Prologue from Ochrid - July 3 [July 16]
1. The Holy Martyr Hyacinthus.
A young man, a courtier at the court of the Emperor Trajan, he was a secret Christian. Once, when the Emperor and all his court were offering sacrifice to idols, Hyacinthus stood apart from these abominable ceremonies. He was therefore denounced and brought to trial before the Emperor. The Emperor urged him to deny Christ and sacrifice to idols, but Hyacinthus remained firm as diamond and said to the Emperor: 'I am a Christian. I revere Christ and worship Him, and I bring my living self to Him as a sacrifice.' Whipped, spat upon and flayed, this holy martyr was flung into prison. By order of the Emperor, he was given nothing to eat but food that had been sacrificed to idols. Hyacinthus would not eat this, and died in prison after eight days. The warder saw two shining angels in the prison, one covering the martyr's body with his own glorious vesture and the other placing a wreath of glory on his head; and the whole prison was filled with light and radiance. The young Hyacinthus suffered with honour and was crowned with a wreath of glory in the year 108.
2. St Anatolius, Patriarch of Constantinople.
He was at first a priest in Alexandria, but, after the death of Patriarch Flavian in 449, he was elevated to the patriarchal throne in Constantinople. In his time, the throne of Constantinople was declared to be equal with that of Rome, at the Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in 451. He strove mightily for the purity of the Orthodox faith, suffered much at the hands of heretics and was in the end killed by them in 458, in the reign of Leo the Great. He governed the Church for nearly nine years, and went to join the holy hierarchs in the Kingdom of God.
3. Our Holy Father Alexander.
Born in Asia and educated in Constantinople, he went into the army after completing his studies and became an officer. Reading the Holy Scriptures, he came upon the Saviour's words: 'If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me' (Matt. 19:21).These words made such an impression on him that he sold and gave away all that he had, and went off to the desert. After long asceticism and striving for purification, he founded the community of the 'Wakeful Ones' (Acoemetae) with a special rule. According to this rule, the services in the church continued day and night in unbroken sequence. The brethren were divided into six groups, each having its appointed hours of day or night to go to church and take over the reading and singing from the previous group. He travelled a great deal all over the East, bringing people to faith in Christ, disputing with heretics, working miracles by God's grace and growing old in the service of the Lord Jesus. He finished his earthly course in Constantinople in the year 430, where his relics revealed the miraculous power and glory with which God had glorified His holy servant.
4. Our Holy Father Isaiah the Solitary.
He lived in asceticism at Scetis in Egypt and then in Palestine, dying in Gaza in about 491. He is mentioned in Barsanuphius and John's book as a man of outstanding holiness (Answers: 240, 252, 311 etc.). He wrote much that was instructive for monks and solitaries, but few of his writings are extant, the majority having been destroyed by Moslems. St Isaiah said: 'The mind, before it awakens from the sleep of laziness, is with the demons.' 'The crown of all good works consists in this: that a man place all his hope in God, that he flee to Him once and for all with all his heart and strength, that he be filled with compassion for all and weep before God, imploring His help and mercy.' What is the sign that a man's sin is forgiven? 'The sign that a sin is forgiven is that the sin has no further action in your heart, and that you have so utterly forgotten it that, in speaking of such a sin, you feel no inclination to it but regard it as something totally outside you. That is the sign that you are forgiven.' Prayer and asceticism are useless to a man who conceals within himself malice towards his neighbour and the desire for revenge. 'Watch with all your strength that your mouth does not speak one thing and your heart contain something quite different.' 'The crown of good works is love; the crown of the passions is the justifying of one's sins.
Love is all-powerful. It can, among other things, ease the judgment of the souls of deceased sinners. The Orthodox Church confirms this resolutely and continues to offer prayers and performs corporal works of mercy for the deceased. Abundantly rich in every spiritual experience, the Church knows that prayers and works of mercy for the deceased helps those in the other world. Before her death, St. Athanasia the Abbess (April 12) made the sisterhood promise that for forty days after her death they would prepare a table for the poor and needy. The sisterhood carried out her command for only ten days and then ceased. The saint then appeared in the company of two angels and said to the sisters: "Why have you transgressed my commandment? Know, that through works of mercy and the prayers of the priest for the souls of the deceased in the course of forty days, invokes God's mercy. If the souls of the departed are sinful they, through this, receive forgiveness of sins from God and if they are not sinful then the corporal works of mercy performed for them serve to the salvation of the benefactor himself." Naturally, works of mercy and prayer are thought of here in connection with great love toward the departed souls. Such works of mercy and prayer, in truth, do help.
To contemplate the miraculous transformation of the rod into a serpent and, again, the serpent into the rod (Exodus 4):
- 1. How the Lord Who created the serpent and the rod from dust, by His own power and for the sake of higher goals, can transform the dead into the living and the living into the dead;
- 2. How the Lord can, according to my faith and prayer, return my soul, withered and deadened by sin, to life.
About the joy of faith in Christ
"Although you have never seen Him, you love Him, and without seeing you now believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory" (1 Peter 1:8).
These are the words of the Holy Apostle Peter. He saw the Lord and loved Him. He looked at the Lord and believed in Him. Precisely because of that, he praises the love of those who have not seen the Lord and the faith of those who have not seen Him with their eyes. Our Lord Himself said: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (St. John 20:29). Blessed are they who have not seen the Lord as the apostle saw Him, but, nevertheless, they love Him with apostolic love. Blessed are they who have not seen the Lord as the apostle saw Him but, nevertheless, they believe in Him with apostolic faith!
O my brethren, even if we do not see the Lord, we see His works which have enlightened the entire history of mankind from one end to the other and have illumined every created thing under the heavens with a spiritual significance. Even if we do not see the Lord, we see His Holy Church built upon His All-holy and Pure Blood, from countless saints, righteous ones and numerous souls baptized in His Name throughout the ages of ages. Even if we do not see the Lord face to face as the apostles saw Him, we believe that He is among us in the Body and Blood by which we, according to His commandment, communicate and, in communicating, we rejoice with unspeakable joy.
Brethren, the Lord is alive and the Lord is near! That is our unwavering faith and that is the spark of fire which stirs our hearts in a flame of love for the Lord, living and near.
To know that our Lord the Creator, out of love, descended into the earth and appeared as a man for our sake and further know that He was dead and that He appeared alive what stronger foundation does our faith need and what stronger justification for our love?
Brethren, the Lord is alive and near. And even in our day, He is appearing to many righteous souls who serve Him with patience.
O Living Lord, You were dead and are alive enliven in us faith and love until our last breath on earth, that with faith and love, we may be worthy to see You face to face as did Your holy apostles.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK