Prologue from Ochrid - April 25 [May 8]
1. The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark.
Mark was a companion and helper of the Apostle Peter in his journeys. Peter, in his first Epistle, calls him his son, not after the flesh but after the spirit (I Pet. 5:13). When Mark was with Peter in Rome, the faithful begged him to write down for them the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus, His miracles and His life. So Mark wrote his Gospel, which the Apostle Peter himself saw and testified to as true. Mark was chosen by the Apostle Peter to be bishop, and sent to Egypt to preach. And so Mark was the first preacher of the Gospel and the first bishop in Egypt. Egypt was oppressed by a thick darkness of paganism, idolatry, divination and malice. But, with the help of God, St Mark succeeded in sowing the seed of the knowledge of God in Libya, Ammonicia and Pentapolis. From Pentapolis, he went to Alexandria, whither the Spirit of God led him. In Alexandria, he succeeded in establishing the Church of God, in giving her bishops, priests and deacons and in rooting everything firmly in faithfulness and devotion. Mark confirmed his preaching with many great miracles. When the pagans brought accusations against Mark as a destroyer of their idolatrous faith, and when the governor of the city began to search for Mark, he fled again to Pentapolis, where he continued his earlier work. After two years, Mark again returned to Alexandria, to the great joy of his faithful, whose number had already increased very greatly. The pagans took the opportunity to seize Mark, and they bound him firmly and began to drag him over the cobblestones, crying: 'We're taking the ox to the stall!' They threw him into prison all injured and bloodstained, where there appeared to him first an angel from heaven, who encouraged and strengthened him, and then the Lord Himself. Jesus said to him: 'Peace to thee, Mark My Evangelist!', to which Mark replied: 'And peace to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ!' On the next day, the wicked people hauled Mark from prison and again dragged him through the streets with the same cry: 'We're taking the ox to the stall!' Utterly spent and enfeebled, Mark said: 'Into Thy hands, 0 Lord, I commend my spirit', and thus breathed his last and went to the better world. His holy relics were given burial by Christians, and through the ages they gave healing to people from every pain and ill.
2. St Aninanus, Second Bishop of Alexandria.
When St Mark stepped from the boat onto dry land in Alexandria, one of his shoes was torn, and he took it to a cobbler. While the cobbler was sewing it, he drove the awl through his left hand and the blood began to flow, the man screaming with the pain. Then the Apostle of God mixed dust with his spittle and anointed the injured hand, and it at once became whole and healthy. The cobbler marvelled at this miracle, and invited Mark to his house. Hearing Mark's preaching, Anianus, for that was his name, was baptised, he and his whole household. Anianus showed such devotion and zeal for the work of God that St Mark consecrated him bishop, and this holy man was the second Bishop of Alexandria.
The devil quickly finds work for idle hands and an angel quickly finds work for diligent hands. In this world of constant movement and constant change man, whether he wants to or not, must always be busy, be it either good works or evil works. The idle man, actually is not lazy. He is a diligent worker of the devil. An idle body and an idle soul is the most suitable field for the devil's plowing and sowing. St. Anthony the Great said: "The body needs to be subdued and immersed in prolonged labors." St. Ephrem the Syrian teaches: "Teach yourself to work, so that you will not have to learn to beg." All of the other Holy Fathers, without exception, speak about the necessity of work for the salvation of the soul of man. The apostles and all the saints give to us an example of continuous and concentrated spiritual and physical labor. That the idle man, by his idleness, does not extend his life on earth but shortens it, is clearly shown by the longevity of many saints, the greatest laborers among the laborers in the world.
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How His resurrection incites us and strengthens us for every good work; physical and spiritual;
- How His resurrection enlightens our every good work with the light of hope in the Living God, Who counts our works, measures them and preserves them for the Day of Judgment.
About the apostles' love for labors
"Nor did we eat food received free from everyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked so as not to burden any of you" (2 Thessalonians 3:8).
First fulfill then teach. All the apostles and all of the saints of God adhered to this rule. Thus, the Apostle Paul, even before he spoke the command: "If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10), declares for himself and for his assistants in preaching that they did not eat anyone's bread for free, rather by effort and labor earned their bread. "Night and day we worked!" Behold the true laborers! Behold the honey-bearing bees of Christ! Daily and nightly toil: where is their time for sin? Daily and nightly toil: where is their room for sin? Daily and nightly toil: where can the devil weave his nest of passions? Daily and nightly toil: where is their cause for scandal?
In certain Egyptian and Palestinian monasteries, there lived about ten thousand monks. They all lived off the labor of their hands: from weaving beehives, baskets, door mats and from other types of handiwork. Daily and nightly toil and daily and nightly prayer. When a monk sold his beehives in town for a higher price than the price which the abbot designated, for that, the monk experienced punishment. For the ascetics it was not a matter of enrichment but only for the most essential nourishment and the simplest clothing. In this, the ascetics were and are the true followers of the great apostle.
O, my brethren, let us flee from slothfulness [idleness] as from a cave of wild beasts. If by some chance we fall into a cave of wild beasts, let us quickly flee from it, before the wild beasts totally seal off the entrance. The cave is the dwelling place where the slothful man seeks rest. The wild beasts are evil spirits who, in such a dwelling place, feel more at home there than near their king in Hades. O Lord, Who are wonderful in all the works of Your creation, awaken us from slothfulness and encourage us to nightly and daily labor by Your encouraging Holy Spirit.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK