Prologue from Ochrid - September 27 [October 10]
1. The Holy Martyr Callistratus.
Born in Carthage, he was a Christian from his birth, as his father and grandfather were. One of his forbears, Neochorus, served as a soldier in Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate at the time of the Passion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Seeing the many miracles that were wrought at the time of Christ's death, Neochorus came to believe in Him, and was taught the Faith and baptised by the apostles. Returning home, Neochorus took his Christian faith to his own people, like a precious pearl. So, in time, St Callistratus was born, baptised and brought up a Christian. When he went into the army, there was no other Christian in his regiment. One of his companions, seeing holy Callistratus get up at night and pray to God, reported him to the commander, Persentinus, as a Christian - and Persentinus was a harsh torturer of Christians. When he was convinced that Callistratus was indeed a Christian, the commander ordered him to offer sacrifice to idols, which Callistratus immediately refused to do. Then Callistratus was harshly beaten and thrown into the sea, but God's power preserved him, and he emerged from the sea unharmed. Seeing Callistratus's endurance and his miracles, forty-nine soldiers came to believe in Christ the Lord, and they were beaten and thrown into prison along with him. In prison, St Callistratus instructed his companions in the Faith and encouraged them. They showed great courage in suffering, and the Lord showed great power through them. The wicked torturer sent soldiers to the prison at night, and they slew Callistratus and the other forty-nine. They suffered for the truth in 304, and a church was later built over their relics.
2. The Holy Apostles Mark, Aristarchus and Zenas.
They were of the Seventy. St Mark was also called John. The apostles gathered together for prayer at the house of his mother, Mary, in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12). He preached the Gospel with the Apostles Paul and Barnabas, and was after that bishop in Byblos. St Aristarclius, a companion of the Apostle Paul on his travels (Acts 16:29), was Bishop in Syrian Apamea. St Zenas, spoken of as a lawyer by the Apostle Paul (Titus 3:13), was bishop in Palestinian Lydda. They shone like stars in the darkness of paganism and brought many to the Christian faith, and now they shine like stars in the Kingdom of Christ their Beloved.
3. The Holy New Martyr Aquilina.
From the village of Zaklivera in the diocese of Jedrene, she was a girl of eighteen. Her father embraced Islam and put pressure on his daughter to do the same, but her mother inclined her to the Christian faith. After much torture, all wounded and bloodied, she breathed her last in her mother's arms and received the wreath of martyrdom on September 27th, 1764.
4. Our Holy Father Sabbatius of Solovetz.
Sabbatius is commemorated together with St Zossima on April 17th. He entered into rest in the Lord on September 27th, 1435.
All our riches, glory and honor are as a brief repast that ends at death. No one takes a single crumb of this meal into the other world. Blessed is the one who understands that the soul is his only possession that is not diminished by anything, not even by death. Such a one thinks only of three realities: death, the soul, and God the Judge. Abba Evagrius teaches: "Hold your approaching death and the Judgment constantly in your mind, and you will preserve your soul from sin." All our bodily cares in this life are like cares about a meal which must soon be cut short. St. Isaiah the Solitary says: "Have death before your eyes every day: think constantly about how you will separate from the body, how you will pass through the region of the powers of darkness who will meet you in the air, and how you will present yourself before God. Prepare yourself for the Dread Day of answering to the Judgment of God, as though you already behold it now." One day, John, a rich merchant, came to St. Sabbatius of Solovki and brought him many alms. Sabbatius did not accept any of it, but rather told the donor to distribute all of it to the needy. John became very sad at this, and the saint, in order to comfort him and make everything clear to him said: "John, my son, stay here and rest until tomorrow, and then you will see the grace of God." John obeyed. The next day, John entered the cell of Sabbatius and saw the elder in final repose, and sensed a wonderful fragrance in the cell. He who foresees the end of his life does not think of worldly goods.
Contemplate the righteousness of King Uzziah, and God's reward (II Chronicles 26):
- How the king did that which is right in the sight of the Lord;
- How, as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper.
On Christ's last prayer for the faithful
That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee (John 17:21).
Brethren, God's mercy is great. When a righteous man feels it, he weeps; but when a sinner feels it, he is ashamed. By the mercy of God, we are cleansed, illumined, saved, adopted and united with God Himself. However, no one should construe that, by this unity with God, we become of the same Essence with God and equal to God. We will never be of one Essence with God, nor equal to God, in the way in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of one Essence and equal in being. That they all may be one the Savior says to His Father on behalf of His disciples, as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, and here He is thinking of the unity of love and not of the unity of nature. From love flows mutual obedience, mutual help, mutual mercy, meekness, humility, goodness, good will and sacrifice. And when the Lord says, Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48), He does not mean that men can be equal to God, but means to show them the supreme example of perfection in every good thing. For many teachers of men have pointed to examples of perfection in some thing or some person, but not in God. Often enough, they have taught men evil, and pointed to it as an example of perfection. That is why the Lord teaches men to take the Heavenly Father as an example of every perfection, and to labor and strive for that true perfection, and not some other. By the grace of God, we are all adopted of God and become one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). However, we do not become gods; we do not become equal with the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Do not forget that it is said in the Scriptures: The heavens are not clean in His sight (Job 15:15). The majestic powers of the heavens are not even equal to Him, so what then of man? However, by the grace of God, and because of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, the faithful are raised up into unity with God, in love and spirit. Therefore, let us make an effort to do the will of God, that we in truth may be raised up to such majestic heights.
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, Who art the God of every mercy and goodness; uphold us in Thy mercy to the end, and be not angry with us, but rather forgive us.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK