Prologue from Ochrid - July 18 [July 31]
1. The Holy Martyr Emilian.
In the time of Julian the Apostate, in the town of Dorostolon in Thrace, there lived the young Emilian, a servant of the governor. When the Emperor Julian began to persecute the Christians with fire and the sword throughout the Roman Empire, the imperial delegate arrived in Dorostolon to kill the Christians. But he did not find a single one there. Delighted by this, he gave a great feast for the citizens of Dorostolon and ordered the offering of sacrifices to the idols, and merrymaking day and night throughout the town. That night, holy Emilian went round the temples, squares and streets of the town and, with a hammer, smashed all the idols. On the following day, the whole town was in uproar; everyone was searching for the destroyer of their gods. A villager, who was seen passing near the temples that morning, was arrested and Emilian, seeing that an innocent man would suffer, said within himself: 'If I conceal my action, what sort of use has it been? Shall I not stand before God as the slayer of an innocent man?' He therefore presented himself before the imperial legate and confessed the whole. The legate, in a rage, questioned Emilian, asking him on whose instructions he had done such a thing. Christ's martyr replied: 'God and my soul commanded me to destroy those dead pillars that you call gods.' Then the judge ordered that he be flogged, and, after flogging and other tortures, be burned. Thus St Emilian finished his earthly course and moved to the heavenly life, on July 18th, 362.
2. Our Holy Father Pambo.
An Egyptian ascetic on the Nitrian mountain, he was a contemporary of St Antony the Great and himself great in monastic asceticism. He had two characteristics by which he was especially known: by long training, he sealed his lips, so that no unnecessary word passed them, and he never ate any bread other than that which he gained by his own labour, plaiting rushes. He was like an angel of God and, in old age, his face shone as did the face of Moses in ancient times, so that the monks could not look on it. He did not give a quick answer even to a simple question, without prior prayer and pondering in his heart. At one time, Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, was visiting the Nitrian monks. The monks begged Pambo to 'give a word' to the Patriarch. The silent Pambo replied: 'If my silence is of no help to him, neither will my words be.' St Pambo was once travelling around Egypt with some monks. When they came to a group of people who remained seated as the monks passed them, St Pambo said to them: 'Get up and greet the monks, and ask their blessing, for they converse unceasingly with God and their lips are holy.' This wonderful saint had clear discernment into the destiny of the living and the dead. He entered into rest in the Lord in the year 374.
3. Our Holy Fathers Paisius and Isaiah.
Brothers, sons of wealthy parents, they were both monks. One devoted himself to asceticism in the desert and the other to works of mercy among men. St Pambo saw them both in Paradise. Through this, a dispute among the monks as to which is better: asceticism or works of mercy, was settled. Both the one and the other, when performed in the name of Christ, lead to Paradise.
4. Our Holy Father John the Longsuffering.
An anchorite in the Caves of St Antony in Kiev, he was tormented for thirty years by a spirit of carnality, against which he struggled incessantly until he overcame it with the help of God and by touching the relics of St Moses the Ugrian (see July 26th). Conquering this foul passion, St John was bathed inwardly with heavenly light, by which he was enabled to see as clearly at night as in the daytime.
Which is more pleasing to God: a life of mortification in the wilderness or works of mercy? Men of prayer in the wilderness think that man among men, no matter how many good works he performs, will find it difficult to safeguard the purity of the heart and to direct the mind toward God. Benefactors of men say: that the man in the wilderness is totally occupied with his own salvation and does not help in the salvation of others. Two Egyptian brothers, Paisius and Isaiah, inherited a great estate from their parents, sold the estate and each took their share of the money. One of them immediately distributed his money to the poor, became a monk and withdrew into the wilderness to lead a strict life of asceticism that through patience, fasting, prayer and purifying the mind from all evil thoughts in order to save his soul. The other brother likewise became a monk, but did not want to enter the wilderness rather he built a small monastery near the town, a hospital for the sick, a public refectory [dining room] for the needy and a resting place for the sorrowful. He dedicated himself completely to the service of his fellow men. When both brothers died, a dispute ensued among the monks of Egypt: which of the two fulfilled the law of Christ? Unable to agree among themselves they came to St. Pambo and questioned him about this. St. Pambo replied: "Both are perfect before God; the hospitable one is similar to the hospitable Abraham and the ascetical one is similar to Elijah the Prophet, both of whom equally pleased God." But not all the monks were satisfied with this response. Then St. Pambo prayed to God to reveal the truth to him. After praying for several days, St. Pambo said to the monks: "Before God I tell you that I saw both brothers Paisius and Isaiah together in Paradise." With this, the dispute was settled and all were satisfied.
- How Balaam came to prophesy to Balak, the prince of the Moabites;
- How the angel appeared on the road with a sword and prevented Balaam from advancing forward;
- How the ass saw the angel before Balaam and spoke to his master.
To contemplate the miraculous experience of Balaam (Numbers 22):
About the remembrance of the imminent separation of the body
"Yes, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle(body) to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ had showed me"(2 Peter 1: 13-14).
Here is a good reminder to lovers of the body who, because of the body, forgot their souls. The body must be put off. No matter how costly we hold it to be, no matter how much worth we attach to it, no matter how much we caress and pamper it, we must put it off one day. O how powerful and truthful are these words "to put it off!" When the soul is separated from the body, the soul puts off the body as no longer necessary. Those who suffer shipwreck reach the shore on a plank. They come to the shore and discard the plank. When spring blossoms, the serpent sheds its skin and puts it off. When a butterfly wings its way out of the cocoon, the cocoon is put off. In the same manner the body is put off when the soul departs from it. No longer of use and without benefit, even harmful to other men, it is put off from the house, put off from the city, put off from the sun and is buried deep into the ground. Think about this, you who live in luxury and are adorned, you who are haughty and gluttonous!
As long as the soul is in the body, it should utilize the body for its salvation submitting to the law of God and performing the works of God. Do you see how the apostolic soul is a lover of labor! "As long as I am in this tabernacle (body) to stir you up." That task was given to him by God. He wants to conscientiously complete it to the end because he must put off his body. Brethren, let us labor first to embrace the apostolic warning and secondly, to remind others, all others, for whom we wish good. In haste we are approaching the shore of the other old world, as the hour hastily approaches when we must put off the bodies and, with a naked soul, appear before the judgment of God. What will we say at the Dread Judgment Seat of God? To what goals have we, in this earthly life, used the device from the earth, which is called the body?
O Lord Jesus, Righteous Judge, direct our mind to think of death and judgment.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK