Prologue from Ochrid - April 30 [May 13]
1. The Holy Apostle James.
The son of Zebedee and brother of John, he was one of the Twelve. At the call of the Lord Jesus, he left his fishing nets and his father and, together with John, immediately followed Christ. He was one of the three apostles to whom the Lord revealed the greatest mysteries: before whom He was transfigured on Tabor and before whom He was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before His Passion. After receiving the Holy Spirit, he preached the Gospel in various places, going as far as Spain. On his return from Spain, a violent quarrel broke out between the Jews and himself on the Holy Scriptures, and, being unable to withstand him, they hired a magician, Hermogenes. But Hermogenes and Philip his pupil were overcome by the power and truth that James preached, and were baptised. Then the Jews denounced him to Herod, and persuaded one Josias to slander the Apostle. This Josias, seeing James's manly bearing and hearing his clear preaching of the truth, repented and came to faith in Christ. When James was condemned to death, this Josias was also condemned. Mounting the scaffold, Josias begged James's forgiveness for the sin of slander, and James embraced him, kissing him and saying: 'Peace be to thee, and forgiveness.' And they both laid their heads under the sword and were beheaded for the sake of the Lord whom they had loved and served. St James suffered in Jerusalem in the year 45. His body was taken to Spain, where to this day miracles of healing are performed at his tomb.
2. St Donatus.
Bishop of Evria in Albania, he was endowed by God with great gifts of wonderworking, and performed many miracles for the sake of the people. He turned brackish water into sweet, brought rain in a drought, healed the king's daughter of insanity and raised a dead man. This dead man had paid off a debt to some creditor, but the unscrupulous creditor wanted the debt paid a second time, so he used the death of his debtor to come to the widow and demand that the debt be paid immediately. The widow wept and complained to the bishop. St Donatus told the creditor to wait until the man had been buried, then they would talk about the debt. But the creditor angrily demanded his own. Then Donatus went up to the corpse, took hold of it and cried: 'Get up, brother, and see what's up with this creditor of yours!' The corpse got up and, with a terrible gaze, looked at its creditor, telling him when and where it had paid the debt. It also demanded a written receipt from him. The terrified creditor gave the receipt into its hands. The corpse tore it up, then lay down again and died. St Donatus entered peacefully into rest in great old age, and went to the Lord in 387. His relics are still preserved for the help of the faithful in Evria in Albania.
3. The Holy Martyr Argyra.
This new martyr was born in Brussa of devout parents. As soon as she was married to a Christian man, a Turk from the neighbourhood looked on her and invited her to live with him. The Christ-loving Argyra rejected the Turk's foul suggestion, and he was enraged and accused her to the judge of having intended to become a Moslem and afterwards retracted. From trial to trial, from prison to prison, St Argyra spent fifteen whole years suffering for Christ, for she loved Him more than anything in the world. She finally died in prison in Constantinople in 1725.
A devout elder lay on his death bed. His friends gathered around him and mourned him. With that, the elder laughed three times. The monks asked him: "What are you laughing at?" The elder replied: "I laughed the first time, because all of you are afraid of death; the second time, for none of you are prepared for death; the third time, because I am going from labor to rest." Behold, how a righteous man dies! He is not afraid of death. He is prepared for death. He sees, that through death, he passes from the difficult life to eternal rest. When the nature of man imagines itself in its original state in Paradise then, death is unnatural, the same way that sin is unnatural. Death emanated from sin. Repented and cleansed from sin, man does not consider death annihilation, but the gate to life eternal. If, at times, the righteous prayed to God to prolong their earthly life, that was not because of love for this life nor because of the fear of death but solely that they would gain more time for repentance and cleansing from sin in order that they may present themselves before God, more sinless and more pure. Even if they showed fear before death, that was not out of fear of death but the fear of God's judgment. What kind of fear then must the unrepentant sinner have before death?
To contemplate the Ascension of the Lord Jesus:
- How all the gravitational forces on earth were unable to keep down the body of the Lord from ascending;
- How by his ascension, the Lord showed Himself to be above the laws of nature.
About the illumination of Christ
"Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light" (Ephesians 5:14).
Saint Paul the apostle, similar to all the other apostles and Christian saints, whatever he teaches to others, he teaches from his own personal experience. For the Faith of Christ is an experience and proof and not a theory of human sophistry. Even Paul lay as one spiritually dormant and, he was spiritually dead while he opposed the Christian Faith. St. Paul was awakened, arose, resurrected in the spirit and was illumined by Christ. He knows himself from the time when he was spiritually dormant and from the time when he became awakened, and when he arose, and when he was resurrected by the Spirit and when he was illumined by Christ. That which he knows about himself as a Christian, he commends to others. As an apostle, he sees himself in a great light and believes that all other men, if they so desire, can be as bright as he is. The light is not his, but Christ's light. His is only the love for that Light, Who is Christ.
The illumination of Christ is necessary for man in the beginning as well as in the end. For without Christ's illumination man is unable either to awaken, or to arise, or to resurrect from the dead, as afterwards, he is unable to live alone by himself in faith or to die in hope. Christ is needed in the beginning as well as in the end. As to a drowning child the hand of the parent is needed to retrieve him from the water and afterward to lead him on dry land, protecting him and preventing him from drowning again; thus Christ is needed for those drowning in the waters of sin. The apostle himself received the illumination of Christ in the beginning on the road to Damascus and, again, he received it later. The first illumination was his conversion to Christ and the second illumination was the confirmation of himself in Christ. The first illumination we all receive through baptism and later, through faith, and the fulfilling of the commandments of the Lord. All of those who do not possess the illumination of Christ, either they have had it and lost it, are dormant as though dead.
O gentle Lord, awaken us, uplift us, resurrect us, for we cannot do any of these things without You.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK