Prologue from Ochrid - June 6 [June 19]
1. Our Holy Father Bessarion.
Born and educated in Egypt, he devoted himself to the spiritual life at an early age, and 'never soiled the spiritual garment in which he was clothed at his baptism'. He visited St Gerasim by the Jordan and learned from St Isidore of Pefusium. He conquered his flesh in strict fasting and vigils, but, as far as possible, hid his asceticism from men. He once spent forty days in prayer, neither eating nor sleeping, and had one single garment that he wore summer and winter. He had a great gift of wonderworking. He had no fixed abode, but lived in the mountains and forests, healing the sick and performing many other miracles to help men and glorify God. He entered peacefully into rest in 466. (In the Greek Prologue, this saint is commemorated on February 20th.)
2. Our Holy Father Hilarion the New.
Abbot of the Dalmatian monastery in Constantinople, he was a disciple of Gregory of Decapolis and an imitator of the life of Hilarion the Great, whose name he took. Strong in prayer, enduring and courageous in suffering, he suffered much for the sake of the holy icons in the days of the iconoclast Emperors, Leo the Armenian and others. Then the Emperor Leo was killed by his personal bodyguard in the very church and at the very spot where he had first scoffed at the holy icons and from which he had removed the first icon, and holy Hilarion was let out of prison - but only for a while. He was again tortured and held in prison right up to the time of the Orthodox Empress Theodora. He was gifted with insight and discernment, and saw angels of God taking the soul of St Theodore the Studite to heaven. Being pleasing to God, he entered into rest in the Kingdom of heaven in 845, at the age of seventy.
3. Our Holy Mothers, the Martyrs Archelais, Thecia and Susanna.
As pure and virginal nuns, they lived the ascetic life in an unknown monastery near Rome. When a persecution of Christians arose under the wicked Emperor Diocletian, they fled to Campania and settled near the town of Nola. Their holy life could not be concealed, and people from nearby began to come to them for counsel, instruction and help in various trials and sicknesses, and they were finally seized by the pagans and taken for trial. They publicly and freely confessed their faith in Christ. When the judge, Leontius, questioned holy Archelais about the Christian faith, she replied: 'It is by the power of Christ that I overcome the power of the devil and teach the people understanding and knowledge of the one, true God. By the name of my Lord Jesus Christ, the onlybegotten Son of God, it is given that, through me His servant, the sick find healing.' All three maidens were whipped, flogged with heavy staves, left to languish in prison and finally beheaded. When they were led out to the scaffold, angels appeared to them, which were seen by some of the executioners and inspired such fear in them that they dared not lift up their swords against the holy maidens. They, however, urged the executioners to finish their task. And thus, as lambs, were they beheaded in the year 293, and went to the Kingdom of Christ to rest in eternity and delight in beholding the face of God.
Malicious joy is a sordid garment which our spirit sometimes dons with great satisfaction. The very moment that you rejoice in the sinful fall of your brother you have also fallen to the joy of the devil who, with one hook, snared two fish. Brotherhood, according to the flesh, is a great bond but brotherhood, according to the spirit, is even greater. When you are grieved by the sin of a brother according to the flesh, why then would not the sin of a brother according to the spirit grieve you? When you conceal the sin of a brother according to the flesh why do you, with malevolent joy proclaim the sin of your brother according to the spirit? Who are your brothers according to the spirit? All Christians - all those who communicate with you from the one and the same Chalice, the one and the same life. O, how great were the saints in their brotherly love! O, how far away from them was malevolent joy! The following is said about St. Bessarion: on one occasion all the monks were gathered in church for prayer. The abbot approached a monk who had committed a sin and ordered him to leave the church. The monk started to leave and Bessarion followed him saying: "And I, also, am the same kind of sinner!"
To contemplate the miraculous resurrection of Jarius' daughter: "While He was saying these things to them, an official came forward, knelt down before Him, and said, 'My daughter has just died. But come, lay Your hand on her, and she will live.' Jesus rose and followed him, and so did His disciples. A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the tassel on His cloak. She said to herself, 'If only I can touch His cloak, I shall be cured.' Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, 'Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.' And from that hour the woman was cured. When Jesus arrived at the official's house and saw the flute players and the crowd who were making a commotion, He said, 'Go away! The girl is not dead but sleeping.' And they ridiculed Him. When the crowd was put out, He came and took her by the hand, and the little girl arose. And news of this spread throughout all that land" (St. Matthew 9:18-26):
- How the Lord assures the people that the maiden is not dead but that she is sleeping;
- How He took her by the hand and the maiden arose alive;
- How the Lord can resurrect my soul, dead from sin, by one touch of His Holy Life-giving Spirit.
About guarding of the heart
"With closest custody, guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life" (Proverbs 4:23).
In the heart is the will, in the heart is love, in the heart is understanding, in the heart is the face of the All-holy and Divine Trinity. The heart is the home of the Father, the altar of the Son and the workshop of the Holy Spirit. God wants the heart: "My Son, give me your heart" (Proverbs: 23:26). Let the mountains be overturned, let the seas dry up, let your friends abandon you, let your wealth fail you, let your body be consumed by worms, let the world pour upon you all the ridicule which it has but be not afraid; only guard your heart, guard and affix it to the Lord and give it to the Lord. From the heart comes life; from where does life in the heart come if the breath of the Lord and Source of Life, God, does not dwell in it?
"A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things" (St. Matthew 12:35). These are the words of the Lord Who fills the treasury of your heart with His riches. What is that "good man?" That is the good treasure of the heart. What is that "evil man?" That is the evil treasure of the heart. "For out of the heart [of an evil man] proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (St. Matthew 15:19) and from the good heart proceeds "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Galatians 5:22-23). Do you see how great a warehouse is the heart of man? Do you see what all can fit in the heart of man? O brother, God the Holy Spirit Himself, when it pleases Him, can fit in the heart of man. Not only can He, but He will. He only waits for you to prepare your heart for Him. To convert it into a temple, for God the Holy Spirit only dwells in a temple. Just as a serpent protects its head so you, also son, guard your heart. Above everything that is guarded, son, guard your heart! For in the heart enters life and from it proceeds life, life which is from the Living God.
O Life-giving Lord, help us to guard our heart for You, for You the Lord!
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK