Prologue from Ochrid - June 10 [June 23]
1. The Hieromartyr Timothy, Bishop of Brussa.
For his great spiritual purity, God gave him the gift of wonderworking, and he healed all manner of diseases and pains among the people. During the reign of the evil Emperor Julian, who had renounced Christ, holy Timothy was thrown into prison. The faithful visited him there to listen to the wise teaching of their bishop. When this came to his ears, Julian commanded that the executioner behead him in the prison. This was in 362, and his soul entered into Paradise while his relics remained, full of miraculous power, to help the people and declare the power of the Lord.
2. The Holy Martyrs Alexander and Antonina.
Antonina was a virgin and Alexander an imperial soldier, both from Alexandria and both Christians. Antonina was first taken before the judge and tortured. When they threw her into prison, Alexander went to it at the command of an angel of God (being up to that time a stranger to Antonina), draped her in his military cloak and told her to keep her head lowered and go out through the guardhouse in front of the gates. In this way, she escaped and he remained in the prison. They brought Alexander before the judge, and began to interrogate him for the name of Christ. When Antonina heard of this, she came before the judge herself, and he put them both to various tortures. He cut off their hands and then flayed their naked bodies, scorching their wounds with torches, and finally cast them into a fire set in a hole in the ground, covering them with earth. They suffered with honour for the name of Christ and entered into the courts of the heavenly King on May 3rd, 313. The wicked judge, Festus, became dumb at the time of the martyrs' deaths, and an evil spirit fell on him, torturing him for seven days before killing him.
3. St Bassian, Bishop of Lodi.
A pagan born in Syracuse of eminent and wealthy parents, he studied philosophy in Rome. At his own desire, he was baptised by the devout elder Gordianus. This offended his parents and, to escape their wrath, he went to Ravenna on the advice of St John the Theologian, who appeared to him, and there in Ravenna made himself known to the bishop, Ursus, a kinsman of his. On the bishop's instructions, Bassian found lodgings near the Church of the Holy Martyr Apollinarius outside the city, and there laboured a long time in toil, fasting and prayer. When the Bishop of Lodi in Liguria died, Bassian was elected, not according to his own desire but through a revelation in a dream. He was consecrated by Ambrose of Milan and Ursus of Ravenna. He had a great gift of healing, and could even raise the dead. He was present during St Ambrose's last hours and heard from those holy lips how Ambrose had seen the Lord Jesus Christ. He lived to a great age in toil and asceticism and finished his earthly course at the age of ninety, entering into the Kingdom of God in about 409. His holy relics continue to work miracles as a witness to the power of God and the greatness of His saint.
It is not the same to eat your meal with a blessing and to eat it without a blessing. Every meal is the table of God, which God Himself has set for us. This is why it is necessary as a householder to thank God and to beg for His blessings. Blessed food is more tasty and more satisfying while unblessed food is untasty, unsatisfying and unhealthy. On one occasion, Emperor Theodosius the Younger went for a walk in the surroundings of Constantinople and seeing the hut of a monk stopped and visited. The elder asked the emperor would he desire something to eat? "I do," answered the emperor. The elder brought bread, oil, salt and water before the emperor. The emperor ate and drank and then asked the monk: "Do you know who I am?" "God knows who you are," replied the monk. "I am Emperor Theodosius." The monk bowed down before the emperor silently. The emperor said to him: "I am an emperor and am born of an emperor but, believe me, never in my life have I eaten so tastily as I have today with you." "And do you know why?" answered the elder. "Because," he continued, "we monks always prepare our food with prayer and blessing; it is from that, that bitter food for us is transformed into tasty; with you, however, food is prepared with much labor and you do not seek a blessing (from God) and because of that tasty food becomes tasteless."
To contemplate the miraculous healing of the man with a withered hand: "A man with a withered hand happened to be there and they put this question to Jesus, hoping to bring an accusation against him: 'Is it lawful to work a cure on the Sabbath?' " (St. Matthew 12:10):
- How the Lord said to the man with the withered hand: Stretch out your hand! And he stretched it out;
- How even my hands are withered when I do not give charity. The Lord continually speaks to me: Stretch out your hand!
About how that of which he is afraid, befalls the sinner
"The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him; but the desire of the righteous shall be granted" (Proverbs 10:24).
The wicked one fears imminent death, the thief fears the burglar, the murderer fears the sword, the proud one fears shame, the abductor fears hunger, the glutton fears sickness and the slanderer fears the judgment of truth. That which the wicked one fears is what will befall him.
The righteous one desires a pure conscience, good thoughts, peace, charity, love, truth, justice and meekness. God gives these to him even while he is here on earth. The righteous one desires the Kingdom of God, desires Paradise, desires the company of the angels and the saints and desires to reflect upon the face of God in life eternal. God gives all these to him when He calls him to Himself.
O how just is the Lord toward the wicked one and how All-benevolent He is toward the righteous one! That which the wicked one fears, the Lord permits to befall him and that which the righteous ones fears the Lord removes from him. Of what is the righteous one afraid? Only sin. God removes sin from the righteous one and directs his feet on the path to virtue; and God protects the righteous one from evil spirits, the sowers of sin and, by His grace, waters the seed of virtues in his heart.
O All-seeing Lord, protect us from the paths of the wicked, from the gain of the wicked and from the fear of the wicked! Help our wavering heart to become steadfast in the desire for that which is only pleasing to You. For that which is pleasing to You will, in the end, conquer and reign and everything else will be given over to decay and forgetfulness.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK