Prologue from Ochrid - November 12 [November 25]
1. St John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria.
Born on the island of Cyprus of a princely family, his father, Epiphanius, being the governor, he was brought up from childhood as a true Christian. Under pressure from his parents, he married and had children. But, by the providence of God, both his wife and children went from this world to the next. Famed for his compassion and devotion, John was chosen as Patriarch of Alexandria in the time of the Emperor Heraclius. He governed the Church in Alexandria for ten years as a true pastor, guarding it from pagans and heretics, and was a model of meekness, compassion and love for his fellow-men. 'If you seek nobility', he said, 'seek it not in blood but in virtue, for in virtue lies true nobility.' All the saints are distinguished by compassion, but St John was utterly dedicated to this great virtue. Celebrating the Liturgy one day, the words of Christ: 'If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember that thy brother hath aught against thee ...' (Matt. 5:23), came into the Patriarch's mind, and he remembered that one of the clergy in the church there had a grudge against him. He left the holy gifts, went up to the priest, fell before his feet and begged his forgiveness. As soon as he had made his peace with that man, he returned to the Table of Preparation. Another time, on the way to the Church of Ss Cyrus and John, it happened that he was met by a poor widow, who started speaking to him of her poverty. The Patriarch's companions were bored by the woman's lengthy lamenting, and urged the bishop to hurry to the church for the service, and listen to the woman when it was over. St John replied: 'And how will' God obey me, if I don't obey Him?', and he would not move from the spot until he had heard the widow out.
When the Persians invaded Egypt, Patriarch John took ship to flee from the assault. He fell ill on the voyage and, arriving in Cyprus, died at his birthplace in 620, entering into the immortal kingdom of his Lord. His wonderworking relics were first taken to Constantinople, then to Budapest and finally came to rest in Presburg.
2. The Holy Prophet Ahijah, from Siloam.
He prophesied a thousand years before Christ, and foretold to Jeroboam, Solomon's servant, that he would reign over ten of the tribes of Israel (I Kings 11:29).
3. Our Holy Father Nilus of Sinai.
He was at first a prefect in the capital, Constantinople. A married man, he had a son and a daughter. Seeing the vice-ridden life of the capital, he and his wife agreed to withdraw from the world. This they did. His wife and daughter went to a women's monastery in Egypt, and Nilus and his son Theodulus went to Mount Sinai. St Nilus lived for sixty years in asceticism on Sinai, writing beautiful books on the spiritual life. He entered peacefully into rest in about 450, at the age of eighty, and went to the blessed life of heaven. These holy words are his: 'Physical passions have their origin in physical desires, and, against them, restraint is necessary; but spiritual passions originate in spiritual desires, and against them prayer is required.'
4. Our Holy Father Nilus, the Outpourer of Myrrh.
He was born in the Morea. As a hieromonk, he went with his uncle to the Holy Mountain, and lived as a solitary in a barren place called 'the Holy Rocks'. When he entered into rest, myrrh flowed from his body in such abundance that it ran from the top of the hill right down to the sea. This wonderworking myrrh drew the sick from all sides. One of his disciples was disturbed by the press of visitors, and complained in his prayers to his spiritual father, and the flow of he instant. St Nilus lived in asceticism utterly in the spirit of the early fathers. He entered into rest in the seventeenth century.
Their time of death and the necessity of preparation for it was revealed beforehand to many holy men and women. This is a great gift from heaven, but as we do not expect this gift, we unworthy ones need daily repentance to prepare for our departure. One can flee from men, but never from God. When St. John the Merciful fled Egypt from the Persians, a gloriously radiant man with a golden sceptre in his hand appeared to him on the boat and said: "The King of kings is calling you to Himself." John understood these words and began to prepare for his repose, which came soon. The holy King Stefan of Deèani's beloved St. Nicholas often appeared to him, and did so before Stefan's repose, saying: "Stefan, prepare for your departure, for soon you will appear before the Lord." Both saints were very similar in their compassion. Despite the immeasurable wealth that St. John had at his disposal as Patriarch of Alexandria, he personally had only one-third of a dinar at his repose, and he willed even that to the poor. When St. Stefan of Deèani was in the Monastery of the Pantocrator in Constantinople, a generous Serbian nobleman secretly sent him a substantial sum of money. "I give thanks to the good gentleman for his love," replied Stefan to the bearer, "but he would give me greater joy if he would distribute this money, intended for me, to the poor."
Contemplate the courage of the Apostle Paul (Acts 28):
- How he sat in chains for two years in Rome;
- How he freely preached the Gospel to the pagans and Jews, not fearing anyone;
- How neither chains nor prison nor death could turn him away from preaching the Gospel.
On how strangers become members of the household
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19).
Before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, it seemed that only the Jews were close to God and that the pagans were farther away from God. But as a matter of fact, the Jews and the pagans were equally estranged from God, and from true reverence for Him. Then He came, Christ the Savior, and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh (Ephesians 2:17) and by that, brought both Jews and pagans by one Spirit unto the Father (Ephesians 2:18). In the new creation, or the new man, or the Church of God, the Spirit is one; and everyone who enters the Church of God receives this Spirit, so that no matter how much the Church increases in members, there always remains the one Spirit of God; and no matter how many nations or tribes or races enter the Church of God, the Spirit does not change, but remains forever and ever, one and the same Spirit. That is why pagans are not strangers and foreigners in the Church, but are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, as are all other members of the Church. For the Church is founded on holiness, and her cornerstone is the Saint above saints, and according to the plan, all of her members should be holy. All those who lived before Christ but expected Christ and hoped in Him, as well as those who lived after Christ, and who recognized Christ as Lord, Son of God, Savior, Redeemer, Resurrector and Judge, are also called saints. Sin separates and alienates from God, but through the Lord Jesus Christ, division and alienation have vanished, and all the faithful-whether former Jews or pagans-became members of the household of God, by and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
O my brethren, the Lord Jesus Christ gave us something greater and more precious than this life: He gave us peace and friendship with God, and this is greater and more precious than life in alienation from God.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of Peace and Giver of Peace, sustain us to the end in peace with God.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK