Prologue from Ochrid - April 27 [May 10]
1. The Holy Apostle Simeon.
One of the Seventy, he was the son of Cleopas, and Cleopas was the brother of Joseph, the betrothed of the most holy Mother of God. Seeing the miracles of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Simeon was converted and included among the Seventy apostles. With great zeal and courage, he preached the Gospel everywhere in Judo. And when the wicked Jews killed James, the Lord's brother and first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem, throwing him down from the top of the Temple and belabouring him round the head with a stick, then this Simeon, Joseph's nephew, was installed as bishop in Jerusalem. He, as the second Bishop of the Holy City, governed the Church of God with wisdom and strength to a great age. He was more than a hundred years old when he suffered, and his sufferings came about as follows: in the time of the Emperor Trajan there was a double persecution begun in Palestine, against the descendants of David and against the Christians. The wicked people condemned Simeon on both counts. St Simeon endured harsh torture and was finally crucified, as had been the Lord whom he had faithfully served on earth.
2. Our Holy Father Stephen, Bishop of Vladimir.
A disciple of St Theodosius of the Kiev Caves, Stephen was at one time abbot of the Monastery of the Caves and laboured greatly in the regulation and Organisation of the monastic life and in the beautifying of the churches. But the enemy inflamed an evil monk against him, and he was not only removed from the abbacy but driven from the monastery. But God, who does not leave the righteous long under the humiliation of the unrighteous, so guided the life of blessed Stephen that he was chosen as Bishop of Vladimir. As God's hierarch, Stephen guided the Church to old age and departed this life in the Lord peacefully in 1094.
3. The Burning of the Relics of St Sava, Archbishop of Serbia.
The body of - St Sava was buried at Mileseva. In the time of the Turkish occupation, the Serbian people gathered together round the relics of their Saint, to seek support and healing. Fearing that a rebellion against the Turks might be stirred up in that place, Sinan Pasha of Belgrade commanded that St Sava's relics be brought to Belgrade and burned there at Vracar. This was done on April 27th, 1594. But, with the burning of the saint's relics, the wicked Pasha did not burn the saint, who remains alive before the throne of God in heaven and in the hearts of his people on earth.
4. Our Holy Father John the Confessor.
He was the abbot of the community 'of the Pure' (the Catharoi). This community was founded near Nicaea during the reign of Justin, in the 6th century. For his veneration of icons during a ban on such veneration, John suffered much at the hands of the Emperors Leo and Theophilus, and died under their persecution in about 832.
The True Faith must be persecuted in this world. The Savior Himself said this clearly and openly to His apostles. St. Apollinaris of Hierapolis in writing against the Montanist heretics says: " Let them tell us before God who, out of all their prophets, beginning with Montanus and his wives, was persecuted by the Jews and killed by the ungodly? No one. Who, from among them was taken away for of the Name of Christ and was crucified on the cross? Again, no one. Have any one of the women ever been flogged or stoned in the Jewish synagogues? Nowhere and never." However, the Orthodox saint wants to say, that the True Faith must be persecuted in this world. Heresies are generally closer to the worldly and demonic spirit, which is why the world and the demon do not persecute their own. To be constantly persecuted, with brief intervals in between, is a characteristic of the Faith and of the Orthodox Church. This persecution existed throughout all of history, either from without or within; externally from unbelievers and internally from heretics.
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How He commands that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His Name;
- How He commands His disciples to await the Father's promise of the power of the Holy Spirit from on high.
About the persecution of the pious
"It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts of the Apostles 14:22).
"In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12).
The Lord Jesus prophesied this and by His example He proved it. The apostles also said this and by their examples they proved it. All the God-bearing Fathers of the Church, confessors and martyrs said this and they proved this by their example. Therefore, is there any need to doubt that, through a narrow door, one enters the kingdom of God? Should we hesitate for a moment that, "it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God?" No, there is no basis nor justification for doubt. Can sheep live among the wolves and not be attacked by them? Can a candle burn in the midst of cross winds and not sway back and forth? Can a good fruit-bearing tree grow along side the road and not be disturbed by passersby? Thus, the Church of pious souls cannot but be persecuted and be persecuted by heathens, by idolaters, by heretics, by apostates, from passions and vices, from sin and transgressions, from the world and by demons. So it is that not one devout soul can remain without persecution, be it externally or internally, until it is separated from the body and the world. Someone might oppose this and prove it otherwise according to his calculation and according to his logic. But, in this case, neither the mind nor the logic of one man is of any avail. Thousands who were crucified speak otherwise, thousands burned alive cry out otherwise, thousands who were beheaded prove otherwise and thousands who were drowned witness otherwise. O my brethren, the Christian Faith is mighty not only when it agrees with sensory reasoning and sensory logic but when, and especially when, it contradicts sensory reasoning and sensory logic.
Those who want to live a godly-life will be persecuted. This the apostle prophesied at the beginning of the Christian era and twenty Christian centuries render a multi-voiced echo to confirm the truth of the prophecy.
O resurrected Lord, grant us light that we may be pious to the end and give us the strength to endure persecution to the end.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK