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Prologue from Ochrid - September 30 [October 13]

1. St Gregory the Enlightener, Bishop of Armenia.

Gregory was of a noble family, kin to the imperial house of Persia (to King Artaban) and Armenia (King Khosrov). When these two houses made war between themselves, Gregory withdrew to Caesarea in Cappadocia, where he first came into contact with the Christian faith, received baptism and married. He had two sons of this marriage, Rostanes and Aristanes, and dedicated them both to the service of the Church. After his wife's death, he returned to Armenia and entered the service of King Tiridates. Gregory served his king faithfully, and the king loved him, but, when he discovered that Gregory was a Christian, he was greatly enraged and put pressure on him to reject the Christian faith and worship idols. Having no success whatever in this, Tiridates put Gregory to harsh torture and, after cruel torment, threw him into a deep pit filled with every kind of poisonous reptile, meaning thus to kill him. But God, who is all-seeing, preserved Gregory alive in that pit for fourteen whole years. Tiridates continued the persecution of Christians in his kingdom, and attacked a women's monastery of thirty-seven nuns with their abbess, Gaiane. When he had slain them with terrible tortures, Tiridates went mad and was like a monstrous wild boar. A man appeared to the king's sister in a dream and told her that her mad brother would not be restored to sanity until Gregory was taken out of the pit. This being done, Gregory healed and baptised Tiridates. Then Gregory, at the king's desire, became Bishop of Armenia and, with the king's help and, above all, God's help, enlightened the whole of Armenia and the surrounding area with the Christian faith. St Gregory finished his life of great toil in old age, in about 335. In his place, his son Aristanes was consecrated bishop, and he continued his father's work. Aristanes was one of the 318 fathers at the First Ecumenical Council.

2. The Holy Martyrs Gaiane, Rhipsimia and 35 other nuns.

They were all slain by Tiridates for their faith in Christ. Holy Rhipsimia was of rare beauty, and the Emperor Diocletian therefore wanted her-for his wife. This-was the cause of the suffering of all thirty-seven of them. Rhipsimia refused to go to the Emperor, because she was already consecrated to Christ her bridegroom. Then Tiridates began to urge her to go with him, for the king was as though intoxicated by her beauty, but Rhipsimia resisted the pagan king with all her strength, 'and he who was victorious over the princes of the Goths and routed the Persians could not overcome one virgin of Christ'. The furious king put her to harsh torture (her tongue was cut out, her stomach cut open and her entrails spilled out), during which Rhipsimia gave her soul into God's hands. After that, the other nuns were seized and beheaded with the sword. The famous monastery of Echmiazdin, near Erivan. was built over their relics, and became the chief spiritual centre of Armenia for many centuries.

3. St Michael, First Metropolitan of Kiev.

He was sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople to Russia at the request of the great Prince Vladimir, to baptise the pagan people and to establish and organise the Church. St Michael baptised the people in Kiev. Novgorod, Rostov and many other towns and villages, set the Church in order, establishing the episcopate and priesthood, laid the foundations of the monastery of St Michael in Kiev, and sent missionaries to the Bulgars and Tartars, bringing many of them to Christ. This saint accomplished all this and much else in a mere four years. He entered peacefully into rest in 992, and his relics are preserved in the Monastery of the Caves.

Reflection

Marvelous changes occur daily in the destiny of men-in the present, as in times past. Those humiliated for the sake of God's righteousness are raised to great heights, and the blasphemers of the Faith are converted to servants of the Faith. King Tiridates threw St. Gregory into a deep pit. The saint spent fourteen years in that pit, forgotten by the entire world, but not by God. Who among men could have thought that the greatest light of the Armenian people was to be found in the darkness of a pit? And who would have ever thought that the powerful and tyrannical King Tiridates would one day save the life of that same Gregory, whom he had condemned to death, and would help him more than the rest of the whole world could help him? After fourteen years, God revealed Gregory as still alive. Gregory then miraculously healed the insane king. King Tiridates, the unrestrained persecutor of Christ, was baptized and became the greatest zealot for the Christian Faith! It could be said that, with God's help, Gregory and Tiridates were both drawn out of the pit of darkness-Gregory a physical one, and Tiridates a spiritual one. Oh, the infinite wisdom of God in governing the destinies of men! The formerly wild and passionate Tiridates was softened and ennobled so much by repentance and the Christian Faith, that he came to resemble St. Gregory more than his old, unrepentant self.

Contemplation

Contemplate the righteousness of King Jotham and God's reward for him (II Chronicles 27):

  1. How Jotham did that which is right in the sight of the Lord, and cared for the Temple of the Lord;
  2. How God helped him, so that he was successful in war and in peace: in war he conquered, and in peace he enriched and strengthened his people.

Homily

On the Kingdom not of this world

My Kingdom is not of this world(John 18:36).

He who has great wealth also has little wealth. Therefore, let no one think that Christ the Lord does not have royal authority over this world, even though He told Pilate: My Kingdom is not of this world. He who possesses the eternal also rules over the temporal. Here, the Lord speaks of His Eternal Kingdom, independent of time, decay, injustice, illusion and death. It is as if someone were to say: "My wealth is not in paper but rather in gold." If he has gold, can he not afford paper? Is not gold worth more than paper? Therefore, the Lord does not tell Pilate that He is a king, but on the contrary says that He is a higher King than all earthly kings, and that His Kingdom is greater, more powerful and more enduring than all earthly kingdoms. He is indicating His principal Kingdom, upon which all earthly kingdoms depend, in time and in space. My Kingdom is not of this world. This does not mean that He has no power over this world, but on the contrary confirms His awesome power over this world. All His works on earth manifest His unparalleled, lordly power over the world. Tell me, in what other king's presence is the wind quieted and the sea calmed? And have you forgotten His words in Gethsemane? Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53). And just one angel has greater power than all the universe! The Lord of the soul is also the Lord of the body. The Lord of eternity is also the Lord of time. The Lord of the greatest good is also the Lord of the lesser good. Brethren, nothing can escape the power of the Almighty Jesus Christ our Lord, Who by His own will suffered for us, and by His own power rose from the grave.

O Lord Jesus Christ, our Almighty Savior, help us to seek Thy Heavenly Kingdom, and to be eternally with Thee where there is neither sin nor death, but life and joy and peace.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK