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Prologue from Ochrid - June 20 [July 3]

1. St Nicephorus the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople.

He was a nobleman of Constantinople. His father Theodore, a wealthy and devout man, was a high-ranking official at the Emperor's court. Nicephorus served several years at court in the same capacity as his father but then, seeing all the vanity of the world, he withdrew to the shore of the Bosphorus and built a monastery there. This monastery rapidly became filled with monks and he administered it; not, however, himself becoming a monk from a conviction of his unworthiness. He was, in this, an example to all. He had earlier, as a layman, taken part in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, at the request of the Emperor and the Patriarch, and was of great assistance there with his intimate knowledge of Holy Scripture. When Patriarch Tarasius died, Nicephorus, much against his will, was chosen to succeed him. He was immediately professed a monk and received the priestly orders in succession, being enthroned as Patriarch in St Sophia's in 806. This was in the time of the Emperor Nicephorus, who went off to war against the Bulgars very shortly after this and was killed in battle there. His son Stauracius reigned for only two months before he died. After this, the good Emperor Michael, called Rangabe, came to the throne, but he reigned only two years before Leo the Armenian attacked him and drove him into exile. When this Emperor began his reign, the Patriarch sent him a book on the Confession of the Orthodox faith for him to sign (this being according to the custom obtaining for all Byzantine Emperors, who were regarded as sworn to uphold and defend the true Faith). The Emperor did not sign it, but set it aside until his coronation. When the Patriarch crowned him, he still refused to sign the book, and revealed himself to be an iconoclast heretic. The Patriarch attempted to remonstrate with him and bring him back to the true Faith, but in vain. The Emperor exiled him by force to the island of Proconnesus, where he spent several years in want and privation before going to eternity in the year 829. He governed the Church as Patriarch for nine years.

2. The Holy New Martyr Constantine.

Born a Moslem on the island of Mitylene, he was healed of a grave illness by the aid of holy water in the church and, seeing other marvels of the Christian faith, was baptised on the Holy Mountain in the skete of Kapsokalyvia. He later fell into the hands of the Turks, who, after inflicting terrible torture on him, hanged him in Constantinople on June 2nd, 1819.

3. The Holy Martyr John the New of Sochava.

A nobleman of Trebizond, he was denounced by some envious Latin and suffered for Christ in the town of Akerman. After being tortured for not accepting the Persian religion (for the governor of the town was of that faith), St John was tied to a horse's legs and dragged round the town. Some wicked Jews, seeing him thus, ran up and butchered him. That night, a burning column was seen by many people above his body, and three men bathed in light standing around it. Later the Moldavian commander, Joalexander, took his honoured body and buried it in the metropolitical church, where it remains to this day and miraculously saves men from various pains and sicknesses. He suffered with honour and was glorified on June 2nd, 1492.

4. The Hieromartyr Erzmo of Ochrid.

This saint was born in Antioch and lived in the reigns of Diocletian and Maximian. He lived in strict asceticism on Mount Lebanon, and was endowed by God with great wonderworking gifts. As a bishop, he set out to preach the Gospel. Arriving at the city of Ochrid, he restored the son of a man called Anastasius to life by his prayers, and baptised him. At this time, Erazmo baptised many other pagans and tore down the idolatrous altar in Ochrid. For this he was denounced to the Emperor Maximian, who was at that time staying in Illyria. The Emperor brought him before the copper image of Zeus, and ordered him to bring sacrifices and worship the idol. St Erazmo, by his power, caused a terrible dragon to come out of the statue, which terrified all the people. The saint then worked another wonder, and the dragon died. -Then the saint preached Christ and baptised 20,000 souls. The furious Emperor commanded that all 20,000 be beheaded, and put Erazmo to harsh torture, before throwing him into prison. But an angel of God appeared to him, as once to the Apostle Peter, and led him out of the prison. After that, this servant of God went to Campania, where he preached the Gospel to the people, then returned again to the town of Hermelia, where he withdrew to a cave and lived in asceticism for the rest of his days. At the time of his death, he prostrated three times towards the East and, with upraised hands, prayed to God to forgive and give eternal life to all those who would, with faith, call upon his name. At the end of his prayer, a voice was heard from heaven: 'Let it be as thou hast asked; My little healer Erazmo!' The saint looked up once more to heaven with great joy and saw a wreath of glory descending upon him, and a choir of angels, prophets, apostles and martyrs waiting to receive his holy soul. He finally cried: 'Lord, receive my spirit!', and breathed his last, in about the year 303. The cave and chapel of St Erazmo stand to this day not far from Ochrid, and from there is proclaimed to this day the great power of the man of God, Erazmo the hieromartyr. (In the Slavonic Prologue and Menaion, St Erazmo is commemorated on May 4th; but in the Greek on June 2nd. This latter is more correct, as the feast of this saint has been celebrated in Ochrid on June 2nd from time immemorial.)

Reflection

Saint Cyprian writes about immortality: "Whenever a famous man promises you something, you would believe his promise and would not even dare to think that he who was always faithful to his word would deceive you. But behold, O treacherous one, God Himself speaks to you and you are wavering with doubt. God promised you immortality after your departure from this world and you impudently doubt that promise? This means: you do not recognize God at all: it means that by your unbelieving you insult Christ the Lord and Teacher." O how powerful is the faith of the saints of God! How obvious and understandable and well explained it is with simple and powerful examples! The unholy do not doubt because they are supposedly more rational but because they are unholy. The holier man is always more rational for in the clear mirror of his heart, he sees the truth.

Contemplation

To contemplate the miraculous withering of the unfruitful fig tree: "And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he came up to it and found nothing on it but leaves; and He said to it, 'May no fruit ever come from you henceforth forever!' And immediately the fig tree withered up" (St. Matthew 21:19):

  1. How the Lord cursed the fig tree with many leaves but without fruit and the fig tree withered up;
  2. How even my life with many leaves - bodily cares, desires and thoughts - and without spiritual fruit, can come under the same curse if I do not amend my ways.

Homily

About how our salvation is in the hands of God

"The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but salvation is in the Lord" (Proverbs 21:31).

We are obligated to prepare ourselves but our success depends on God. All of our preparation is only a proposal to God but the proposal does not decide, but God decides. That is why people wisely say according to their experience: man proposes and God disposes. O Soldier of Christ, prepare your mind as a good horse, arm your heart with virtues, temper your will with mortifications, but know - that "salvation is in the Lord." O Merchant of Christ, practice good trade every day, exchanging the material for the spiritual, the earthly for the heavenly and mortality for immortality, but know - that "salvation is in the Lord." O Plowman of Christ, plow and re-plow your soul, sow the good evangelical seed on it every day, weed out the field of your soul from weeds, watch over it, but know that "salvation is in the Lord." A horse did not help the pharaoh in the Red Sea. Neither did the riches of Babylon help in the day of reckoning with God. A person can prepare all but, nevertheless, in that decisive moment can lose everything. For salvation is not in preparation, but in the Lord. That is why the saints, even though most prepared for the Kingdom of God and, in their hour of death, sighed not knowing whether they will be received into the Kingdom. O how well they remember the words of the Lord: "When you have done everything that was commanded you, say: 'We are unprofitable servants!' " (St. Luke 17:10). Brethren, let us be prepared for the day of temptation, well girded and armed but let us not hope in our own preparation, but in the Lord.

O Lord our Savior, help us and save us.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen

From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK