Prologue from Ochrid - July 14 [July 27]
1. The Holy Apostle Aquila.
One of the Seventy, he was a Jew living in Italy with his wife Priscilla. When the Emperor Claudius decreed the exile of all Jews from Rome and Italy, Aquila moved to Corinth, where the Apostle Paul first made his acquaintance, staying eighteen months in his house and baptising him and his wife. Burning with zeal for the Christian faith, Aquila and Priscilla accompanied Paul to Ephesus and helped him in his apostolic work. From Ephesus, Paul wrote his first Epistle to the Corinthians, in which he says at the end: 'Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house' (16:19). After the death of Claudius, Jews were permitted to return to Italy, and Aquila and Priscilla went back to Rome. Writing the Epistle to the Romans from Corinth after this, the Apostle sends greetings to his old friends and fellow-workers: 'Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus, who have for my life laid down their own necks, unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house' (16:3-5). We later see Aquila again in Ephesus, where he is working with St Timothy. In chains in Rome, Paul wrote to Timothy in Ephesus: 'Greet Priscilla and Aquila' (II Tim. 4:19). As a bishop, Aquila baptised many and consecrated them to the Faith, destroyed idols, built churches, made priests and spread among the people the glory of the incarnate Son of God. He was finally murdered by wicked pagans, and went to the Kingdom of Christ.
2. Our Holy Father Hellius.
An Egyptian monk of the fourth century, he devoted himself from early youth to monastic asceticism in the desert. He made monks and lay-folk marvel by his life and great miracles, and, although he fled from human praise, he could not hide himself. He had fierce struggles with diabolical delusion, most especially during a long fast. The devil set before him sometimes honey and sometimes delicious apples, but he would not be enticed. He had insight into the hearts o men, revealing their passions and thoughts, and this not to make a parade of his inner knowledge but to set them on the right path.
Christians must arm themselves against the abominations of this world. They must be armed against every attack and against all temptations, so that every evil rebounds from them. Armor is not made in a day, nor in two days but is diligently and laboriously wielded by long-lasting exercise. Of what value is all our virtue if we succumb to the first abomination? Speaking of this, Saint Gregory of Nyssa cites an example with a monkey in Alexandria. He says: "An animal trainer in Alexandria taught a monkey to skillfully impersonate a female dancer on stage. The spectators at the theatre praised the monkey who was dressed as a female dancer and danced to the beat of the music. But while the viewers were occupied observing such a novel spectacle, a comedian wanted to show everyone that a monkey is nothing more than a monkey. While they all shouted and applauded at the skill of the monkey, the comedian tossed sweets on the stage, sweets that monkeys particularly like. As soon as the monkey saw the sweets, he forgot the dance, the applause, the expensive clothing and jumped with his paws for the sweets but as his dress interfered, he began to tear it apart with his nails attempting to remove it. Instead of praise and amazement, laughter commenced among the viewers." For through the torn mask of the "dancer," a monkey was revealed.
To contemplate the just punishment, which God sent upon Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16):
- How these three incited the people against Moses and Aaron and all sought to become leaders;
- How the earth opened up and swallowed Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and others with them;
- How the earth of the body swallows the souls of all those who think bodily and, thinking thusly, they rebel against the law of God.
About the steadfastness of faith
"Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world"(1 Peter 5:9).
Brethren, the most important fortress of the souls of men is the fortress of faith. It is upon this fortress that the devil vehemently attacks with all his arrows and all of his wiles. For the impure and evil spirit knows that when this fortress is destroyed he enslaves the soul of man forever. That is why the holy apostles prayed to the Lord: "Increase our faith" (St. Luke 17:5). Brethren, let us also pray daily that the Lord increases our faith, that He empower and strengthen our faith. The serpent primarily protects its head in danger, which is why the Lord Himself called it wise. Let us also protect the head of our spiritual life which is faith. Nothing in this world can replace faith in God: neither philosophy, nor science, nor treasure, nor glory, neither the entire world from one end to the other with all its transitory illusions. This the devil knows. That is why he especially attacks our faith, instilling doubt in us, causing us to waver, confusing our thoughts and disturbing our hearts. Since the devil knows that faith is the principle thing, it is all the more necessary that we should know it also. Because of us Christ descended to earth, because of us He suffered on the Cross and gave us the covenant of an All-saving Faith.
We can neither strengthen faith nor increase faith except through suffering. That is why the much-suffering Apostle Peter says: "That the same afflictions (such as yours) are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." The apostle does not speak of his affliction out of humility but rather speaks of the affliction of our brethren in Christ. One in faith and one in affliction. Brethren, you do not suffer alone for the True Faith but your other brethren also suffer for the same Faith.
Let this comfort your afflictions. But most of all let the afflictions of the First-born in suffering, our crucified Lord Jesus Christ Himself, comfort you.
O Lord Jesus, Sufferer above the sufferers and Victor above the victors increase our faith and strengthen us with the power of Your Grace as you did strengthen 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