Prologue from Ochrid - April 18 [May 1]
1. Our Holy Father John.
He was a disciple of St Gregory of Decapolis. In the time of the iconoclast heresy, the Emperor Leo the Armenian put John to torture, together with his teacher, Gregory, and Joseph the Hymnographer. When Gregory finished his earthly course, John became abbot of the Decapolite monastery in Constantinople. Becoming abbot, he intensified his asceticism for the sake of the Kingdom of God. He died peacefully in about 820. After his death, St Joseph buried him near the grave of St Gregory.
2. The Holy Martyr John the New of Ioannina.
He was born in Ioannina, the ancient capital of King Pyrrhus. When his poor parents died, the young John went to Constantinople and there continued his trade, for he was a craftsman. The Turks had occupied Constantinople not long before this, and many Christians had, out of fear, denied Christ and accepted Islam. St John had his workshop right in the midst of these men who had become Turks. The more inflamed St John became with love for Christ, the more outwardly apparent this became to these apostates. He began to dispute with them about the Faith, and to reprimand them for their betrayal of Christ. They dragged him before the judge and falsely accused him of having earlier accepted Islam and having returned to Christianity. For this he was tortured - beaten and flogged with iron flails - and then cast into prison. On the second day, which was Easter Day, they brought him out for further torture, and John emerged full of joy and singing: 'Christ is risen from the dead!' He spoke courageously to his torturers, saying: 'Do what you will to me, and send me as quickly as possible from this transient life into life eternal. I am Christ's servant; I follow Christ, and I die for Christ that I may live with Him!' After that, John was bound in chains and taken to the place of burning. Seeing the great flames prepared for him, John ran forward and leapt into them. But his torturers, seeing how he sought death in the fire, pulled him out of it and sentenced him to be beheaded. When they had cut off his head, they threw it and his body into the fire. Later, Christians gathered the ashes and some of his precious and wonderworking relics and buried them in the Great Church in Constantinople. Thus he died a martyr's death and received the glorious wreath of martyrdom on April 18th, 1526.
3. The Holy Martyrs Victor, Zoticus, Zeno, Acyndius and Severian.
They were all martyred under the Emperor Diocletian. They were pagans until they witnessed the martyrdom of St George the Great Martyr. Then, seeing the sufferings and courage of this glorious martyr and the many miracles that were wrought at that time, they embraced the Christian faith. For this Faith they soon suffered, and were crowned with glory.
In one of the writings of the martyrdom of Christians during the reign of the Persian Emperor Sapor, it is said: "The swords became dull, the sword-bearers fell and the sword-makers fatigued, but the Cross is uplifted even higher and glistened from the blood of Christ's martyrs." How many and how many times did the persecutors of Christians complacently think that they were through with Christianity forever? In essence, their lives have ended while Christianity has always regenerated itself and blossomed anew. Nevertheless, even in addition to that experience, some of our contemporaries think, that the Christian Faith can be uprooted by force. But, they do not say by what means. They forget that all those means have been tried and all without success. With reason Tertullian cried out to the pagans: "In vain do you spill our blood. For the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity."
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How His resurrection brought unspeakable joy to those who loved Him;
- How His resurrection brought unspeakable bitterness to those who hated Him;
- How His last coming [Second Advent] into the world in glory and power will provoke among various people, various feelings; either joy or bitterness.
About the testimony of reliable witnesses
"But we have been eyewitnesses of His mighty glory" (2 Peter 1:16).
When the apostles speak about the glorious resurrection of the Lord, they speak in plurality. For each one of them gives his testimony and the testimony of other companions. Thus, the Apostle Peter writes: "We do not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty " (2 Peter 1:16).
Nathaniel did not want to believe only by hearing. That is why the Apostle Philip invited Nathaniel to "Come and see!" (St. John 1:46). Nathaniel came, saw and believed. So it was with the other apostles, until they approached Christ, until they heard, and until they saw, they did not want to believe. Cleverly devised myths did not attract the apostles. Their healthy natural thoughts sought visual facts and not myths.
O my brethren, our Faith is well established and proved. The trail of God is well blazoned in the world. No one has need to doubt. Christ's resurrection is well witnessed. No one need to despair. Doubt and despair are two worms that are born of fly larva of sin. He who does not sin, clearly sees the blazoned trail of God in the world and clearly recognizes the resurrection of Christ.
O resurrected Lord, strengthen us by the power of Your Holy Spirit so that we sin no more and that we do not become blinded to Your trail in the world and to Your glorious resurrection.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK