Prologue from Ochrid - March 9 [March 22]
1. The Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste.
These were all soldiers in the Roman army, but believed firmly in the Lord Jesus. When a persecution arose in the time of Licinius, they were all taken for trial before the commander, who threatened to strip them of their military status. To this one of them, St Candidus, replied: 'Do not take only our military status, but also our bodies; nothing is dearer or of greater honour to us than Christ our God.' Then the commander ordered his servants to stone the holy martyrs to death. But when the servants threw the stones at the Christians, the stones turned back and fell on them themselves, causing them grievous injuries. One stone fell on the commander's face and smashed his teeth. The torturers, in bestial fury, bound the holy martyrs and threw them into a lake, setting a watch all round it to prevent any of them escaping. There was a terrible frost, and the lake froze around the bodies of the martyrs. To make the torture worse, the torturers built and lit baths by the lake, in the sight of the freezing sufferers, with the idea that one of them might deny Christ and acknowledge the idols of Rome. In fact, one of them did abjure, came out of the water and went into the baths. But lo, during the night a strange light appeared from heaven, which heated the water in the lake and the bodies of the martyrs, and with that light there descended from heaven thirty-nine wreaths for their heads. One of the sentries on the shore saw this, confessed the name of Christ and went into the lake to be worthy of the fortieth wreath in place of the traitor. And the fortieth wreath was seen to descend upon him. The next day, the whole town was amazed to see the martyrs still alive. Then the wicked judges commanded that their legs be broken and their bodies thrown into the water, so that the Christians should not be able to find them. On the third day the martyrs appeared to the local bishop, Peter, and told him to search beneath the water and bring out their relics. The bishop went out on a dark night with his clergy, and saw where the martyrs' relics were glowing in the water. Every bone that had been broken off from their bodies rose to the surface and burned there like a candle. They gathered them, and gave them burial, and the souls of these martyrs went to Him who was martyred for us all and rose with glory, the Lord Jesus. They suffered with honour and were crowned with unfading glory in 320.
2. Our Holy Father Philoromus the Confessor.
He lived in asceticism in Galatia in the fourth century. It is said of him that he was so perfected in all the virtues that he was more like an angel than a man. He was especially praised for his patience. He was persecuted by the Emperor Julian the Apostate and suffered greatly for Christ, but, after the death of that wicked persecutor of Christ, he lived in peace and was of help to many, entering into rest at the age of eighty.
3. St Caesarius.
The brother of St Gregory the Theologian, who died in 369, St Caesarius was a theological writer. Among other things, he gave a painstaking answer to the question: How long did Adam and Eve spend in Paradise before the Fall? Some had put that time at six hours, some at twenty-four hours and some at three days. St Caesarius's estimate was that they were there for forty days. Because of that, he says, the Lord Christ fasted for forty days in the wilderness, and was for that length of time tempted of the devil. For, while the old Adam was not able to withstand the devil's temptation in the abundance of Paradise, the New Adam withstood him as a true knight in hunger and thirst in the wilderness.
Conceal your spiritual treasures and do not reveal them unnecessarily. Behold, how men conceal and hide their material wealth and how, when forced to reveal how much they have, they always conceal the greater amount and only reveal the lesser amount. Very few are the number of men who want to reveal all that they possess, and fewer still are those who would reveal more than they, in reality, possess. This, the world considers frivolous and mindless. This clearly shows you how you need to conceal your spiritual wealth, that is, your virtues, your good works, your fastings, your vigils, and your prayers. Why do not the wise children of this world reveal their material wealth? For two reasons: So that thieves would not hear of it and not to provoke the envy of evil men. There also exist envious and jealous thieves after spiritual treasure. They are the spirits of envy. As soon as you reveal your spiritual treasure, they will endeavor to belittle it and to squander it. Just as soon as you reveal it without need [let us say, out of vanity, so as to be praised], they have seized it and disparaged it; and you, O rich man of spiritual treasure, will imperceptibly and suddenly become a poor man. Many who were spiritually rich, the saints, made themselves out to be fools before the world so that by appearing foolish, they would conceal their great wisdom and strength within themselves. The Abba Isaiah writes, "Those good works which are performed in secret are more pleasing to God." St. Nilus of Sinai says, "The covered skin of the body is white, but the uncovered skin in parched and black." So it is with our concealed and revealed good works.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in the hands of the enemies of God gathered together in the home of Caiaphas:
- How all of them hurriedly sought false witnesses, for they wanted, by whatever means, to kill Christ;
- How they spit in His face and struck Him on the face;
- How our Lord endures all with unspeakable dignity and without anger.
About enduring to the end
"But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved" (St. Matthew 24:13).
O Lord most wonderful, You have endured all, all to the end. That is why You became not only blessed but the source of blessings for all men who desire good forthemselves throughout the ages of ages.
The apostles endured all to the end and entered into blessed eternity. The saints willingly endured the difficulties and sufferings to the end and were glorified, both in heaven and on earth.
The martyrs willingly endured all pains to the end and became the adopted co-inheritors of the Kingdom of Christ.
Every founder of a new organization recruits followers for himself with the promise of good fruits and many pleasures but deliberately remains silent about the hardships and labors which lead to those fruits and pleasures. Our Lord Jesus is the only one Who spoke the whole truth to His followers, both the bitter and the sweet side of the truth. He did not promise fruits without service, nor glory without suffering, nor ultimate rest without the thorny path, nor victory without struggle, nor pleasure without bitterness, nor the kingdom without tears and self-denial.
Although our Lord counted the many difficulties which would befall His followers, in the end He does not abandon them without comfort. He gives meaning to their sufferings and does not leave them in darkness. He says, "The one who perseveres to the end will be saved." What is that blessing which awaits those who endure to the end that He Jesus fully revealed and that has been witnessed even until today and is being witnessed by many saints, who, have either appeared in glory to the faithful from the other world or who, while yet in the flesh, were uplifted in the spirit to a vision of that glory and blessedness which await the faithful, the chosen and persevering?
O Lord, You are our strength. Help us to endure to the end with faith that You are beside us.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK