Prologue from Ochrid - May 4 [May 17]
1. The Holy Martyr Pelagia of Tarsus.
Born in the town of Tarsus of pagan but noble and wealthy parents, she heard about Christ and the salvation of the soul from Christians, became inflamed with love for the Saviour and was a Christian in her soul. There was at that time a terrible persecution of Christians. It happened that the Emperor Diocletian himself stopped in Tarsus and that, during the time of his stay in the town, his son, the heir, fell deeply in love with Pelagia and wanted to make her his wife. Pelagia replied through her mother - a wicked woman - that she was already promised to her betrothed husband, Christ the Lord. Fleeing from the foul heir and her wicked mother, Pelagia sought and found Bishop Linus, a man renowned for his holiness. He instructed her in the Faith and baptised her. Then Pelagia gave away her luxurious clothing and great wealth, returned home and confessed to her mother that she was already baptised. Hearing of this, the Emperor's son, losing all hope of getting this holy maiden as his wife, ran himself through with a sword and died. Then the wicked mother denounced her daughter to the Emperor and she was taken for trial. The Emperor marvelled at the girl's beauty and, forgetting his son, burned with an impure passion for her. But when Pelagia remained unfaltering in her faith, the Emperor condemned her to be burned in a metal ox heated by fire. When they stripped the martyr, she signed herself with the sign of the Cross and, with prayers of thanksgiving to God on her lips, went into the ox, where, in the twinkling of an eye, she melted like wax. She suffered with honour in 287. Bishop Linus hunted for the remains of her bones and buried them on a hill under a stone. In the time of the Emperor Constantine Copronymos (741-775), a beautiful church was built on that site in honour of this holy virgin and martyr Pelagia, who was sacrificed for Christ to reign eternally with Him.
2. The Hieromartyr Silvanus, Bishop of Gaza.
He was at first in military service, but later, urged by the strength of his faith, he transferred to spiritual service. Accused of bringing many pagans to Christianity, he was at first brutally tortured then beheaded with forty other soldiers in 31 1, and thus became a citizen of heaven.
3. Our Holy Father Nicephorus the Hesychast.
He was at first a Catholic, but then became Orthodox. He lived in asceticism on the Holy Mountain as a monk, with the wise Theoleptus. He was a teacher of the famous Gregory Palamas, and wrote a work on mental prayer. He went peacefully to the Lord in the 14th century. He taught: 'Gather your mind and compel it to enter into your heart and remain there. When your mind is firmly in your heart, it must not remain empty, but must incessantly make the prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!" And it must never fall silent. Through this the whole string of the virtues: love, joy, peace and the others, will make their abode in you, by which, then, every request of yours to God will be fulfilled.
A young and inexperienced man in spiritual combat underlines his every good work by self-praise. But the experienced soldier in the midst of struggles with passions and demons minimizes his every deed and intensifies his prayer for God's help. Abba Matoes used to say: "The closer a man is to God, the more sinful he sees himself to be." He also was known to say: "When I was young, I thought perhaps that I was doing some good; and now when I am old, I see that I do not have any good deed." Did not our Lord say: "No one is good but One, that is God" (St. Matthew 19:17). Therefore, if only the one God is good and the source of all good, how can a good deed be done that is not from God? And, how can someone who does a good deed ascribe it to himself and not to God? If this is so, with what then can mortal man be praised? By nothing, except with God and the goodness of God!
To contemplate the ascended Lord Jesus:
- How, by His ascension, He manifested His Divine Nature and His Divine Might;
- How, by His ascension into heaven, He manifests to man that there exists a better, more loftier world and life: a heavenly world and heavenly life.
About idolatry as adultery
"Judah as did Israel defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and with wood" (Jeremiah 3:9).
What sort of adultery was that which the people of Israel and Judah committed with stones and wood? It was the worshipping of idols of stone and of wood. Before this sin, they committed another sin; they turned away from worshipping the True God, the Living God and the One God. Why is their idolatry called adultery? Because, they were first bound by love for the True God, the Living God, and the One God and afterwards they betrayed this love and gave up their heart to strange idols of stone and wood. That is why the Lord calls their idolatry, adultery.
Was this reproach of God deserved only in ancient times and not in our own time; and only by Israel and Judah and not by Christians? Unfortunately, this reproach of God is completely deserving even today by many Christians. In whomever love toward the True God, the Living God and the One God has cooled off, and a lesser love enflamed toward things of stone and wood, toward decaying things and mortal creatures, that one commits adultery and that one brings down upon himself the reproach of God. Then, that reproach of God is appropriate today as it was then, for men sinned then without knowing Christ and now men sin knowing Christ.
O brethren, how long will this darkened idolatry be dragged over the earth? How long will the earth reek from the adultery of mankind with their idols of stone and wood, of silver and gold, of flesh and blood? Did not the Almighty Christ destroy all idols into dust and ashes? Why do some now stoop down and again make gods for themselves from that dust? Because of the devil's lies and their own individual self-deception.
O ascended Lord into the highest heavens, protect us from the lies of the devil and our own self-deception. Safeguard us from shameful adultery with destroyed idols by Your honorable Cross. Help us O Lord, help us that we, without ceasing, worship You the only True God, the Living God and the One God.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK