Prologue from Ochrid - October 22 [November 4]
1. St Abercius, Equal to the Apostles.
In the time of the Emperor Antoninus (138-161), St Abercius was bishop in the city of Hierapolis in Phrygia. The great majority of the town's inhabitants were pagans, and St Abercius governed his little flock with a heart greatly saddened by the great number of pagans and idolaters, and with fervent prayer to God that He would bring them to the true Light. At the time of a rowdy idolatrous festival, Abercius became inflamed with godly zeal and went into the temple, smashing all the idols. When the furious pagans tried to kill him, three young madmen fell down before the man of God, foaming at the mouth and bellowing. The man of God drove the demons out of them, and they were healed and became calm. Seeing this, the fury of the pagans turned to marvelling at Christ's wonderworker, and five hundred of them were immediately baptised. Little by little, everyone in the city of Hierapolis came to believe in Christ and was baptised. The proconsul of the region, Publius, had a blind mother whose sight Abercius restored by prayer, and both Publius and his mother came to faith in Christ, along with many other people. In old age, Abercius was summoned to Rome, where he healed the Emperor's mad daughter. The Lord Christ appeared to His faithful follower several times. People from far and near came to him for help in chronic sickness, and the demons not only feared him but were obedient to his commands. At the order of the Lord Himself, he preached the Gospel throughout Syria and Mesopotamia, and went to his beloved Lord in great old age, in the city of Hierapolis at the end of the second century.
2. Our Holy Father Lot.
A great Egyptian ascetic, he was a contemporary of Arsenius the Great and Agathon. He lived in asceticism in his monastery near a lake not far from the town of Arsinoe, and set many brethren on the way of salvation. His closest friend and adviser was Abba Joseph. Lot once said to Joseph: 'Father, I fast as much as I can, keep to prayer and --silence and pondering, and also force myself to keep from evil thoughts. What more can I do?' Then the elder stood up and raised his hands to heaven, and his ten raised fingers sprang to flame like ten candles. He then replied to Lot: 'If this is your desire, you can become all of flame!' Being pleasing to God and putting many onto the way of salvation, St Lot entered peacefully into rest in the fifth century.
3. Commemoration of the Miraculous Deliverance of Moscow from the Lithuanians with the help of the Most Holy Mother of God.
In the time of Prince Vasilii Ivanovitch, Moscow was occupied by the Lithuanians and Russia was in great despair. Then St Sergius of Radonezh appeared to a captured bishop, Arsenius, and promised him that Moscow would, on the following day, be cleansed of Lithuanians by the power and prayers of the Most Pure. And so it came about. The following day, the Lithuanians fled from the city, and the Russian army entered Moscow. The whole people, with tears of joy, glorified God and His most holy Mother.
As much as the strictness of holy men toward themselves is a cause for amazement, so also is their compassion toward others. They have disinterest for themselves, and concern for others. St. Hilarion the Great, unable to pay his fare to Sicily, offered the owner of the ship his Gospel (which he, in his youth, had copied with his own hands). When he had cured a certain prince of an unclean spirit, the prince wanted to present him with ten liters of gold. The saint would not accept the gold, but showed him barley bread and said: "Those who feed on this kind of bread look upon gold as mud!" When men begged him to pray to God for rain, or to save them from floods or poisonous snakes, St. Hilarion helped them by his prayer. This is how St. Abercius acted as well. Seeing many people in pain and sickness, he knelt in a certain place and prayed to God that He would open up a spring of warm, healing water there, that the infirm might be healed and glorify God. God then opened a spring of warm water on that spot. When Abercius healed the emperor's daughter of insanity, the emperor offered him gold, silver and other gifts, but St. Abercius said: "Riches are not needed for one who considers bread and water a royal meal." Not seeking anything for himself, Abercius nevertheless begged the emperor to do two favors for his flock in Hierapolis: to build a bath over those healing waters, and to give sufficient wheat each year to the poor of Hierapolis. The emperor agreed and did according to the saint's request.
Contemplate the miraculous healing of Aeneas of Lydda (Acts 9):
- How Aeneas had lain paralyzed for eight years;
- How the Apostle Peter healed him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ;
- How Aeneas arose healthy.
On the beauty of Christ above all other beauty
Thou art fairer than the sons of men (Psalm 45:2).
Holy Scripture does not ascribe any particular value to physical beauty, and in general to anything transient. That is why everyone who reads Holy Scripture should take care to be sufficiently attentive and wise to transfer the praise of physical beauty to the soul and to spiritual values. Without a doubt, spiritual beauty gives a wondrous attractiveness to the most unattractive body, just as an ugly soul makes even the most attractive body repulsive. The Prophet David, pouring forth good words (Psalm 45:1), says to his King, the Lord Jesus Christ: Thou art fairer than the sons of men. The Lord Himself created His bodily cloak as He wanted. Had He wanted to appear in the world as the physically fairest of men, He could have done so. But there is nothing in the Gospel to indicate that He drew followers to Himself or influenced men by His appearance. He Himself said: the flesh profiteth nothing (John 6:63). Therefore, it is clear that David was not speaking of the physical beauty of Christ, but of His spiritual, divine beauty. This is clearly seen in the following words of the Psalmist: Grace is poured forth upon thy lips (Psalm 45:2). So it is that the unsurpassed beauty of the Son of God is not in the form and shape of His lips, but rather in the stream of grace that flows from His mouth. Again, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of Christ: He had no form or comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him (Isaiah 53:2-3). Do Isaiah and David agree? Perfectly well. David speaks of Christ's inward beauty, and Isaiah speaks of Christ's external abasement. Isaiah said that He would not be seen as a king or a rich man, but as a servant and sufferer.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou art fairer to us than all men and angels: glory to Thine immortal and unending beauty. O gracious Lord, correct the ugliness of our souls, which are disfigured by sin, we pray Thee.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK