Prologue from Ochrid - July 6 [July 19]
1. Our Holy Father Sisoes the Great.
An Egyptian by birth, he lived at first in Scetis then, after St Antony's death, settled on the desert mountain on which Antony had earlier lived in asceticism and which was named after him. He learned humility through great struggles with himself, becoming meek and guileless as a lamb. Therefore God gave him the great gifts of healing the sick, driving out unclean spirits and raising the dead. Sisoes lived in the desert for sixty years, and was a fount of living wisdom for all the monks and lay folk who came to him for advice. At the time of his death, his face shone like the sun. The monks stood around him and marvelled at this sight and, when the saint gave up his soul, the whole chamber was filled with a wonderful fragrance. He entered into rest in great old age, in about 429. St Sisoes taught his monks: 'When temptation comes to a man, that man must give himself over to the will of God, and acknowledge that the temptation comes upon him because of his sins. If something good comes to pass, he must acknowledge that it comes about by the providence of God.' A monk asked him: 'How can I please God and be saved?' The saint replied: 'If you desire to please God, withdraw from the world, separate yourself from the earth, leave aside creation and draw near to the Creator, unite yourself to God with prayers and tears, and you will find rest in this world and in the next.' A monk asked Sisoes: 'How can I acquire humility?' The saint replied: 'When a man learns to regard every man as better than himself, he thus acquires humility.' Ammon complained to Sisoes that he could not memorise the wise sayings that he had read, to be able to quote them in conversation with others. The saint replied: 'It is not necessary. That which is necessary is to acquire purity of mind and to speak from this purity, placing one's hope in God.'
2. The Holy Martyrs Marinusand Martha, with their sons Audifax and Habakkuk, the Priest Valentine, Cyrinus, Asterius and many others.
They all suffered in the time of the Emperor Claudius Flavius in Rome, in the year 269. Marinus and Martha were rich Persians, who had sold all their goods in Persia and gone with their sons to Rome to venerate the relics of the holy apostles and other martyrs. When the Emperor asked them why they had come such a distance, forsaking their household gods to seek the dead in Rome, they replied: 'We are servants of Christ, and are come to venerate the holy apostles whose immortal souls are alive with God, that they may be our intercessors with Christ our God.' Cyrinus was thrown into the Tiber, whence Marinus retrieved his body and buried it. The priest Valentine was committed to a General Asterius, whose task it was to urge him to deny Christ. But Valentine healed Asterius's daughter, who had been blind for two years, by his prayers, and then baptised Asterius and his whole household. These all, in divers ways, received torture and death for Christ the Lord, who welcomed them into His immortal kingdom to rejoice eternally.
3. The Finding of the Relics of St Juliana the Virgin.
The daughter of a prince of Olshansk, Juliana died in about 1540, as a girl of sixteen. Two hundred years after her death, some men digging a grave near the great church in a monastery in Kiev found the relics of this holy virgin, whole and uncorrupt as though she had just fallen asleep. Many wonders were worked over these relics, and Juliana herself appeared several times to various people. The famous Peter Moghila was one of those who saw her.
4. The Holy Martyr Lucy.
The barbarian King Austius made her a slave in Campania. He wanted to have her live with him, but she resisted. The king left her in peace, to live in asceticism. She brought the king to the Faith because, by her prayers, he was victorious in battle. Later, they both suffered for Christ in Rome, in about 300.
From where do we know that there is life after death? We know from Christ the Lord: on the basis of His words, His resurrection and by His many appearances after death. Philosophers, who recognize life after death, recognize it on the basis of their thinking but we recognize it on the basis of experience, especially the experience of holy men who were not capable of falsehoods nor could they proclaim falsehoods. When Sisoes lay on his deathbed, his face was very radiant. The monks, his disciples, stood around him. Then St. Sisoes gazed around and said: "Behold, here came Abba Anthony!" he remained silent for a while and then, again said: "Behold, here came the prophets!" In that moment, his face glowed even more and he said: "Behold, here came the apostles!" Following that he said: "Behold, here came the angels to take away my soul!" Finally, his face shown as the sun and all were overcome by great fear and the elder said: "Behold, here comes the Lord, look at Him all of you." Behold, He speaks: "Bring to me the chosen vessel from the wilderness." After that, the saint gave up his soul. How many more similar visions were there and that from the most reliable witnesses!
To contemplate the miraculous falling of manna from heaven for the feeding of the people in the wilderness (Exodus 16):
- How throughout forty years, the Lord gave the Israelites in the wilderness manna from heaven; a heavenly food, sweet as honey;
- How that manna from heaven was a prototype of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life descending from heaven, Himself to feed the spiritually hungry men in the wilderness of paganism;
- How nothing can satisfy my hungry soul except the Living Christ the Lord, sweeter than honey.
About the terrible price of redemption
"For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers. But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1: 18-19).
Brethren, could anyone have purchased a cure against sin with silver and gold? Never and by no one.
Brethren, could anyone forge arms against the devil with silver and gold? Never and by no one.
Brethren, could anyone have been redeemed from death with the help of silver and gold? Never and by no one.
Something far more precious than silver and gold was needed to be a cure, a weapon and ransom. The Precious Blood of the Son of God was needed to be applied on the sinful wounds in order to be healed. The Precious Blood of the Son of God was needed in order to be directed against evil spirits and by its power to burn them and to drive them away from man. The Precious Blood of the Son of God was needed to sprinkle the earthly graves in order to subdue death and to raise the dead.
"As a Lamb without blemish and without spot," the Lamb of God was slain for us to pull us out from the three-fold jawbone of the beast. A pitiful but life-giving banquet. God arranged this costly banquet to manifest freedom to man. Sin, the devil and death charged with all their might against the innocent and All-pure "Lamb of God without blemish and without spot." They killed Him but they were poisoned by His blood. This blood was shed in order to be poison for them but for mankind, life and salvation.
O my brethren, if you do not know how consuming sin is and how wicked the devil is and how bitter death is, judge this by the greatness of redemption by which we are redeemed from their bondage. The Precious Blood of Christ, that is our deliverance from bondage! Remember, brethren, that if we are again willing, by recklessness and evil to offer ourselves up to that terrible three-fold bondage, there is not anyone on earth or in heaven who could give a ransom for us. For the precious ransom is one and it was given once and for ever.
O merciful Lord, strengthen us so that we may be sustained in freedom which You have gifted to us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK