tried more often than is the reed rocked by the winds. Trials are like the winds: a weak faith they will uproot and a strong faith will be strengthened even more. Trials are also like the flame in which straw is burned and gold is purified.
Man's intellectual pursuits and suppositions also try our faith. These are very strong and bitter winds. But we can overcome them if we are willing to adhere to the words of God and if, in opposition to those intellectual pursuits, we are able to emphasize the teachings of the Faith of Christ.
Our faith is further tried by fear and shame: fear of men who persecute the Faith and shame of men who arrogantly despise the Faith. These also are strong winds which we must resist if we wish to remain alive. How will we resist them? By the fear of God which should always be greater in our soul than the fear of men and of shame before the apostles, saints and martyrs who were not ashamed of their faith before emperors, princes and sages of this world.
Our faith is further tried by suffering and misery. This is the fire in which our faith either has to be burned like straw or to be tempered as pure gold. We will resist these trials if we would but remember Christ crucified on the Cross for us and so many thousands of martyrs for the Faith who, in their patience, conquered all and emerged from the flames as gold and who for centuries glow among the angels and among men.
Our faith is also tried by death, the death of our relatives and friends and the death of mankind in general. This is the bitter fire in which the faith of many have been burned. Is death the end of everything? It is not, but rather believe that it is the beginning of everything; it is the beginning of a new and just life. Believe in the Resurrection of Christ, believe in life beyond the grave and believe in the general resurrection and the Dreadful Judgment.
O Good Lord, strengthen the faith in us and 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