Prologue from Ochrid - February 24 [March 9]
The Finding of the Head of St John the Baptist.
The great and glorious Forerunner was beheaded at the wish and request of the wicked Herodias, wife of Herod. When John had been beheaded, Herodias ordered that his head should not be buried with his body, for she feared that the terrible prophet would somehow rise from the dead. So she took his head and buried it in some hidden and unworthy place, deep in the earth. Her lady-in-waiting was Joanna the wife of Chuza, a courtier of Herod's. This good and God-fearing Joanna could not bear that the head of the godly man should remain in an unworthy place, so she disinterred it secretly, took it to Jerusalem and buried it on the Mount of Olives. Not knowing about all this, King Herod, when he heard about Christ and His great miracles, was afraid and said: 'It is John, whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead!' (Mk. 6:16). After a considerable time, an eminent government official came to believe in Christ, left his position in the world and became a monk. Under the name Innocent, he settled on the Mount of Olives, in precisely the place where the Baptist's head had been buried. Deciding to build himself a cell, he dug deep and found an earthen pot containing a head which, it was revealed to him secretly, was that of the Baptist. He venerated it and re-buried it in the same place. By God's providence, that wonder-working head went from hand to hand, disappearing into the darkness of forgetfulness and then being once more revealed, until it was finally taken to Constantinople in the middle of the 9th century, in the time of Patriarch Ignatius and the God-fearing Empress Theodora, mother of Michael and wife of Theophilus. Many miracles were performed by the head of the Forerunner. It is important and interesting to note that, while he was alive, John did not work a single miracle (Jn. 10:41), but to his relics was given the blessed power of working miracles.
Our Holy Father Erasmus.
A monk of the Caves in Kiev, he inherited great wealth from his parents and spent it all on the beautifying of churches, especially on gold and silver covers for icons. When he had impoverished himself and left himself with nothing, he was despised by everyone. The devil suggested to him that he had squandered his goods in vain in using them for the beautifying of churches instead of giving them to the poor. Erasmus surrendered to this temptation and believed it, as a result of which he came to despise himself, fell into despair and began to live aimlessly and lawlessly. When the time of his death approached, the brothers gathered round him and began to speak of his sins, for he would not consider them for himself. But he suddenly sat up in bed and said: 'My fathers and brethren, you have spoken thus and so, that I am a sinner and unrepentant, but lo, St Antony and St Theodosius have appeared to me, and the most holy Mother of God, and have told me that the Lord has given me further time for repentance.' The Mother of God also said these encouraging words to him: 'The poor you have with you in every place, but my churches you have not.' And he lived three days longer and repented and fell asleep in the Lord. This teaches us that zeal for the Church and for her beautification is a work pleasing to God. St Erasmus entered into rest in 1160.
They are neither our good teachers nor our good friends who do everything for us according to our will. Venerable John Moschus writes about a prominent woman of a senatorial family who visited the Holy Land. Arriving in Caesarea, she decided to remain there and turned to the bishop with this request: "Give me a maiden to teach me the fear of God." The bishop introduced her to a humble virgin. After a period of time, the bishop met that woman and asked her: "How is the virgin to whom I introduced you?" "She is good," replied the woman, "but she is of little benefit to my soul because she is humble allows me to do my own will. For me it is required that she reproach me and not allow me to do whatever I want." The bishop then gave her another girl, of a very coarse character, who began to rebuke the woman, calling her a senseless rich woman and the like. After sometime, the bishop again asked the woman: "And that maiden, how does she conduct herself with you?" "She truly benefits my soul," replied the senator's wife. And so she became very meek. (Excerpt from the Spiritual Meadow by John Moschus)
To contemplate the Lord Jesus as a stumbling block:
- For sinful self-conceit (vanity) i.e., for the perverted mind of mankind which thinks sensually and fleshy and opposes the mind of Christ;
- For sinful self-love i.e., for the perverted heart of man which does not accept in itself neither the love of God nor the love of man;
- For sinful self-will i.e., for the perverted will of man, which, as such, opposes the will of God.
About repentance and the forgiveness of sins
"And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name" (St. Luke 24:47).
This is the final instruction of the Savior to the holy apostles. In these words as in the shell of a walnut, is contained the gospel of reconciliation between God and men. What does God seek from men and what does God give them? He seeks repentance and He grants forgiveness of sins. He seeks little but He gives all. Let men only repent for committed sins and let men cease to sin and men will receive all from God; all; not only all that their hearts could desire rather even more, much more. In truth, to the righteous everything is promised. The righteous will be the inheritors of the Kingdom of God, they will be the sons of God, and they will be the children of light, the children of immorality, companions to the angels, brothers of Christ. The righteous will have an abundant life, an abundance of peace, an abundance of wisdom, an abundance of power and an abundance of joy. The righteous will have all, for all has been promised to them.
Let men only repent and they will receive all. Let the beggar only cleanse himself, bathe himself and clothe himself in purity before the doors of the royal court and he will be immediately ushered into the royal court and he will be met and embraced by the king and he will have all. He will live with the king, sit at the royal table; he will have all, all, all!
O my brethren, these are not only words rather this is the living and holy truth. For we know that many penitents, both female and male, received all of this, which was promised. Many have appeared from the other world and have proved the truth of these words, witnessing how they now live as royal sons and daughters. But they repented promptly; and there remains time for us to repent if we desire to be together with them as the heirs of the kingdom.
O Merciful Lord, help us that we may repent before death in order that we may live eternally.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK