Prologue from Ochrid - June 13 [June 26]
1. The Holy Martyr Aquilina.
Born in the Palestinian town of Biblos of Christian parents, little Aquilina was already, at the age of seven, living as a true Christian, and by the age of ten was so filled with divine understanding and the grace of the Holy Spirit that she used to preach Christ with great power and zeal to her girl friends. When Diocletian's persecution began, Aquilina was handed over to the imperial governor, Volusianus, who was more like a beast than a man. He ordered that she first be flogged and then that a heated rod be passed through her ears and brain. Until the last moment, the virgin Aquilina freely and clearly confessed Christ the Lord; but when her brains started flowing with her blood from her head, she fell as if dead. Believing her to be indeed dead, the governor ordered that her body be taken outside the city and thrown onto a dungheap for the dogs to eat. But, during the night, an angel of God appeared to her and said: 'Arise and be healed!', and the maiden arose and was restored to health, and stood a long time expressing her gratitude and praise to God and begging Him not to deny her a martyr's death. A voice was heard from heaven: 'Go; and it shall be to thee as thou desirest', and Aquilina went into the city. The city gates opened of their own accord for her, and she passed through them and went to the governor's palace like a ghost, standing before his bed and showing herself to him. The governor was seized with unspeakable terror when he saw the maiden whom he had thought dead. On the following day, he ordered the executioner to take Aquilina out and behead her with the sword. Before her execution, she knelt in prayer and surrendered her spirit into God's hands, leaving her dead body to be beheaded by the executioner. Her relics gave healing to many of the sick. St Aquilina was twelve years old when she suffered for the Lord; she endured her Passion and was crowned with a wreath of martyrdom in the year 293.
2. St Triphyllius, Bishop of Levcosia in Cyprus.
A pupil of St Spiridon and later his fellow-bishop on the island of Cyprus, he was a merciful man, pure in thought, chaste in his life, a living fountain of tears', and a great ascetic. He governed Christ's flock well and, when he went to his rest, received his crown among the great hierarchs in heaven. He entered peacefully into rest in 370.
3. St Anna and her son John.
Taken as an orphan into the house of a nobleman and treated as an adopted child, she was cared for and educated in that house. The rich man considered her worthy to be married to his son. When the old man died, the family urged the son to put his wife away because of her low birth and to marry another more suited to his rank and wealth. The rich man's son feared God and did not want to do this. Seeing her husband in difficulties with his family, Anna secretly left him and ran off to a distant island where there was not a living soul. She was pregnant, and soon gave birth to a son. They laboured on the island for thirty years in fasting and prayer. Then, by divine providence, a hieromonk landed on the island. He baptised her son and named him John. Anna lived her ascetic life in the fifth century, and died peacefully.
Meekness and kindness adorned our saints and it gave them strength and understanding not to return evil for evil. When Emperor Constantius, the son of the Emperor Constantine the Great, became ill in Antioch he summoned St. Spiridon to offer prayers for him. St. Spiridon, in the company of Triphyllius his deacon departed Cyprus and arrived at Antioch before the imperial palace. Spiridon was clad in poor clothing. He wore a simple woven cap on his head, in his hand a staff from a palm tree and draped over his chest he bore an earthen vessel which contained oil that was taken from in front of the Honorable Cross (which at that time was the custom of Christians in Jerusalem to carry). So dressed and in addition to that, exhausted by fasting and prayer and the long journey, in no way did the saint reflect his rank and dignity. When he wished to step foot into the imperial palace, one of the emperor's servants, thinking him to be an ordinary beggar, struck him with his fist on the cheek. The meek and kind saint turned the other cheek to him. When, with great difficulty, he succeeded to reach the emperor, Spiridon touched the head of the emperor and the emperor recovered.
To contemplate the miraculous walking of the Lord on water as on dry land:
"And when the apostles saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying: 'It is a spirit and they cried out in fear' " (St. Matthew 14:25):
- 1. How the boat with the disciples was in trouble on the waves of the sea at night and how the Lord, seeing this, hastened to their help;
- 2. How even I am often in trouble from the darkness and the waves of passions and how the Merciful Lord hastens to help me in walking over passions as over a solid road.
About the path of life and the path of death
"Sometimes a way seems right to a man but the end of it leads to death!" (Proverbs 14:12).
It sometimes appears to man that the path of the godless is right for he sees that the godless obtains riches and succeeds. O, if it where only given to him to see the end of that path! He would be horrified and would never tread on that path.
If the end of a path terminates in destruction, can it be the right path? Therefore, O man, do not say that one path is right if you do not see its end. You ask: "How could I, a weak and shortsighted man, perceive the end of a long path?" In two ways: by reading Holy Scripture through the experience of the Orthodox Church and by observing the end of the path of life of those around you and those who die before you. However, the first path is the more reliable path and if you adhere to it, know that you will not stumble into the night of eternal death.
Only that path is right which is shown by God as right. All other paths that appear as right to your mind and do not coincide with the path of God are wrong and are deadly. Behold, even the beasts have their paths but would you travel those paths if they seemed right to you? Do not go, for in the end you will fall into the hungry jaws of the beasts. And the path shown by God, even if it appears wrong to you, is right - therefore travel by it. Because of our sins, the path of God occasionally seems wrong to us. If we were without sin and if our mind was not distorted by sin it would not be possible for us, even for a moment, to conceive that another path would be right except God's path. To a distorted mind many wrong paths seem right and the only right path as being wrong.
O All-seeing Lord, our Guide, correct our mind so as not to be detained on the wrong paths. Jesus, You are the only Path, Truth and Life and that which we fantasize apart from You is the wrong way, a lie and death.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK