Prologue from Ochrid - May 12 [May 25]
1. St Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus.
He was born a Jew, but, seeing the power of the Christian faith, was baptised together with his sister, Callithrope. He became a monk at the age of twenty-six, in the monastery of St Hilarion. He later founded a monastery of his own, and became famed throughout Palestine and Egypt for his asceticism, his spiritual wisdom and the wonders he worked. Fleeing the praise of men, he went off to Egypt. On the way, he met Paphnutius the Great, who prophesied that he would be a hierarch on the island of Cyprus. And indeed, many years later, by God's providence, Epiphanius came to Cyprus, where he was unexpectedly chosen as bishop. He became bishop of the town of Salamis at the age of fifty, and governed the Church of God for thirty-six years. In all, he lived nearly ninety years on this earth, and entered into rest from this life to live eternally in the Kingdom of Christ. Before his death, he was invited to Constantinople by the Emperor Arcadius and his wife, Eudoxia, for the Council of Bishops which was forced, at the desire of the Emperor and Empress, to condemn St John Chrysostom. Arriving in Constantinople, he came to the Emperor's court, where the Emperor and Empress talked with him at great length, endeavouring to make him declare against Chrysostom. The citizens and Chrysostom heard that Epiphanius had agreed with the Emperor against him. Chrysostom therefore wrote him a letter: 'My brother Epiphanius, I hear that you have advised the Emperor that I should be banished: know that you will never again see your episcopal throne.' To this, Epiphanius wrote in return: 'John, my suffering brother, withstand insults, but know that you will not reach the place to which you are exiled.' And these two prophecies of the two saints soon came about. Refusing to agree with the Emperor on the exile of Chrysostom, Epiphanius took ship and set off for Cyprus,. but died on the voyage. The Emperor sent Chrysostom into exile in Armenia, but the saint died on the road. Saint Epiphanius entered into rest in the year 403. Of his many writings the best-known is his 'Medicine Chest', in Greek, in which he explains and refutes eight heresies.
2. St Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople.
He was the son of the head of the imperial senate, who was killed by the Emperor Constantine Pogonatus. This same wicked Emperor castrated the senator's son, this Germanus, and drove him by force into a monastery . As a monk, Germanus shone like a star by his life of good works. Because of this, he was chosen first as Bishop of Cyzicus and then, when Anastasius 11 became Emperor in 715, as Patriarch of Constantinople. As Patriarch, he baptised the infamous Copronymos who, at the time of his baptism, fouled the water with filth, and the Patriarch prophesied that, when he became Emperor, he would bring some foul heresy into the Church. And this came to pass. When Copronymos became Emperor, he restored the iconoclast heresy. Leo 11 the Isaurian, Copronymos's father, began the persecution of icons and, when Patriarch Germanus opposed him, the furious Leo cried: 'I am Emperor and priest!', then deposed Germanus from his throne and sent him into exile to a monastery, where the saint spent ten further years until God called him to Himself in the Kingdom of heaven, in 740.
3. The Holy Martyr Pancras.
He came from Phrygia to Rome, where, as a boy of fourteen, he was martyred for Christ in 304. This saint is much revered in the West. There is a church in Rome dedicated to his name, and his holy relics are preserved there.
Saint Clement of Alexandria tells of a horrible custom among the barbarians. He says that when they capture their enemy, they tie him alive to the corpse of a dead man, and leave them both alone that the living and dead decay together. If only it could be said: "Thank God, that this barbarian custom is past!" In essence, it has not passed, rather, it reigns today in full force. Everyone who ties their living spirit to the flesh deadened by barbarian passions is the same as the one who ties a living man to a corpse and leaves them both to decay.
To contemplate the action of the Holy Spirit on the apostles:
- How from fishers of fish, He makes them fishermen of men for the kingdom of God;
- How from shepherds of the irrational flock, He makes them shepherds of the rational flock.
About how men, in prosperity do not listen to the law of God
"I spoke to you in your prosperity; but you said: `I will not hear' " (Jeremiah 22:21).
The Lord of Hosts raised this complaint against Jehoiakim, the king of Judah and against the people of Judea. Are not these words in effect even today when they are spoken in the face of our people and almost, with few exceptions, to every one of us individually? When we feel ourselves prosperous, we leave God in the shadows and we render His words to oblivion; but as soon as misfortune encompasses us with its dark wings, we turn to God and cry out to Him for help. In misfortune, the commandments of God seem to us as sweet as honey but in prosperity, they seem as bitter as medicine. Is not then misfortune better than prosperity? Is not misfortune more salvific in which we seek God, than prosperity in which we forget God?
"O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord!" (Jeremiah 22:29), cries out the true prophet of God. Man is the earth; the word of the Lord is life planted into that earth. Will the earth prefer to remain without the living crops and be cursed or will it nurse the crops entrusted to it and be blessed? O how ugly is the bare ravine and the barren field and how beautiful is the cultivated field covered with rich crops! O man, you are the one and the other field. Choose: death or life! Not one-householder values the field at all if it does not bear any kind of crop on it. Will God then be less intelligent than an ordinary householder and give some value to the field that fails to bear fruit from every seed that is sown on it?
What will become of man who, in his prosperity, does not listen to the words of God? "And he shall be buried with the burial of an ass" (Jeremiah 22:19). Thus spoke the prophet to King Jehoiakim and his word was realized. When the Chaldeans captured Jerusalem, they killed Jehoiakim. They dragged his body beyond the gates of the city and left it to the dogs. And that which happens to the asses, so it was with the unheeding king. O man, O earth! Hear in time the word of the Lord that the anger of the Householder does not pour out on you as on a barren field and that your end not be as the end of an ass.
O Long-suffering Lord, save us from the stoniness of heart and darkness of mind; from those two bitter diseases, the miserable consequences of those hours of life which men call prosperous. Save and have mercy on us, the Lord of Hosts!
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK