Prologue from Ochrid - April 22 [May 5]
1. Our Holy Father Theodore the Sykeote.
His birthplace was the village of Sykeon in Galatia, because of which he was named 'the Sykeote'. While still a ten-year-old boy, Theodore gave himself to strict fasting and night-long vigils under the eye of an elder, Stephen, who lived in his house. His mother, Maria, was a rich widow and intended her son to devote himself to a soldier's calling. But St George appeared to her in her sleep and told her that Theodore was destined for the service, not of an earthly king, but of the King of heaven. St George also appeared to Theodore many times, either to instruct him or to save him from some danger in which the evil demons had placed him. He also had several visions of the most holy Mother of God. Theodore's asceticism exceeded in its severity the asceticism of all the other ascetics of his time. He tormented his body in hunger and thirst and iron girdles and standing all night in prayer. All this - only to link his soul in love to God and to achieve total mastery over his body. The merciful Lord's love responded to Theodore's love. He gave him great power over evil spirits and over all the ills and pains of men. He became known on all sides as a miraculous healer. For his great purity and devotion, he was chosen against his wishes as Bishop of Anastasioupolis. He spent eleven years in episcopal service, and then begged God to release him from this service in order to devote himself again to his beloved asceticism. After that, he returned to his monastery, where, in old age, he gave his soul to the Lord for whose sake he had undergone so much voluntary suffering. He died at the beginning of the reign of the Emperor Heraclius, in about 613.
2. The Holy Martyr Leonidas.
The father of Origen, he suffered for Christ in Alexandria in 202. First, by imperial decree, all his goods were confiscated and then he was condemned to death. Origen wrote to his father in prison: 'Father, do not worry about us, and do not flee from martyrdom on our account.'
3. Our Holy Father, the Monk Vitalis.
In the time of Patriarch John the Merciful a young monk appeared, who, as soon as he arrived, compiled a list of all the prostitutes in Alexandria. His way of asceticism was exceptional and singular. During the day he hired himself out for the heaviest work, and at night he went into the brothels, gave the money he had earned to some prostitute and shut himself in her room with her for the whole night. As soon as he had shut the door, Vitalis begged the woman to lie down and sleep, while he spent the entire night in a corner of the room in prayer to God for that sinner. So he kept the sinner from sinning even for one night. The second night he would go to another, the third to another, and so on in order until he had gone through them all, then he went back to the one with whom he had started. By his counsel, many of these sinners left their foul calling; some married, others went to a monastery and others began some honest work for payment. All these women were forbidden by Vitalis to say why he came to them. As a result, he became a scandal to the whole of Alexandria. People reviled him in the streets, spat on him and buffeted him. But he bore it all patiently, revealing his good works to the Lord but concealing them from men. When he died, all became known about him. There began to be many miraculous hearings over his grave; people came from various places, bringing their sick to it. Spat on by men, he was and is glorified by the all-seeing God.
At the time of the First Ecumenical Council [Nicaea, 325 A.D.], the quarreling clerics wrote accusations one against the other and presented them to the emperor. Emperor Constantine received all of these accusations and not opening them, burned them over a flaming candle. To the amazement of those around him, the emperor said: "If I would see with my own eyes a bishop, a priest or a monk in a sinful act, I would cover him with my cloak, so that no one would ever see his sin." Thus, this great Christian emperor embarrassed the scandalmongers and sealed their mouths. Our Faith prohibits us to be spies of the sins of others and stresses that we be merciless judges of our own sins. The sick person in the hospital is concerned with his own particular malady so that he has neither the will nor the time to question others who are ill or to mock their illness. Are we not all in this world as patients in a hospital? Does not our own common sense underline that we look at our own illness and not at another's illness? Let no one think that they will be cured of their illness in the other world. This world is merely a hospital and a place for healing and, in that world, there is no hospital; there is only a mansion or only a prison.
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How by His resurrection, He justified the faith and hope of mankind in immortality;
- How by His resurrection, He destroyed the fear of death in the faithful.
About the power of God in the weakness of men
"For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).
There are no contradictions in Holy Scripture and even in these words there are no contradictions even though they sound like it. The physical is governed by sound and the spiritual by thought. For physical man, there are contradictions everywhere for he is afraid of obstacles and flees from a shadow if this shadow seems to be an obstacle for him. The spiritual man is like a knight who likes to overcome obstacles. For the spiritual man, hidden in these words of Scripture, is the entire teaching about salvation.
"For when I am weak, then I am strong." That is, when I am cognizant of my nothingness and the omnipotence of God, then I am strong. When I know that I, of myself alone, cannot do any good neither for myself nor for others and when I totally entrust myself in the power and mercy of God, then I am strong. When I sense that I am as a drowning person in this world and that I am not in the position to grab on to the extended hand of God, to hold on to it by my own strength, rather cry out to God that He with His hand grab hold of my hand and pull me out of the depths of sinful abyss, then I am strong. When I see that I am weak and that I am a hollow reed amidst the tempest of winds and floods; a reed which God is able to fill with His Almighty Grace and when I pray with faith for God's Grace, then I am strong.
O, my weak brethren, let us entrust ourselves to the power of God that we, in our nothingness, may be strong. Relying on man you are weak but relying on God you are strong. Adhere to God and all the power of God will be with you. Confess your weaknesses before God and God will send you His All-powerful Grace. This is confirmed for you by the apostle through his example and through his experience: "For when I am weak, then I am strong." In truth there is no contradiction in the Holy Scripture. Physical man speaks about contradiction in terms of the sound of the word, but spiritual man enters into the meaning and shatters the illusion of contradiction through experience.
O resurrected Lord, have mercy on our weakness and fill us with Your Omnipotent Grace.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK