Prologue from Ochrid - February 26 [March 11]
1. St Porphyrius, Bishop of Gaza.
This great bishop and pastor was born in Salonica of wealthy parents. He spent his youth to the age of 25 in his home town, then left his parents' home and worldly life and went off into the Egyptian desert. Under the guidance of an experienced spiritual father, the young Porphyrius became a monk and remained for five years. He then paid a visit to the Holy Land in company with his friend, the monk Mark. He lived another five years in asceticism in a cave near Jerusalem. But then his legs became weak and he was no longer able to walk. But he was always able, crawling on his knees, to be present at Divine Service. One night the Lord Himself appeared to him in a vision and healed him of the weakness in his legs, and he became completely well. When he was chosen as bishop of Gaza, Porphyrius accepted this obligation with a heavy heart. He found only 280 Christians in Gaza; the rest of the inhabitants being fanatical idol-worshippers. Only by his great faith and patience did Porphyrius succeed in bringing the people of Gaza to the Christian faith. He had to travel in person to Constantinople, to the Emperor Arcadius and the Patriarch, John Chrysostom, to beg for help in the unequal struggle against the idolators. Seeking support, he received it. The temples of the idol-worshippers were closed, the idols demolished and a fine church built with thirty marble pillars. There was especial help forthcoming from the Empress Eudoxia. Porphyrius lived long enough to see the whole city brought to the Christian faith, but only after great toil, suffering and tearful prayer on his part. He entered peacefully into rest in 421. He was a wonderworker during his lifetime and after his death. His relics are preserved in Gaza to this day.
2. The Holy Martyr John Calpha.
This saint was born in Galata in Constantinople. He was an architect by profession. He offended the Turks by his wholehearted confession of the Christian faith, and they tried to force him to become a Muslim. 'I shall never deny my sweet Jesus Christ', replied John heroically, 'I believe in Him, serve Him and confess Him.' After harsh torture, the Turks beheaded him in Constantinople on February 26th, 1575. He suffered with honour for his beloved Christ and went to the courts of the Lord.
St. John Chrysostom writes thusly against those who, in church create a disturbance in church and who depart from church before the completion of the Divine Liturgical Service of God. "Some do not approach Holy Communion with trembling but with commotion, shoving one another, burning with anger, hollering, scolding, pushing their neighbor, full of disturbance. About this, I have often spoken and will not cease to speak about this. Do you not see the order of behavior at the pagan Olympic games when the Arranger passes through the arena with a wreath on his head, dressed in a lengthy garment, holding a staff in his hand and the Crier declares that there be silence and order? Is it not obscene that there, where the devil reigns there is such silence, and here where Christ invites us to Himself there is such an uproar. At the arena, silence: and in church, uproar! On the sea, calm and in the harbor, tempest! When you are invited to a meal, you must not leave before the others, even though you are satisfied before the others, and here while the awesome mystery of Christ is being celebrated, while the priestly functions are still continuing, you leave in the middle of it and exit? How can this be forgiven? How can this be justified? Judas, after receiving Communion at the Last Supper [Mystical Supper] that final night, departed quickly while the others remained at the table. Behold, whose example do they follow who hurry to depart before the final thanksgiving? (Homily on the Feast of the Epiphany).
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in the boat with His disciples: "And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves. But He was asleep" (St. Matthew 8:24).
- How a tempest arose while the Lord slept;
- How the frightened disciples awakened Him and sought His help;
- How the Lord rebuked the disciples because of little faith and calmed the sea and the winds;
- How I need not be afraid of any tempest in life if I keep the Lord in my heart as on the stern of the boat. (the body - the boat - the heart - the stern).
About internal charity
"But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you" (St. Luke 11:41).
External cleanliness becomes a man. But that is a lesser cleanliness. Internal cleanliness is incomparably more important than external cleanliness. That is greater cleanliness. A dish can serve more usefully only if it is washed and clean on the inside even though the outside is dark and ashy. If a glass is dirty on the inside, its external cleanliness will never attract anyone to drink from it. If the bowl is dirty on the inside, being clean on the outside will never bring anyone to drink from it. There are many more teachers in the world and many examples of external rather than internal cleanliness. For it is easier to teach and show by example external cleanliness rather than internal cleanliness.
Behold brethren, how the Teacher and Model of great cleanliness, places this great cleanliness on the dependence of internal alms-giving. Alms-giving, which is performed from the heart, purifies the soul of man. Alms-giving, which is performed from the heart, cleanses the heart of man. Alms-giving, which is performed from the soul, cleanses a man's soul. Alms-giving, which is performed from his entire mind, cleanses the mind of a man. In a word, internal alms-giving cleanses the entire man. If alms-giving is only from a hand, it does not cleanse the hand much less the heart, soul and mind. Alms-giving from the hand is indispensable but it cleanses the giver only then, when the heart moves the hand to alms-giving. Besides alms-giving from the hand, there exist other types of alms-giving. Prayer for people is internal alms-giving and, likewise, sorrow for human pains, and joy in the joy of others. That is alms-giving, which proceeds from the heart and creates cleanliness in the heart, the soul and the mind.
O, All-Pure Lord, help us that, with true alms-giving we acquire great cleanliness.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK