Prologue from Ochrid - June 12 [June 25]
1. Our Holy Father Onuphrius the Great.
This holy ascetic had been living a whole sixty years in the desert when the monk Paphnutius visited him. His hair and beard reached down to the ground, and long hair, as white as snow, had grown all over his body during his years of nakedness. His appearance was cadaverous, unearthly and awe-inspiring. Seeing Paphnutius, he called him by name and then recounted to him his life in the desert. His guardian angel had appeared to him and taken him to that place. He had for a long time only eaten earth, which it was hard to find in the desert, and, after that, when he had survived an intensive struggle with diabolical temptations and when his heart had become utterly established in love for God, an angel had brought him bread to eat. And besides that, through God's gracious providence, a palm tree grew up at one side of his cell, that gave good dates, and a spring of water began to flow there. 'But especially,' said Onuphrius, 'my food and drink are the sweet words of God.' To Paphnutius's question about his receiving of Communion, the hermit answered that the angel of God brought him Communion every Saturday. On the next day, the old man told Paphnutius that it was the day of his departure from this world; then he knelt down, prayed to God and gave his spirit into God's hands. Then Paphnutius saw a heavenly light that illumined the body of the departed saint, and heard a choir of the angelic hosts. He buried Onuphrius's body with honour and returned to his own monastery, there as a living witness to narrate to the brethren, for their edification, the wonderful life of the man of God and the greatness of God's providence towards those who give themselves wholly to His service. Onuphrius died in the year 400.
2. Our Holy Father Peter the Athonite.
He was a Greek by birth, and a soldier by profession. Being once engaged in battle against the Arabs, he was captured, chained and thrown into prison. Peter spent a long time in imprisonment in the town of Samara on the Euphrates, and prayed God with all his being to free him and take him to some desert place where he could devote himself to prayerful asceticism. St Simeon the Host of God appeared to him in the prison, together with St Nicolas, and touched the iron of his chains which melted like wax. Peter suddenly found himself in the open outside the city. He immediately set out on the road for Rome, where he was tonsured as a monk by the Pope at the tomb of St Peter. He then set out by ship to return to the East. The most holy Mother of God appeared to him in a dream, talking with St Nicolas, and she told St Nicolas that she had set Mount Athos apart for Peter to live on in asceticism. Peter had at that time not heard of Mount Athos. Disembarking, then, at the Holy Mountain, Peter settled in a cave, where he spent fifty-three years in strict asceticism, in struggles with hunger and thirst, with heat and cold and especially with diabolical powers, until he had overcome them all by the help of God. When he had undergone the first temptations and succeeded in the first test before God, an angel of God began to bring him bread every forty days. The tempter appeared to him several times in the guise of an angel of light, but Peter drove him away with the sign of the Cross and the name of the most holy Mother of God. A year before his death, a deer-hunter passed that way and learned of the saint's life from his lips. He died in 734, and his relics were taken to Macedonia.
3. Our Holy Father Timothy, an Egyptian hermit.
He lived the ascetic life first in the Thebaid, then went off into the desert, where he spent thirty years. Being pleasing to God, he died peacefully.
4. Our Holy Fathers Bassian and Jonah.
Monks of the monastery of Solovetz, they were drowned and cast onto the shore in 1651. A sign appeared over their graves, and a church was built there. Later, the monastery of Petrominsk was founded on the site. Once Tsar Peter the Great, sheltering from a storm at sea, spent three days there and made a Cross, which he erected on the shore.
Great and wonderful is the Mystery [Sacrament] of Holy Communion. Even the anchorites [recluses] and hermits craved for nothing else as much as to be given the possibility to receive Holy Communion. St. Mary the Egyptian begged St. Zosimus to bring her the Holy Mystery on the Jordan and to communicate her. Returning from visiting St. Onuphrius, Venerable Paphnutius found a humble community of four young ascetics in the desert. When Paphnutius asked them whether and how do you receive Holy Communion, they replied that an angel of God visits them every Saturday and Sunday and administers them Holy Communion. Paphnutius remained until the first following Saturday and was personally convinced. When Saturday dawned, the entire community was filled with an indescribable wonderful fragrance and while they were at prayer, an angel of God in the form of a handsome young man, as bright as lightning, appeared with the All-pure Mysteries. Paphnutius became frightened and out of fear fell to the ground. But they raised him up and brought him to the angel that he, along with them, receive Communion from the hand of the angel. According to his own testimony, St. Onuphrius received Holy Communion from the hand of an angel as did many other anchorites and hermits. Therefore, it is completely erroneous to think that solitaries and hermits did not receive Holy Communion. God Who provided for their bodily nourishment did not leave them without the Life-giving nourishment of the Body and Blood of Christ the Lord.
To contemplate the miraculous multiplying of the bread in the wilderness: "And when it was evening, his disciples came to Him saying: This is a desert place, and the time is not past; send the multitude away that they may go into the villages and buy themselves victuals" (St. Matthew 14:15):
- How the Lord fed five thousand people with the five blessed loaves;
- How He is that Living Bread who alone can miraculously feed my hungry soul, which the whole of the rest of the world together cannot feed.
About the palace and the hut
"The house of the wicked shall be overthrown but the hut of the righteous shall flourish" (Proverbs 14:11).
The palace of Herod lay in ruins and the cave of the Child of Bethlehem remains. The crowns of the Casesars have been lost but the bones of the martyrs have been preserved. The palaces of the pagan kings have been transformed into piles of stone and dust but the caves of the ascetics have grown into most beautiful churches. The golden idols have been scattered into nothing and the chains of the Apostle Peter are preserved as a holy relic. The powerful Roman Empire is now only a tale of the dead, while the hut of Christianity, the Holy Church is today the most powerful empire in the world. Where are the Jews, the murders of God? They are dispersed throughout the world. Where are the powerful Romans? In the grave. Where is the power of bloody Nero? Where is the power of the evil Diocletian and the depraved Maximian? Where is the success of Julian the Apostate? Where are those high towers? They are where the tower of Babel is - beneath the dust and ashes, beneath shame and damnation.
Go about your own city and inquire how many homes of the godless are excavated? How many huts of the righteous grew into beautiful houses? Brethren, heaven and earth are founded on justice, on God's steadfast justice. That is why every pagan creation is as arrogant air bubbles, which burst and are trampled on by passers-by. The palaces of the pharaohs and Babylonians are as trampled bubbles and the tent of the righteous Abraham flourishes and blossoms in eternity. O my brethren, how all-powerful and long lasting is justice and how rumbling and transient is injustice like a storm on a summer's day!
O Righteous Lord, how magnificent and consistent are You in the exercising of Your justice.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK