Prologue from Ochrid - November 14 [November 27]
1. The Holy Apostle Philip.
He was born in Bethsaida near the Sea of Galilee, as were Peter and Andrew. Instructed in the Holy Scriptures from his youth, Philip immediately responded to the call of Christ and followed Him (John 1:43). After the descent of the Holy Spirit, Philip preached the Gospel with zeal in many regions of Asia and in Greece, where the Jews sought to kill him but the Lord saved him by the might of His wonders. The Jewish leaders, whose aim it was to kill Philip, were suddenly blinded, and found themselves in total darkness. There was a great earthquake, and the earth opened and swallowed up Philip's wicked persecutors. Many other wonders were wrought, especially the healing of the sick, by which many of the pagans came to faith in Christ. In the Phrygian town of Hierapolis, St Philip worked for the Gospel with John the Theologian, his own sister Mariamna and the Apostle Bartholomew. There was in that place a dangerous snake, which the pagans fed with care and worshipped as a god. God's Apostle destroyed the snake with prayer as though with a spear. This called forth the fury of the benighted people, and the wicked pagans seized Philip and crucified him upside-down on a tree, and then crucified Bartholomew also. At this, the earth opened and swallowed up the judge and many others with him. The terrified people ran to take the crucified apostles down, but they succeeded only in taking Bartholomew down alive; Philip had already breathed his last. Bartholomew made Stachys bishop for those baptised in the city. Stachys had been cured of blindness and baptised by Philip, having been blind for forty years. St Philip's relics were later taken to Rome. This wonderful Apostle suffered in the year 86, in the time of the Emperor Domitian.
2. St Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Salonica.
Gregory's father was an eminent official at the court of the Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus. The gifted Gregory, completing his secular studies, did not want to go into imperial service at court, but withdrew to the Holy Mountain and became a monk, living in asceticism at Vatopedi and the Great Lavra. He waged war against the heretic Barlaam, and finally overcame him. He was consecrated Metropolitan of Salonica in 1347, being glorified both as an ascetic and a theologian, both as a hierarch and a wonderworker. The most holy Mother of God, St John the Theologian, St Dimitrios, St Antony the Great, St John Chrysostom and angels of God all appeared to him at different times. He governed the Church in Salonica for twelve years, of which he spent one year in slavery to the Saracens in Asia. He entered peacefully into rest in 1359, and entered into the Kingdom of Christ. His relics are preserved in Salonica, where there is a beautiful church dedicated to him.
3. St Justinian, Emperor of Byzantium.
A Slav by birth, he was probably a Serb from the Skoplje region. He succeeded his uncle Justin on the throne in 527. Justinian's great kingship is inseparably linked with his deep Orthodox faith: he believed, and lived according to his belief. In the Great Fast, he neither ate bread nor drank wine, but ate only vegetables and drank water. He made war against the barbarians of the Danube only because they castrated their captives. This reveals his high sense of love for his fellow-men. He was successful in both his wars and his deeds, and built a great many beautiful churches, of which by far the finest was St Sophia in Constantinople. He collected and published the Laws of Rome, and himself published strict laws against immorality and licentious behaviour. He composed the hymn: 'O only-begotten Son and Word of God', which was first sung in the Liturgy in 536. He summoned the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553, and died peacefully on November 14th, 565, at the age of eighty, entering into the Kingdom of the heavenly King.
St. Gregory Palamas learned much through heavenly revelations. After he had spent three years in stillness in a cell of the Great Lavra, it was necessary for him to go out among men and benefit them with his accumulated knowledge and experience. God revealed this necessity to him through an extraordinary vision: One day, as though in a light sleep, Gregory saw himself holding a vessel in his hand full to overflowing with milk. Gradually, the milk turned into wine which likewise spilled over the rim, and drenched his hands and garments. Then a radiant youth appeared and said: "Why would you not give others of this wonderful drink that you are wasting so carelessly, or are you not aware that this is the gift of God's grace?" To this Gregory replied: "But if there is no one in our time who feels the need for such a drink, to whom shall I give it?" Then the youth said: "Whether there are some or whether there are none thirsty for such a drink, you are obligated to fulfill your debt and not neglect the gift of God." Gregory interpreted the milk as the common knowledge (of the masses) of moral life and conduct, and the wine as dogmatic teaching.
The second time Gregory secluded himself in a monastery he was writing his Principles of Orthodoxy. On the eve of the Feast of St. Anthony the Great, the monks summoned him to the all-night vigil service, but he remained at his work in the cell while all the brethren went to church. St. Anthony suddenly appeared to him and said: "Perfect stillness is good, but sometimes it is necessary to be with the brethren." Convinced by this revelation, Gregory immediately went into church to the joy of all the monks.
Contemplate the wondrous creation of light (Genesis 1):
- How there was darkness everywhere over the formless earth;
- How God said, Let there be light: and there was light;
- How God separated the light from the darkness, and there was day and there was night.
On Paul, the prisoner
… I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1).
Brethren, this apostle of Christ calls himself the "prisoner of Christ." How is it that an apostle can be a prisoner? Is not a prisoner bound? Yes, and the Apostle is bound-bound by love to the Lord Jesus so strongly that he feels that no comparable bond exists on earth. The Apostle is bound in his mind to the Lord Jesus so strongly that he cannot think of anything except Jesus Christ the Lord. The Apostle is so firmly bound by his will to the Lord Jesus that, in essence, he does not have a will of his own but has submitted his will completely to the Lord Jesus. And so, he loves that which Christ loves, thinks that which Christ thinks, and does that which Christ wills. Is this not imprisonment? O blessed imprisonment, which is not unto shame but glory, and is not unto destruction but salvation! Thus, Christ is the complete Lord of the Apostle's life, both outwardly and inwardly. For outwardly and inwardly, Christ permits him to be tempted; outwardly and inwardly, He reveals to him the wonders of His providence; outwardly and inwardly, He guides him to perfect good for the sake of his salvation, and for the sake of the salvation of many others.
Brethren, let us also commit ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ as did His Apostle, and then we will be in the most secure hands and on the most secure path.
O Lord Jesus Christ, great and wonderful Lord, bind us to Thee, imprison us in Thee forever and ever in both worlds.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK