Prologue from Ochrid - June 26 [July 9]
1. Our Holy Father David.
Born in Salonica, where he at first lived the ascetic life in a shelter he had built in an almond tree, he later continued his asceticism in Thessaly. He purified himself so greatly by fasting, prayer and vigils that he was made worthy to receive great grace from God. Once he took a live coal in his hand, placed incense on it and censed the Emperor with no sort of protection for his hand. The Emperor, when he saw this, bowed down to the ground before David, who amazed the people by his countless miracles. He entered peacefully into rest in the blessedness of eternity in 540.
2. Feast of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God.
This icon was in Constantinople in 1383, but, seventy years before the fall of that city, it suddenly appeared in the sky near the village of Tikhvin in northern Russia. A church and a monastery were built where it came to rest. Countless miracles were wrought through this wonderworking icon; many of the sick, especially, receiving healing from it.
3. Feast of the Hodigitria Icon of the Mother of God.
Luke the Evangelist painted this icon on wood himself. When the most holy Mother of God saw it, she was pleased with it and blessed it. St Luke presented the icon to Theophilus, a state official for whom he wrote the Acts of the Apostles. The icon was later taken from Antioch to Jerusalem, and sent from there by the Empress Evdokia to Constantinople as a gift for Pulcheria, the Emperor's devout sister. Pulcheria placed it in the Church of Blachernae, which was her own foundation. The most holy Mother of God once appeared to two blind men and led them into the church to her icon, and restored the sight of them both. For this reason, the icon has become known as 'Hodigitria'- 'She who shows the way'. When the armies of the Persian king, Chozroes, and of Kagan, leader of the Scythians, attacked Constantinople, Patriarch Sergius carried the icon around he city ramparts, and the most holy Mother of God saved the Christians from the unbelievers. The forces of the enemy became confused. the sea began to heave about and the boats began to sink. The enemy soldiers who remained alive saved themselves by fleeing. Ever since then, a commemoration of this miracle wrought by the most holy Mother of God has been held on the Saturday of the Fifth Week of the Great Fast, with the reading of the Akathist. During the iconoclast period, this icon was taken to the monastery of the Pantocrator and sealed up in a wall with a burning lamp hanging before it. It was found later, unharmed by its immuring.
4. Feast of the Icon of the Mother of God of Lydda or Rome.
Patriarch Gennadius sent this icon to Rome for safety during the iconoclast persecution. It floated there on the water by itself, more swiftly than any ship, and, when the iconoclasts had tired of their persecution, floated back to Constantinople in the same way.
Until his last breath ceaseless repentance is necessary for a Christian. St. Mark the Ascetic says: "Think and you will see that the mystery of devotion in the chosen ones of God was realized through repentance." Repentance, even at the hour of death! This case occurred: an old ascetic and renown spiritual father was dying and he called for a priest to administer Holy Communion to him. Along the way a robber joined the priest and desired to see for himself how a holy man dies. The holy elder peacefully received Holy Communion and peacefully talked with the priest. The robber then wept and said: "Blessed are you! Alas, what kind of death will I be worthy of?" The holy elder suddenly became proud and responded to him: "Be as I am and it will be to you as it is to me!" The robber returned along the road weeping all the time and lamenting over himself and, at that moment, dropped dead. Then the people saw a "fool for Christ" as he weeps over the holy elder and dances and sings over the robber. When he was asked the reason for this, he replied: "By the pride of that one [the elder] he lost all merits; the repentance of this one [the robber] he reaped all the fruits."
To contemplate the miraculous healing of the bent over woman: "And behold, there was a woman who for eighteen years had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent over and utterly unable to look upwards" (St. Luke 13:11):
- How the Lord placed His hands on the deformed woman and the woman straightened up;
- How my soul is deformed as the woman and is bent over to the ground;
- How the Lord can put His hand on my soul, i.e., His Holy Spirit and the deformity will immediately be straightened up.
About the fear of the wicked man
"The wicked man flees although no one pursues him; but the just man, like a lion feels sure of himself" (Proverbs 28:1).
Wicked men are even afraid of shadows; to them shadows of trees seem as an army. Wherever something rustles, the wicked man thinks; the avenger comes! The trembling of leaves, he hears as a sound of chains; he takes the voices of birds as the shout of hunters who give chase after game; he sees grass as a spy of his evil deed; water, as a witness against him; the sun, as a judge; the stars, as those who taunt him. O my brethren, how many lies are born out of fear? For fear is of sin, sin is of the devil and the devil is the father of all lies.
Fear is the first-fruit of sin. When Adam sinned, he hid from the face of God. And when God cried out, Adam said: "I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid" (Genesis 3:10). Before sin, Adam did not know about fear; neither did he hide from the face of God but, on the contrary, always hurried to encounter God. And as soon as he sinned, he "was afraid."
"But the just man, like a lion feels sure of himself." Without sin, without fear. Without sin, without weakness. The sinless ones are powerful, very powerful and brave, very brave. The righteous ones are strong and fearless. Such are the righteous ones, only the righteous ones.
O Sinless Lord, save us from empty fear but before that, preserve us from sin, the parent of fear.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK