Prologue from Ochrid - November 9 [November 22]
1. The Holy Martyrs Onesiphorus and Porphyrius.
These two wonderful men were martyred for the name of Christ in the time of the Emperor Diocletian (284-305). They were harshly beaten, and then burned in iron coffins, and after that tied to horses' tails and dragged over stones and thistles. They were thus broken to pieces and gave their holy souls into God's hands. Their relics were buried in Pentapolis.
2. Our Holy Father John the Dwarf (Kolobos).
He is counted among the greatest of the Egyptian ascetics. 'Kolobos' means 'little' or 'dwarf, for he was little of stature. He came to Scetis with his brother Daniel, and, with surpassing zeal, gave himself to asceticism, such that his brother had to urge him to moderation. He was a disciple of St Pambo, and later the teacher of St Arsenius the Great. One of his fellow-disciples with St Pambo was St Paisius the Great. One day, when he was in conversation with St Paisius about what sort of asceticism to adopt, an angel of God appeared to them, and ordered John to stay where he was and gather companions, and Paisius to go into the desert and live as a solitary. To test John's obedience, Pambo ordered him to water a dry stick that he had stuck in the ground until it bore leaves. With no hesitation or doubt, John watered this dry stick for three whole years, from day to day, until, by God's power, it put forth leaves and bore fruit. Then Pambo gathered the fruits from this tree, took them to the church and shared them out among the brethren, saying: 'Come and taste of the fruits of obedience!' John the Dwarf had many disciples, and some of his wise sayings have been preserved. He entered peacefully into rest and the joy of his Lord early in the fifth century.
3. Our Holy Mother Matrona of Constantinople.
She was from Perga in Pamphylia. Quickly finding marriage to Dometian, a Constantinopolitan nobleman, unbearable, she fled, dressed herself in men's clothing and, under the name of Babylas, went to the monastery of St Bassian in Constantinople. As her husband searched for her unremittingly, she was forced to move constantly from place to place: Emesa, Sinai, Jerusalem, Beirut, finally returning to Constantinople. She received the monastic habit at the age of twenty-five, and lived in asceticism for seventy-five years. Living a hundred years in all, she died peacefully as abbess of a monastery in Constantinople, and entered into the joy of her Lord in the year 492.
4. Our Holy Father Euthymius of Docheiariou, and his disciple Neophytus.
They were Serbs by descent and kinsmen of high-ranking aristocrats in Byzantium. Euthymius was a friend of St Athanasius and his steward Laurus, and later founded the monastery of Docheiariou. He entered peacefully into rest in 990. His nephew Neophytus succeeded his uncle as abbot of Docheiariou, increasing the number of brethren and building a great church. He entered into rest at the beginning of the eleventh century.
5. St Simeon Metaphrastes.
A gifted Constantinopolitan, he had both worldly and spiritual learning. He became the Emperor's chief administrator, and the first among the nobles at court. But he lived a life pure and unstained, as a true ascetic. He was distinguished by a rare military courage and diplomatic wisdom, and was for this greatly valued by the Emperor Leo the Wise, who once sent him to Crete to make peace terms with the Arabs, who had at that time seized the island. Succeeding in this mission, he returned to Constantinople and soon withdrew from the world and all secular occupation. He wrote lives of the saints, adding 122 new 'biographies' and correcting 539 others. He entered into rest in about 960, and a fragrant and healing myrrh flowed from his body.
6. Our Holy Mother Theoctista of Paros.
She was born on the island of Lesbos, and became a nun at the age of seventeen. Savage Saracens descended on the island and enslaved all who fell into their hands, including Theoctista and her sister. When the Saracens carried the slaves off to the bazaar on the island of Paros, Theoctista escaped from the crowd and hid herself. She hid in an abandoned church in the middle of the island, where she lived in asceticism for thirty- five years. She entered into rest in 881.
After a long separation from his companion, Paisius John Colobos visited him and entered into a conversation with him. Each one asked the other what kind of virtue each of them had attained. Paisius said: "The sun never saw me eat." However, John Colobos said: "And, it never saw me angry." Instructing the brethren in the Scete, St. John used this story of a repentant human soul: "In one town, there lived a beautiful woman, a prostitute, who had many lovers. A certain prince suggested to this woman that he would take her as his wife if she promised him that she would live honorably and faithfully in marriage. She promised this and the prince took her to his court and married her. Learning of this, her former lovers decided somehow to bring her back to her former ways. However, they dared not face the prince but rather went around the back of the court and began to whistle. The woman heard the whistling and recognized it and quickly stopped her ears and hid in the inner chamber of the court and locked the door behind her. Thus, she was delivered from new temptations." St. John explained this story in the following manner: "the female prostitute is the soul; her lovers, are the passions; the prince is Christ; the inner chamber is the heavenly habitation; the lovers who whistle and entice are the demons. If the soul would constantly turn from its passions and flee to God, then the passions and the demons would be frightened and flee from it.
To contemplate the appearance of an angel to Paul by night in a tempest (Acts of the Apostles 27):
- How an angel of God appeared to Paul by night and said to him, be not afraid for he will be saved, both he and all those with him: "For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying: 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you' " (Acts of the Apostles 27:23-24).
- How Paul related this to the men on the boat and greatly encouraged them: "Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me" (Acts of the Apostles 27:25).
About saving grace
"For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:5,8).
Who can comprehend and acknowledge that we are saved by grace? That we are saved, not by our merits and works but rather by God's grace. Who can comprehend and acknowledge that? Only he can comprehend acknowledge that, who comprehended and who saw, on the one hand, the bottomless pit of death and corruption in which man was hurled by sin and, on the other hand, the height of honor and glory to which man is raised to the heavenly kingdom, in the immortal world, in the house of the living God - only such a one can comprehend and acknowledge that. A child was traveling by night and stumbling and falling from hole to hole, from pit to pit until finally it fell in a very deep pit from which, in no way by itself, it could come out. And, when the child gave itself over to the hands of fate and thought that its end was here, suddenly someone stood over the pit and lowered a long rope to the child and cried out to it to grab and hold firmly on the rope. This was the king's son who took the child, bathed him, clothed him and brought him to his court and placed him alongside himself. Was this child saved by his own deed? Never and by no means. His entire merit was that he grabbed for the end of the rope that was lowered to him and that he held on to the rope.. By what then was the child saved? By the mercy of the king's son. In God's relation toward men, this mercy is called "grace." "By grace you have been saved." The Apostle Paul repeats these words twice in a short span so that the faithful would know and remember them. Brethren, let us know and remember that we are saved through grace by the Lord Jesus Christ. We were in the jaws of death and were given life in the court of our God.
O, Lord Jesus Christ our Savior by You we are saved.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK