Prologue from Ochrid - June 1 [June 14]
1. The Holy Martyr Justin the Philosopher.
He was born of Greek parents in the Samaritan town of Shechem (formerly called Nablus), about a hundred and five years after Christ. He sought wisdom and philosophy with his whole heart, first with the Stoics, then with the Peripatetics, the Pythagoreans and finally with the Platonists. Although Platonic philosophy did not content him, it held him the longest, until he found something higher to attract him. By God's providence, he encountered a remarkable old man who began to undermine his Platonic philosophy, reminding him that a man cannot fully know the truth about God till God reveals it to him, and telling him that God had revealed the truth about Himself in the books of Holy Scripture. Justin began to read the Scriptures, and became an utterly convinced Christian, but he would not be baptised or call himself a Christian until he had convinced himself of the falseness of the accusations that pagans found to bring against Christians. Going to Rome for a philosophical gathering, he quickly gained much respect there, and many followers. He witnessed the martyrdom of St Ptolemy and St Lucian, and, seeing the tortures of these innocent Christians, wrote an Apologia for Christians and Christian teaching and gave it to the Emperor Antoninus and the Senate. The Emperor read it carefully and ordered that the persecution of Christians cease. Justin took a copy of the Emperor's decree and went off to Asia, where he saved many persecuted Christians by its aid. After that, he returned again to Rome. When a persecution arose under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, he wrote a second Apologia and addressed it to the Emperor. Some disreputable philosopher, Crescens, a Cynic, denounced him as a Christian because Justin was getting the better of him in every dispute, and Justin was thrown into prison. Desiring his death, and fearing that judgement would not be given against him, Crescens took the opportunity to administer poison to him in the prison. Thus this great defender of the Christian faith finished his earthly course and went to the blessedness of eternity, in the year 166.
2. The Holy Martyrs Justin, Chariton, Euelepistus, Hierax, Peon, Liverianus and Justus.
These all suffered in Rome in the time of Marcus Aurelius and the Eparch Rusticus. When Rusticus asked: 'Do you think that, if you die for Christ, you will receive a reward in heaven?', Justin replied: 'We do not think it; we know!' They were all then beheaded, in 163, and went to the Kingdom of Christ our God.
3. Our Holy Father Agapitus of the Kiev Caves.
A natural doctor, he was a disciple of St Antony of Kiev. He healed people by prayer and the prescribing of cabbage, which they made into a sort of bread. Prince Vladimir Monomachus was healed in this way, and this made Agapitus famed on all sides. The Prince's doctor, an Armenian, hearing of this, began to spread slander about him. When Agapitus became ill, the Armenian came and, looking at him, said that he would die in three days and that, if he did not do so, then he, the Armenian, would become a monk. Agapitus told him that it had been revealed to him by God that he would die, not in three days but in three months. And so it came to pass. After Agapitus's death, the Armenian went to the abbot of the Monastery of the Caves and asked him to make him a monk. He explained that Agapitus had appeared to him from the other world and reminded him of his promise. And so the one-time envier became a humble monk, by the providence of God whose care it is that all men be saved. St Agapitus entered into rest in about 1095.
No one has ever spread as much shameful slander about Christ the Lord as the Jews. Their Talmud boils over with evil and malice toward the Lord. But all of those worthless calumnies are refuted by the most prominent historian of the Jews, Josephus Flavius, rabbi and scholar who lived toward the end of the first century after Christ. Josephus writes: "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for He appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning Him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day." [Antiquities of the Jews, Volume 2, Page 45 1845 Edition]. Thus wrote a man not believing in Christ but a scholar free of prejudice and malice.
To contemplate the miraculous healing of Peter's mother-in-law:
- How the Lord took the feverish woman by the hand and the fever left her and she served them;
- How the Lord can cure even me of the fever of passion so that I could immediately straighten up and serve Him with my whole spirit.
About what is the beginning of wisdom
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 1:7).
If someone were to know the number of stars in the heavens and the names of the fish in the sea and the amount of the grass in the field and the habits of the beasts in the forest and would not have the fear of God, his knowledge is as water in a sieve. And before death, his knowledge [of God] makes him a greater coward than the completely ignorant.
If someone were able to conjecture all the thoughts of mankind and to foretell the fate of mankind and to manifest every mystery that the earth conceals in its depths and not have the fear of God, his knowledge is as milk poured into an unclean container from which all the milk is spoiled. And in his hour of death, his wisdom will not shine even as much as a piece of charcoal without a flame, but his night of death will make his death even darker.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." How can he who has not begun correctly, finish correctly? Whoever started out on a wrong path from the beginning must turn back and must take-up the correct beginning, i.e., he must tread with his feet on the correct path. He who does not have the fear of God cannot have the love for God. What are we talking about? He who has no fear of God has no faith in God. The greatest ascetics, those who mortified themselves and who for a period of forty or fifty years daily and nightly lived a life of mortification until death, were filled with the fear of God and these, the most sinless among mortals, cried out in their hour of death: "O God, have mercy on me a sinner!"
The fear of God is the salt of total piety. If there is not that salt then all of our piety is inspid and lax. The fear of God girds the loins, girdles the stomach and makes the heart sober, restrains the mind and flogs self-will. Where is repentance without the fear of God? Where is humility? Where is restraint? Where is total chastity? Where is patience? Where is service and obedience?
O my brethren, let us embrace this word as the holy truth: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." O Lord Almighty, implant Your fear in our hearts.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK