Prologue from Ochrid - February 27 [March 12]
1. Our Holy Father Procopius of Decapolis.
This saint came from Decapolis by the Sea of Galilee; hence his name. In youth, he gave himself to the monastic life and passed through all those prescribed labours that purify the heart and uplift the soul to God. When a persecution on the part of the wicked Emperor Leo the Isaurian broke out over icons, Procopius stood up and defended icons, showing that their veneration is not idolatry, for Christians know that to prostrate themselves before icons is not to prostrate before dead matter but before the living saints depicted on the icons. Procopius was bestially tortured, imprisoned, beaten and flogged with iron flails. When the wicked Emperor was murdered, being already a lost soul, the icons were returned to the churches and Procopius returned to his monastery, where he spent his remaining days in peace. In old age, he entered into God's Kingdom, where he beheld with joy the living angels and saints whose images were on the honoured icons on earth. He departed this life peacefully in the 9th century.
2. Our Holy Father Thafeleus, a Syrian hermit.
He was at first in the monastery of St Sava the Sanctified, but then settled in a pagan graveyard, famed for the appearing of evil spirits and bogies. To conquer his terror by faith in God, Thaleleus settled in that graveyard and lived there for many years, enduring much from the fallen spirits both day and night. By his great faith and love towards God, he was endowed by Him with the gift of working wonders, and did much good for the sick and suffering. He died in about 460.
3. Our Holy Father Titus of the Kiev Caves.
Titus was a priest and had a sincere love for a deacon, Evagrius, as brother for brother. But, though such was their love at first, it later became a mutual malice and hatred, sown by the devil. They hated each other so much that, when one of them used the censer in church, the other turned and went outside. Titus tried many times to make peace with his adversary, but in vain. Titus became ill, and all thought that he was dying. He begged that Evagrius be brought to him, that they might forgive each other. Evagrius was brought by force to Titus's bedside, but he fled away, saying that he would not forgive Titus, either in this world or the next. As he said this, he fell to the ground and breathed his last. But Titus rose from his bed healed, and revealed how the demons had flown around him until he forgave Evagrius, and when he had done so, the demons had fled and attacked Evagrius, angels of God surrounding him himself. He died in 1190.
4. Our Holy Father Stephen.
He was first an official at the court of the Emperor Maurice, but then left his courtly service and, urged by the love of Christ, built an almshouse for the elderly in Constantinople. He died peacefully in 614.
5. The Holy Martyr Julian the Gout-Sufferer.
Because of his gout, he was unable either to stand or to walk. He was brought to trial in Alexandria on a stretcher for his faith in Christ and burned alive on a pyre, along with his pupil Chronyon, in the time of the Emperor Decius.
Whenever we are outside the Grace of God, we are outside of ourselves and, compared with our Grace-filled nature, we do not find ourselves in a better condition than an insane man in comparison to a so-called healthy man. Only a blessed man is a natural man, i.e., a man of higher and unspoiled nature, in which the Grace of God rules and governs. St. Simeon the New Theologian says: "A lamp, even if it is filled with oil and possesses a wick, remains totally dark if it is not lighted with fire. So it is with the soul in appearance adorned with all virtues, if it does not have a light and the Grace of the Holy Spirit it, is extinguished and dark." (Homily, Number 59). As the great apostle also says: "But by the Grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10). However to be without grace means to be alienated from God and alienated from the reality of our own individual being. Our being, our personality, confirms our reality and receives its fullness only in the nearness of God and by God. That is why we must look at sinners as we look upon the sick: as weak shadows, without reality and without a mind.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus as the Vine "I am the true Vine" (St. John 15:1):
- As the Vine from which sprouted numerous fruitful branches in the images of the saints;
- As the Vine Who with His sap, His blood, waters and feeds all the branches on Himself;
- As the Vine from Whom the Divine Church branched out on earth and in the heavens;
- As the Vine from Whom, even I should not separate the branch of my life.
About the power of the Resurrector of the body
"Destroy this temple, an in three days I will raise it up" (St. John 2:19).
Here our Lord speaks about the temple of His body. Destroy this body and in three days I will raise it up! Thus speaks One Who knows His might and Who, according to His might, fulfilled His words. For His body was destroyed, broken, pierced, buried and covered with darkness for three days. And the third day, He raised it; raised it not only from the grave on earth but raised it up to the heavens. And so, He spoke the word and His word came true.
The Lord gave a sign to the Jews, for they sought a sign from Him. And when He gave them a sign, such as no one else before Him was able to give, they did not believe Him but, confused and frightened, bribed the guards from Golgotha to swear falsely and to proclaim the lie that this miraculous sign did not occur, but that His disciples stole His body from the tomb!
No sign whatsoever helps those do not want to believe. The Jews, with their own eyes witnessed the many miracles of Christ, but nevertheless did not want to believe but, they spoke about justifying their unbelief saying that He performs these miracles "by the help of the prince of the demons!" (St. Matthew 9:34). Whoever does not want to believe in good, all the signs which heaven can give will not help him. A heart filled with evil is harder than granite. A mind, darkened by sin, cannot be illuminated by all the light of heaven, whose light is greater than one-thousand suns.
When man expels evil from his heart and saves his mind from the darkness of sin, then he sees the numerous signs which God gives to those who want to believe - to see and to believe.
O, my brethren, let us not sin against the mercy of God and let us not succumb to the evil of the Jews. O, my brethren, all the signs have already been given, and they all glitter as the stars in the heavenly firmament, to all who have a good heart and a right-thinking mind.
O Wonder-working Lord, To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK