Prologue from Ochrid - May 30 [June 12]
1. Our Holy Father Isaac the Confessor.
In the time of the Emperor Valens, the Arians persecuted Orthodoxy fiercely with the Emperor's encouragement. Isaac, a hermit somewhere in the East, heard of the persecution, left his desert and went to Constantinople to encourage the faithful and denounce the heretics. Valens arrived in the north at that very time with his army, to meet the Goths who had come down from the Danube into Thrace. Isaac went out and stood before him, saying: 'Open the churches to those of the true Faith, 0 Emperor, and God will bless thy path', but the Emperor turned a deaf ear to the elder and went on his way. Isaac spoke out before the Emperor on the next day also, repeating his warning, and the Emperor almost hearkened to him, but one of his advisors, a follower of the Arian heresy, thwarted him. Isaac spoke before the Emperor again on the third day, seizing the Emperor's horse by the reins and pleading with him to grant freedom to the Church of God and to escape divine punishment by acceding to his request. The enraged Emperor ordered that the elder be thrown into a waste place full of thorns and mud, but three angels appeared and pulled him out of the swamp. St Isaac appeared before the Emperor on the fourth day, and foretold a terrible death if he did not give the Orthodox freedom: 'I tell thee, my Emperor, that thou shalt lead thy troops out upon the barbarians, but thou shalt not be able to withstand them. Thou shalt flee before them, but shalt thyself be taken captive and burned alive.' And so it all came to pass. The barbarians mowed the Greek force down like grass, and the Emperor fled with his Aryan counselor, and hid in a hamper. The barbarians arrived at the spot and realized where the Emperor was hiding. They surrounded the hamper and set fire to it, burning both the Emperor and his counselor. The Emperor Theodosius the Great then came to the throne. He heard of Isaac and of the prophecy that had been fulfilled, and, sending for him, prostrated himself before him. And so peace came to reign in the Church and the Arians were banished. Isaac desired to return to his desert, but he was persuaded to remain in Constantinople. A certain influential citizen, Saturninus, built him a monastery where the elder laboured in asceticism until his death, performing many wonders. The community overflowed with monks and became a great monastery. Before his death, Isaac appointed a pupil of his, Daimatus (after whom the monastery was later named), as abbot. The elder Isaac, who had found such favour with God, entered into eternity in the year 383, to rejoice forever in the vision of the face of God.
2. St Macrina.
The grandmother of St Basil the Great, she was outstanding for her intellect and piety. She was a disciple of St Gregory the Wonderworker of Neocaesarea. In the reign of Diocletian, she abandoned her home and hid in the forests and desert places with her husband, Basil. Although their home was confiscated, they felt no pangs of regret. Stripped of everything except their love for God, they settled in an ancient forest and spent seven years there. By God's providence, goats would come down from the mountains and provide them with food. They both died peacefully in the fourth century, after great sufferings for the Christian faith.
The Word of God is food for the soul. The Word of God is both power and light for the soul. He who reads the Word of God gives food, power and light to his soul. He who can, should read the Word of God in Holy Scripture and he who cannot should listen to him who reads Holy Scripture. All the saints emphasized the benefit of reading Holy Scripture. St. Seraphim of Sarov says: "The soul should be provided with the Word of God for the Word of God, as Gregory the Theologian says, is the bread of angels which feeds the soul that is hungry for God. But, above all, one should read the New Testament and the Psalter. From this proceeds illumination of the mind... It is very beneficial to read the Word of God in solitude and to read the entire Bible with understanding. For such a practice, above other good deeds, the Lord gives His mercy to man and fills him with the gift of understanding. When man provides his soul with the Word of God then he is filled with understanding of what is good and what is evil."
To contemplate the Grace of God the Holy Spirit in the Mystery [Sacrament] of the Priesthood [Holy Orders - Ordination]:
- How that Grace sanctifies, illumines and enables a man for the service of shepherd and teacher;
- How It empowers and fully empowers the priest for the performing of the other Mysteries.
About the Mystery of Ordination
"And when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them" (Acts of the Apostles 6:6).
By laying their hands on the chosen faithful, the apostles consecrated bishops, priests and deacons. It is apparent from this that the Christian Faith is not only a teaching, but also a power. It is not only necessary to know but also to have power. It is not only necessary to be chosen by men but you should be confirmed by God. If power were not necessary for the priestly vocation, neither would the laying on of hands be necessary, but only the teaching from mouth to ear. The laying on of hands, therefore, signifies the transferring of authority and bringing down power on the chosen one. The power is in the Grace of God Who strengthens man, sanctifies and illumines him. Truly, the Grace of God is that which teaches, leads, shepherds and through the Mysteries [Sacraments] strengthens the flock of Christ. A priest is the vessel of this inexpressible, awesome and all sufficient power of Grace. Blessed is that priest who understands what kind of precious treasury he has become! Blessed is he if the fear of God does not leave him day and night until his last breathe! There is no greater honor on earth, no greater responsibility than the calling of the priestly service. By the laying on of hands by the bishop, the priest has come into contact with the heavenly and eternal source of Grace and with the authority of the apostles. By that, the priest has become a companion in Grace and co-celebrant with all the Orthodox priests from apostolic times until today with the great hierarchs, with the countless number of saints, confessors, miracle-workers, ascetics and martyrs. He is gently adorned by their dignity but he is burdened by their merits, their examples and their reproaches.
O my brethren, great and most great is the shepherd over Christ's spiritual flock. He is responsible to pray to God for all and all the faithful are required to pray to God for him.
O Lord, Supreme Hierarch, sustain the Orthodox priests in strength, in wisdom, in purity, in zeal, in meekness and in every apostolic virtue by the Grace of Your Holy Spirit.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK