Prologue from Ochrid - July 4 [July 17]
1. St Andrew, Archbishop of Crete.
Born in Damascus of Christian parents, he was dumb until the age of seven. When his parents took him to church for Communion, the power of speech was given to him. Such is the divine power of Communion. He went to Jerusalem at the age of fourteen and was tonsured in the monastery of St Sava the Sanctified. In his understanding and ascesis, he surpassed many of the older monks and was an example to all. The Patriarch took him as his secretary. When the Monothelite heresy, which taught that the Lord had no human will but only a divine one, began to rage, the Sixth Ecumenical Council met in Constantinople in 681, in the reign of Constantine IV. Theodore, Patriarch of Jerusalem, was not able to be present at the Council, and sent Andrew, then a deacon, as his representative. At the Council, Andrew showed his great gifts: his articulateness, his zeal for the Faith and his rare prudence. Being instrumental in confirming the Orthodox faith, Andrew returned to his work in Jerusalem. He was later chosen and enthroned as archbishop of the island of Crete. As archbishop, he was greatly beloved by the people. He was filled with zeal for Orthodoxy and strongly withstood all heresy. He worked miracles through his prayers, driving the Saracens from the island of Crete by means of them. He wrote many learned books, poems and canons, of which the best-known is the Great Canon of Repentance which is read in full on the Thursday of the Fifth Week of the Great Fast. Such was his outward appearance that, 'looking at his face and listening to the words that flowed like honey from his lips, each man was touched and renewed'. Returning from Constantinople on one occasion, he foretold his death before reaching Crete. And so it happened. As the ship approached the island of Mitylene, this light of the Church finished his earthly course and his soul went to the Kingdom of Christ, in about the year 740.
2. St Martha.
She was the mother of St Simeon of the Wonderful Mountain (see May 24th). Utterly consecrated in her soul, she had no thought of marriage. When her parents betrothed her to a young man, she planned to leave their home and retire from the world, but St John the Baptist appeared to her and counselled her to fulfill the desire of her parents and marry, which she did. From this marriage was born the great St Simeon, the ascetic of the Wonderful Mountain. She followed the practice of rising at midnight for prayer; she gave help to the needy with great compassion, visiting the poor and serving the sick. A year before her death, she saw a host of angels with candles in their hands, and learned from them the hour of her death. Learning this, Martha gave herself yet more fervently to prayer and good works. She entered peacefully into rest in 551, and was buried near the pillar of her son Simeon. She appeared a number of times after her death, to teach people and to heal the sick, and appeared in the following way to the superior of Simeon's community: after her funeral, the abbot kept the lamp burning on her grave, intending never to let it go out. But, after a certain time, the monks became lazy and the lamp went out. Then the superior was taken ill, and the saint appeared to him and said: 'Why are you not lighting the lamp on my grave? Know that the light of your candles is not needful to me, because God has made me worthy of His eternal, heavenly light, but it is needful for you. When you burn a light on my grave, you urge me to pray to the Lord for you.' From this it is clear that the goal of our veneration of the saints is to remind them, who are worthier than we, to pray to God for us and for our salvation.
If your entire life passed smoothly and without worry, then weep for yourself. For the Gospel and the experience of the people, with one accord assert that no one has, without great suffering and pain, left behind any great and beneficial work on earth or was glorified in the heavens. If, however, your earthly sojourn is completely adorned with sweat and tears to attain justice and truth, rejoice and be exceedingly glad for truly great is your reward in the heavens. Do not ever succumb to the insane thought that God has abandoned you. God knows exactly how much one can endure and, according to that, measures the sufferings and pains of everyone. St. Nil Sorsky says: "When even men know how much weight a horse, or a donkey or a camel can carry and, according to that they are loading them according to their strength; when a potter knows how long to leave the clay in the kiln for it to be neither shattered nor over-baked, how could God not know how much temptation a soul can bear to make it ready and fitted for the Kingdom of Heaven?"
To contemplate all the miracles which the Lord performed at the hands of Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: "And Aaron and Moses went in unto Pharaoh and they did as the Lord had commanded" (Exodus 7:10):
- How great and awesome were those miracles;
- How the heart of pharaoh remained obstinate before all the miracles of God;
- How even my heart is hard before the countless miracles of God in my heart, in my life and around me and how I need to repent before the end befalls me and eternal punishment reaches me.
About the salvation of a soul as the end of faith
"Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:9).
Brethren, what is the end of faith? The salvation of a soul. What is the goal of faith? The salvation of a soul. What is the fruit of faith? The salvation of a soul. We do not adhere to faith, therefore, for the sake of faith but rather for the salvation of our souls. No one travels for the sake of the road but because of someone or something that awaits him at the end of the road. No one throws a rope into the water in which someone is drowning for the sake of the rope but for the sake of the one drowning. God gave faith to us as a road, the end of which the travelers will receive salvation of their souls. And, as a rope, God extended faith to us who are drowning in the dark waters of sin, ignorance and vice that we, through the help of faith, save our lives.
That is the purpose of faith. Whoever knows the price of a human soul must admit that there is nothing in this world more necessary or more beneficial than faith. A merchant who carries precious stones in an earthen vessel carefully and cautiously protects the vessel, hides it and keeps vigil over it. Is it because of the vessel that the merchant exerts such effort and concern? Not because of the vessel, but because of the precious stones which are in the vessel. Our entire earthly life is like an earthen vessel in which a priceless treasure is hidden. That priceless treasure is our soul. A vessel is cheap but a treasure is valuable. First, one must have faith in the value of a human soul and second, in the future glow and life of the soul in the Kingdom of God; third, in the Living God Who waits for the return of a soul which He Himself gave us and fourth, in the possibility that a soul could be lost in this world. Whosoever has faith in these four things will know how to protect his soul and will further know that the salvation of a soul is the end of his road, the goal of his faith, the fruit of his life, the purpose of his existence on earth and the justification of his sufferings.
We believe for the sake of the salvation of our soul. Whoever has a true faith, must also know that faith is for the sake of the salvation of souls. He who thinks that his faith serves another purpose other than salvation does not have a true faith nor does he know the value of his soul.
O All-good Lord Jesus, You have given us a shining and victorious faith, strengthen and maintain that faith in us that we may stand unashamed before Your judgment with our pure and shining souls.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK