Prologue from Ochrid - March 5 [March 18]
1. The Holy Martyr Conon of Isauria.
Conon was instructed in the Christian faith and baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity by the Archangel Michael himself, and he was accompanied by this archangel of God right up to his death. He was so enlightened and fortified by grace of the Holy Spirit, so that his heart was kept from all things earthly and clave to the spiritual and heavenly. When his parents forced him to marry, he, on the first evening, took a candle and put it inder a vessel, then asked his bride: 'Which is better, light or darkness?' She answered: 'Light', and he then began to speak to her of the Christian faith, and of the spiritual life as better and finer than the physical. He succeeded in bringing first her and then his parents to the Christian faith, and he and his wife lived as brother and sister. His wife and parents soon died, and he withdrew himself entirely from the world and gave himself to prayer, fasting and pondering on God. He performed great wonders, which brought many to Christianity. Among other wonders, evil spirits were forced to serve him. During a persecution he was arrested and tortured, and stabbed all over with knives. The sick anointed themselves with his blood and were healed. He lived for two further years in his own town, and went to the Lord. This wonderful saint lived and suffered in the second century.
2. The Holy Martyr Conon the Gardener.
From Nazareth, he was mild and virtuous, and pleasing to God in all things. During the persecution under Decius, he was tortured for Christ, but he remained firm in the Faith, and sharply denounced the judges for their folly. With nails through his legs, this good and virtuous saint was bound behind the prince's chariot and was dragged on and on, until he was utterly spent. Then he made his last prayer to God and gave his soul into His keeping, in 251.
3. Our Holy Father Hesychius the Faster.
He was born near Bursa in the eighth century, but withdrew to a mountain called the hill of Maion, a place with an evil reputation for diabolical apparitions. He built himself a hut there, and a church dedicated to St Andrew, and also made himself a garden which he cultivated in order to live by his own toil. Miracles were worked through his prayers. He foretold that there would be a women's monastery in that place after his death. A month before he died, he foretold the day and hour of his death, and at midnight on the day foretold, people saw his hut illumined with an unusual light, and, when they came to it, they found him dead. He was buried in the church of St Andrew, but later Theophylact, the bishop of Amasea, took him to the town of Amasea. He departed this life peacefully and went to the Kingdom of his God in 790. (In the Greek Synaxarion, he is commemorated on March 6th.)
4. Our Holy Father Mark the Ascetic.
An ascetic and wonderworker, he was made a monk at the age of forty by his teacher, St John Chrysostom. Mark spent sixty more years in the Nitrian desert in fasting, prayer and the writing of instructive books. He knew the whole of the Holy Scriptures by heart. He was very merciful, and wept for the distress of any one of God's creature. He was once weeping for the blind whelp of a hyena when the whelp received its sight. In gratitude, the mother hyena brought him a sheepskin, and the saint forbade the hyena in future to slaughter the sheep of poor people. He received communion at the hands of an angel. His homilies on the spiritual law, on repentance, on sobriety and so forth fall into the first rank of ecclesiastical literature; the great Patriarch Photius himself held them in high esteem.
Why do some people, well educated and baptized as Christians, fall away from Christianity and give themselves over to philosophy and to learned theories,pretending these to be something more truthful than Christianity? They do so for two principal reasons: either out of a totally superficial understanding of Christianity or because of sin. A superficial understanding of Christ rejects Him and flees from Christ as does a criminal from a judge. Superficial and sinful Christians were as often enraged and infuriated with Christianity as were the pagans. To the superficial and culpable, it was more comfortable for them to bathe in the shallow swamp of human thoughts than in the perilous depth of Christ. For those who sincerely follow Christ, He constantly calls them to a greater and greater depth; as He once said to the Apostle Peter, "Put out into deep water" (St. Luke 5:4). St. Mark the Ascetic writes that the law of God is understood in accordance with the fulfillment of the commandments of God: "Ignorance compels a person to speak in opposition to that which is beneficial and insolence multiplies vice."
To contemplate the Mystery of Communion as a Mystery of the Perfection of Love:
- Because on the part of Christ, it means giving completely of Himself to His faithful;
- Because of this, Christ is received with faith and trust on the part of the faithful;
- Because of this, it leads to the joyful, fruitful and saving union of God with man.
About traveling with Christ into the deep
"Put out into deep water" (St. Luke 5:4).
This is how our Lord commanded Peter and the rest of the apostles "after He had finished speaking" (St. Luke 5:4). This means that He first gave instructions and immediately following that, He called them to action. This is also important for us. For as soon as we learn something from the Gospels, we immediately need to go out and implement it. The works of the disciple are dear to the Lord, not only the disciple. "Put out into deep water." Along the shore, from the shallow waters, our Lord spoke to the people who were less enlightened in the mysteries of God's Kingdom. He invited the apostles out into the deep. There is less danger in the shallow waters, but the catch is also smaller. In the shallow waters there are snakes, frogs and other lesser repulsive water creatures. That is all the danger. In shallow waters there are only small fish; that is the entire catch. But in the greater depths, the danger is also greater. There you have large sea creatures and great storms. That is dangerous. But there are also much larger and better fish in enormous quantity; that is the catch. O, enlightened one, come therefore into the deep! "Put out into the deep" mysterious sea of life, but do not set out without Christ in your boat. By no means. You might spend the entire night of your life not catching anything, as Peter said, "We have toiled all night and have taken nothing" (St. Luke 5:5). Not only that, but you could face far worse if Christ is not in your boat. Perhaps the winds could carry you away and cast you into an abyss. Perhaps the monstrous and enormous beasts of the sea will consume you. The winds, O enlightened one, those are your own passions which accompany you unavoidably if you set out into the deep without Christ. The enormous and monstrous beasts of the sea are demons who, with the blinking of an eye, can destroy you as with the blinking of an eye "the herd of about two thousand swine rushed down a steep bank into the sea, where they were drowned" (St. Mark 5:13).
However, if you are going out with Christ into the deep, do not be afraid of anything; but go rejoicefully and courageously glued to Christ. You will lay hold of the best catch; and you will fill both boats with it, the physical and the spiritual. You will snare the best catch, O dedicated one, and, without any dangers, you will arrive to theshore, to the shore of the Kingdom of Christ. Nowhere without Christ! Neither in shallow places nor into the deep. In the shallow places you will become vexed by hunger and by many minor disgusts, but into the deep a greater evil will befall you.
O, my Almighty Savior, You are our Helmsman, our Defense, our Harbor.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK