Prologue from Ochrid - March 11 [March 24]
1. St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
He was born in Damascus of eminent parents. Having acquired worldly wisdom, he was not content with this, and began also to acquire pure, spiritual wisdom. In the monastery of St Theodosius he found himself with the monk John Moschus, whom he took as his teacher; then, together with him, set out to visit the monasteries and ascetics of Egypt. Their motto was to glean more spiritual wisdom each day. They wrote down all that they discovered, and later published it in two books entitled 'The Spiritual Meadow'. They later went to Rome, where Moschus died, leaving Sophronius with the pledge to take him either to Sinai or to the Monastery of St Theodosius. Sophronius fulfilled the desire of his teacher and took his body to the monastery, after which he was delayed in Jerusalem, which by that time had been freed from the Persians. He witnessed the return of the Precious Cross from Persia, which the Emperor Heraclius carried into the Holy City on his back. The old Patriarch, Zacharias, who also returned from slavery, did not live long and, when he went to the other world, was followed first by Modestus, who died in 634, and then by blessed Sophronius. He governed the Church with outstanding wisdom and zeal for four years, standing in defence of Orthodoxy against the Monothelite heresy, which he condemned at his Council in Jerusalem before it was condemned at the 6th Ecumenical Council. He wrote the life of St Mary of Egypt, compiled the rite of the Great Blessing of Water and introduced various new hymns and songs into different services. When the Arabian Caliph Omar captured Jerusalem, Sophronius begged him to spare the Christians, which Omar hypocritically promised. When Omar quickly began to plunder and ill-treat the Christians in Jerusalem, Sophronius, with many lamentations, begged God to take him from among the living upon earth, that he should not see the desecration of the holy places. And God heard his prayer, and took him to Himself in His heavenly courts in 644.
2. The Holy Martyr Pionius.
A priest of Smyrna, he suffered there in the time of Decius's persecution. They condemned him to be crucified, which was a great joy to him. And as soon as the soldiers assembled the cross and laid it on the ground, Pionius laid himself on it and stretched out his arms, calling to the soldiers to put the nails into his hands. The cross was inserted into the ground upside down, and a fire lit under the martyr's head. There were many bystanders. Pionius closed his eyes and prayed to God within himself. The flames could not succeed in igniting even his hair, and when the fire had at last gone out and everyone thought that he was dead, Pionius opened his eyes and cried out joyfully: 'O Lord, receive my spirit!', and breathed his last. This saint wrote the life of St Polycarp of Smyrna, together with whom he now makes merry in the Kingdom of Christ. He suffered and was glorified in 250.
3. Our Holy Father George the Sinaite.
Abbot of Mount Sinai, he was a great ascetic and a righteous man. On Easter night an angel of God carried him to Jerusalem for the service, and took him back the same day to Sinai. He entered peacefully into rest in the 6th century.
"No good works are accomplished by our efforts alone but by the power and will of God. Nevertheless, God demands effort on our part in conforming to His will." These are the words of Saints Barsanuphius and John. Few words but much said. We are obliged to labor, to cultivate and to prepare every good thing, and if some good will take root, grow and bring forth fruit, that is up to the power and will of God. We plow the furrows and God sows, if He wills it. We cleanse the vessels of the Spirit and God pours the Spirit into these vessels, if He wills it. He can do anything if He wills it. And He will do everything that responds to the highest wisdom and suitability, that is, to His plan of man's salvation. In interpreting the words of our Lord, "So be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves" (St. Matthew 10:16), St. John Chrysostom writes that our Lord gave this commandment to His disciples that "they themselves should cooperate in some way, so that it will not to appear that all effort is of Grace alone and for them not to think that they received the wreaths of glory for nothing." And so, both of them are indispensable for our salvation: our effort and the power of God's Grace.
To contemplate the Lord at judgment before Caiaphas:
- How the High Priest of the Jews detains our Lord in his home surrounded by men almost as wretched as he himself;
- How Peter, sitting outside in the courtyard by the fire and how before the servants, denies our Lord Jesus three times;
- How even today, it happens that some Christians, out of fear of the world, deny the Lord in this manner: How they also purport not to be Christians; that they are not familiar with the commandments of the Lord and are not concerned about the Lord.
About the second coming of Christ
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, He will sit upon His glorious throne" (St. Matthew 25:31).
This is how our Lord spoke just before His most horrible humiliations, before being bound, before being spat upon, before being slapped, and before being ridiculed prior to His crucifixion. In His most darkest hour, He speaks about His most vivid and most glorious hour. Before His most terrible and miserable departure from this world, He speaks about His second coming in His glory. At first, He came from the cave in Bethlehem, humble and unseen, and the second time, He will come on the clouds of His angels. The first time as though He sprouted out of the earth, and the second time He will appear from the heavens. The first time He stood and knelt on the ground, and the second time He will be sitting on His throne of Glory.
When He comes again on His throne of Glory, He will not be unseen by anyone. No one will ask, as did the wise men [the Magi] before his first coming,
"Where is the King?" (St. Matthew 2:2). At this time, everyone will see the King and recognize Him as the King. But this vision and recognition will be for some, their joy and for some, their fear and terror. Just think of the joy of those who have fulfilled His commandments, those who have prayed in His Name, those who have performed good works and especially those who have suffered for His Name! Just think of the fear and terror of all those who have spat on Him, struck Him and crucified Him in Jerusalem.
O, Merciful Lord, forgive all of us who call upon Your Name and who because of our weaknesses, sin against You; forgive us before that great marvelous hour when You begin to appear in Your glory with all Your holy angels.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK