Prologue from Ochrid - July 16 [July 29]
1. The Hieromartyr Athenogenes, Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia.
He lived in a monastery near the town with ten of his disciples. In the time of Diocletian, a fierce persecutor of Christians called Philomarchus came to Sebaste. He arrested and killed many of the Christians in the town. When he saw Athenogenes and his disciples, he told the elder to sacrifice to idols, that they should not perish as had the other Christians. Athenogenes replied: 'O Torturer, those whom you describe as having perished have not perished, but are in heaven and make merry with the angels!' There was a touching moment when a deer, which had been hand-fed by the compassionate Athenogenes, ran up to him, and, seeing him in such straits, shed tears. Wild animals of the hills had more pity on the martyrs than did the pagans! After harsh torture, during which an angel of God comforted them, they were all beheaded, first the priests and fellow-workers of Athenogenes and then Athenogenes himself, and went to their heavenly home in the year 311.
2. The Holy Martyr Julia the Virgin.
She was born in Carthage of noble parents. When the Persians overran Carthage, many of the people were taken into slavery. St Julia was one of these, and was given to a Syrian merchant, who was a pagan. Seeing that Julia was a Christian, he urged her many times to deny Christ and become of one faith with him, but Julia steadfastly refused. As Julia was faithful and reliable in her work, the merchant left her in peace and spoke no more about faith. One day, the merchant loaded his ship with goods, took Julia with him and set off across the sea to a distant land to ply his trade. When they arrived at Corsica, there was a pagan festival in progress, and the merchant took part in the foul idolatry while Julia remained in the ship, weeping that so many people lived in foolish error, not knowing the truth. The pagans somehow came to know about her, dragged her off the ship in spite of her owner's efforts to prevent them, and began to torture her in terrible ways. They cut off her brests and threw her onto the rock, then crucified her, at which Julia gave her soul to God. Her death was revealed to some monks on the nearby island of Margarita (or Gorgona), and they went and buried the martyr's body. Many miracles were worked over St Julia's grave through the ages, and she herself appeared to various people from the other world. She suffered with honour and went to the Kingdom of God in the sixth century.
After many years had passed, the faithful wanted to build a new church in honour of St Julia in another place, because the old church was small and dilapidated. They prepared the materials: the stone, bricks, sand and everything else that was needed, on the new site. But it happened that, at night, on the night before the day on which the foundations were to be laid, that the materials were carried by invisible hands back to the old church. In great perplexity, the people carried them to the new site again, but again the same thing happened: the materials were taken to the old site and left beside the church. The nightwatchman saw a maiden bathed in light, using white oxen to carry the materials to the old church. By this, they understood that St Julia did not wish her church to be built in another place, so they pulled down the old church and built the new one on the same spot.
3. The Fifteen Hundred Holy Martyrs of Persia.
They were beheaded for the Christian faith in Persia.
4. The Holy Martyr Athenogenes.
The composer of the vespers hymn: 'O gentle Light', he perished for Christ in the flames and was made worthy of eternal glory in the kingdom of God.
5. Commemoration of the Six Ecumenical Councils.
This common commemoration of the first six Ecumenical Councils is held on the Sunday between July 13th and 19th.
The Ecumenical Councils are the greatest battles of Orthodoxy with heretics. Under today's date, the Church jointly commemorates the first Six Ecumenical Councils:
1. The First Ecumenical Council in Nicea, 325 A.D. with 318 holy fathers participating. This Council is commemorated separately on May 29 and on the Seventh Sunday after Easter. This Council refuted the heresy of Arius against the Son of God.
2. The Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, 381 A.D. with 150 holy fathers attending. This Council is commemorated separately on May 22. This Council refuted the heresy of Macedonius against God, the Holy Spirit.
3. The Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus, 431 A.D. with 200 holy fathers participating. This Council is commemorated separately on September 9. This Council refuted the heresy of Nestorius against the Mother of God.
4. The Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon, 451 A.D. with 630 holy fathers participating. This Council is commemorated separately on July 16. This Council refuted the Monophysite heresy.
5. The Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, 553 A.D. with 160 holy fathers participating. This Council is commemorated separately on July 25. This Council refuted the heresy of Origen.
6. The Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, 691 A.D. with 170 holy fathers participating. This Council is commemorated separately on January 23. This Council refuted the Monothelite heresy.
7. The Seventh Ecumenical Council which was convened in 878 A.D. with 367 holy fathers participating. This Council is not commemorated at this time but is commemorated separately on October 11. This Council refuted the heresy of Iconoclasm.
At these Councils, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, all these heresies were condemned and the Faith of Orthodoxy was defined and confirmed for all time.
To contemplate the miraculous bring forth of water from the rock in Kadesh (Numbers 20):
- How Moses, at God's command struck the rock with his rod but without faith and, how through the will of God, water flowed;
- How God punished Moses and Aaron because of their lack of faith, and He did not permit them to enter into the Promised Land;
- How this, shows that even a great righteous one as was Moses, is prone to sin that no mortal should be carried away by his virtues.
About the participation of the faithful in God's nature
"That by these you might be partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).
Brethren, how can mortal man have a part in God's nature? How can eternity be a companion of time and glory with unglory, the incorruptible with the corruptible, the pure with the impure? They cannot without particular conditions and these conditions the Apostle Peter mentions: one condition on the part of God and the other on the part of men. As a condition on God's part, the apostle mentions: "According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). As a condition on the part of man: "having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4). God has fulfilled His condition and gave us His power. "Through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3). Now it is man's turn to fulfill his condition, i.e., to know Christ the Lord is to escape from the bodily desires of this world. The Lord Christ first opened heaven and all the treasures of heaven and then He called mankind to draw near and to receive those treasures. How did He invite them? Did He invite them only by words? In words, but not only words but also "called us to glory and virtue"; glory, i.e., by His glorious resurrection; virtue, i.e., by His miraculous service and suffering. By this He invited us to receive the exceeding great promises that, by them, we may partake in God's nature. But in order that we may know Christ and to hear His invitation, we must first escape from all physical desires of this world. If we do not escape, then we will remain blind before Him, before His glory and virtue and deaf to His invitation!
O brethren, how enormous is the mercy of God toward us! According to this great mercy, God offers to us mortals adoption by the Immortal One and to us sinners to be built up into the glorified Body of the Lord Jesus. But, only under one condition, which is neither a great yoke nor a heavy cross.
O Lord Jesus, the Fulfillment of all promises and the Source of all good, heal us from our blindness and deafness and grant us power to escape the physical desires of this world.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK