Prologue from Ochrid - March 7 [March 19]
1. The Seven Hieromartyrs of Cherson.
Basil, Ephraim, Eugene, Elpidius, Agathodorus, Aetherius and Capito. They were all bishops in Cherson at different times, and all suffered from unbelievers (only Aetherius died peacefully), either Jews or Greeks from Scythia. They had all gone to that savage land as missionaries, sent by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the light of the Gospel there. They were all tortured and suffered for the sake of their Lord. Basil raised the son of a prince of Cherson to life, which embittered the Jews and they brought charges against him. He was bound by the feet and dragged through the streets of the town until he gave up the ghost. Ephraim was beheaded. Eugene, Elpidius and Agathorodus were beaten with rods and stones until they gave their souls into God's hands. Aetherius lived in the time of Constantine the Great, and so he governed the Church in freedom and peace, built a great church in Cherson and died peacefully. When the last of them, Capito, was sent as bishop, the savage Scythians sought a sign of him, that they might believe. And they suggested to him that he go into a burning furnace, and, if he were not burned up, they would believe. With fervent prayer and hope in God, Capito put on his episcopal pallium and, crossing himself, entered the burning furnace, holding his heart and thoughts directed towards God. He stood in the flames for about an hour, and came out untouched, with no scorch-mark either on his body or his clothing. Then all cried out: 'There is one God, the great and powerful God of the Christians, who keeps His servant safe in the burning furnace!', and the whole town and surroundings were baptised. Many spoke of this wonder at the Council of Nicaea (325), and all glorified God and praised the firm faith of St Capito. But Scythian unbelievers caught Capito by the River Dnieper and drowned him. They all suffered around the beginning of the fourth century.
2. Our Holy Father Enilianus.
He was born in Rome, and committed many grave sins in his youth. When he came to his senses and turned from his sin, he trembled at the thought of the judgement of God. He went to a monastery and there, by fasting, vigils and obedience, subdued and withered his body. He was a model of asceticism to his brethren. Often at night he went out of the monastery to a neighbouring cave to pray. Not knowing where he went, the abbot of the monastery followed him in secret one night. And the abbot saw Emilianus standing in prayer with awe and tears. All at once a heavenly light, brighter than the sun, illumined that hill, and focussed on the cave and on Emilianus. And a voice was heard from heaven: 'Emilianus, thy sins are forgiven thee!' The abbot was amazed and fled back to the monastery. On the following day he revealed all that he had seen and heard the preceding night. And Emilianus was greatly honoured among the brethren, and lived long and entered into rest in the Lord.
Author's Note: Under this date in the Greek Great Synaxarion, St Laurence, founder of the monastery of Phaneromene on the island of Salamis is commemorated. He lived in Megara as a married man with two sons, and was righteous and devout. The holy Mother of God appeared to him in a dream and commanded him to go to the island of Salamis and to restore a church in a certain place. He went and found ruins there, and built a new church. There he became a monk and departed this life on March 7th, 1770. Many miracles were wrought in that monastery over the relics of St Laurence.
A thick rope is made from thin, fibrous strands of hemp. One thin fiber cannot hold you tied nor can it strangle you. For you will easily, as in jest, break it and free yourself from it. If you are tied by a thick rope, you can be held bound and even be strangled by it. Neither can you break it easily nor free yourself from it. As a thick rope consists of thin and weak fibers, so the passions of man consist of minor sins. Man can break off and turn away from the beginnings of minor sins. But, when sin after sin is repeated, the weave becomes all the more stronger and stronger until in the end a passion is created, which then turns man into some kind of monster as only it knows how. You cannot easily cut it off, nor distance yourself from it, nor can you divorce yourself from it. O, if only men would beware and take care of the beginnings of sins! Then, they would not have to endure much in freeing themselves from passions. "To cut off rooted passions is as difficult as cutting off the fingers," said a monk from the Holy Mountain. To free himself from sinful passions, St. Emilianus was helped by thinking thoughts of death and, understandably, the Grace of God, without which it is extremely difficult to rid oneself of the fetters of passion. To think often of impending death, to repent and to implore Grace from Almighty God, these three save a man from the bondage of sin. St. Sisoes was asked, "At which time can passions be uprooted?" The saint replied, "As soon as one passion takes root in you, uproot it immediately."
To contemplate the Lord Jesus at prayer in Gethsemane:
- How He falls on His face and prays three times, "My Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me" (St. Matthew 26:39), and again, "Your will be done" (St. Matthew 26:42).
- How He sweated at prayer, "And His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (St. Luke 22:44).
- How all of this was because of you and me; because of my sins and your sins; and for the sake of my salvation and your salvation.
About the hand of the betrayer
"And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray Me is with Me on the table" (St. Luke 22:21).
It is most difficult for a general to wage war when he has an enemy within the camp; not only external enemies, but internal enemies among his own. Judas was considered among his own. However, he was the enemy from within. Rows of enemies crowded and closed ranks around Christ and, from within, Judas was preparing betrayal. His hand was on the table which Christ blessed, and his thoughts were aligned with the enemies where darkest evil, hatred and malice seethed against the gentle Lord.
Is it not also the same today, that the hand of the many traitors of Christ are at the table with Him? Which table is not Christ's? On what table are not His gifts? He is the Householder and He nourishes and feeds His guests. The guests have nothing of their own, nothing! All good and all abundance which is given to them is given to them by the hand of Christ. Therefore, is it not so that Christ is present at every table as a Householder and as a Servant? Therefore, are not those also the hands of all who even today betray Christ on the table together with Him? They eat His bread and they speak against Him. They warm themselves by His sun and they slander His name. They breathe His air and they rise up against His Church. They live off His mercy and they banish Him from their homes, from their schools, from their courts, from their books and from their hearts. They trample His commandments willfully, maliciously and ridicule His law. Are they not then the betrayers of Christ and the followers of Judas? Do not be afraid of them! God did not command that we be afraid of them but wait to see their end. Our Lord was not afraid of Judas nor is He afraid of all the traitorous hordes until the end of time. He knows their end and He already has His victory in His hands. Therefore, do not you be afraid either. Adhere faithfully to Christ the Lord, both when it appears to you that His causes succeed and go forward in the world and then, again, when it appears to you that His causes collapse and perish. Do not be afraid! If you become frightened, perhaps your hand will be found clenched under the hand of Judas at the table of Christ.
O Lord, All-Victorious, sustain us with Your power and mercy.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK