Prologue from Ochrid - October 1 [October 14]
1. The Protecting Veil of the Most Holy Mother of God.
The Church has always glorified the most holy Mother of God as the Protectress and Defender of the Christian people, entreating, by her intercession, God's loving-kindness towards us sinners. The Mother of God's aid has been clearly shown times without number, both to individuals and to peoples, both in peace and in war, both in monastic deserts and in crowded cities. The event that the Church commemorates and celebrates today proves this constant protection of the Christian people by the Mother of God. On October 1st, 911, in the time of the Emperor Leo the Wise (or the Philosopher), there was an all-night vigil at the Blachemae church of the Mother of God in Constantinople. The church was crowded. St Andrew the Fool for Christ was standing at the back of the church with his disciple Epiphanius. At four o'clock in the morning, the most holy Mother of God appeared above the people with a veil spread over her outstretched hands, as though to protect them with this covering. She was clad in gold-encrusted purple and shone with an unspeakable radiance, surrounded by apostles, saints, martyrs and virgins. Seeing this vision, St Andrew gestured towards it and asked Epiphanius: "Do you see how the Queen and Lady of all is praying for the whole world?" Epiphanius replied: "Yes, Father; I see it and stand in dread." As a result, this commemoration was instituted to remind us both of this event and of the Mother of God's constant protection whenever we prayerfully seek that protection, that shelter, in distress.
2. The Holy Apostle Ananias.
One of the Seventy, he was bishop in Damascus. In response to a vision from God, he baptised Saul, the future Apostle Paul (Acts 9), and courageously preached the Gospel in the face of all persecution, for which he was stoned to death in the city of Eleutheropolis. His holy relics were taken to Damascus, and later to Constantinople.
3. Our Holy Father Romanus the Melodist.
Born in the Syrian town of Emesa, he served as a verger first in Beirut and then in Constantinople at the cathedral, in the time of Patriarch Euphemius (490-96). Illiterate and with no musical training, he was despised by certain educated clergy. St Romanus prayed weeping to the Mother of God, and she appeared to him in a dream, held a piece of paper out to him and told him to swallow it. The following day was Christmas Day, and Romanus went up to the ambo and, with an angelic voice, sang: 'Today the Virgin which has come down to us as the Kontakion of the Feast. All marvelled at the words of the hymn and at the singer's voice. Receiving thus the gift of song from the Mother of God, Romanus composed more than a thousand kontakia. He died as a deacon of the Great Church in Constantinople in 530, and went to join the angelic choir.
4. Our Holy Father John Kukuzelis.
A Slav from Dyrrachium, he was taken as a young man to the School of Music in Constantinople, where he became a popular singer at the imperial court. Feafing the flattery and praise of men, he fled to the Holy Mountain and presented himself at the Great Lavra as a shepherd. As shepherd and monk, he lived in rare asceticism, and the Mother of God appeared to him twice. He entered into rest in the twelfth century.
5. Our Holy Father Gregory.
A monk of the Great Lavra in the fourteenth century.
The Most-holy Theotokos has often appeared to holy men in need: sometimes to encourage them in asceticism, or to heal them from sickness, or to reveal a certain mystery to them. Two similar, wonderful events took place in the Great Lavra on the Holy Mountain. In Great Lent, during the chanting of the Great Akathist, St. John Koukouzelis was tired and sat down, facing the icon of the Theotokos. As he sat, he fell asleep. Just then, the Holy Most-pure One appeared to him in heavenly light and said: "Rejoice, O John! Chant and do not stop chanting, and for this I will not abandon you." With this, she placed a gold coin in John's hand. When he awoke from sleep, the gold coin was still in his hand. After this, many wonderful miracles were worked from the icon of the Theotokos, as well as from the gold coin.
The second incident involved St. Gregory the monk, who, like John Koukouzelis, was a church cantor. Patriarch Kallistos had established that in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, "All Creation Rejoices in Thee" be sung in place of "It Is Truly Meet." His successor, Patriarch Philotheus, rescinded this, reinstating "It Is Truly Meet" because of its brevity. But then, on the eve of the Theophany, and in the presence of Patriarch Gregory of Alexandria, St. Gregory sang "All Creation Rejoices in Thee" instead. Immediately after this, the Holy Most-pure One appeared to him, and, as she had done to John Koukouzelis, placed a gold coin in his hand. She said: "I am very grateful for your singing in my honor." Because of this, it was instituted that all Liturgies of St. Basil would thereafter include "All Creation Rejoices in Thee."
Contemplate the injustice of King Ahaz and God's punishments of him (II Chronicles 28):
- How, throughout his life, Ahaz did that which was evil before the Lord;
- How he set up idols in every corner of Jerusalem and throughout the entire land, and worshiped them;
- How he waged many wars and was defeated in them all; his land was laid waste; a hundred thousand of his people were slain; and just as many were taken into bondage.
On the blessed man
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful (Psalm 1:1)
Brethren, most blessed is he who is not so hardened by sin that he can hear and fulfill this counsel of God that has come through the prophet. The ungodly are those who, in every way, think contrary to God and His will. The sinners are those who walk the path of their own desires, and their thoughts are contrary to the will of God and His law. The scornful are those who destroy themselves and others by their evil deeds. The danger is this: first comes the ungodly counsel (either from wicked men or from sinful thoughts); then the actual committing of sin; then the unrepentant sinner becomes a scandalous example of evil to others. Therefore, blessed is the man who neither heeds the counsel of ungodly men or thoughts, but finds sufficient counsel for his salvation in the Law of God. Blessed is the man who has not even once walked in the way of sinners, or, if he has walked on that path, he has repented and returned to the path of life that is the Lord's. Blessed is the man who has not sat in the presence of the scorner of innocent souls who, by his seductive example, corrupts such souls. For it is said of the corrupter: It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6).
O my brethren, blessed be all of you, men and women, who cautiously avoid these three evils: ungodly thoughts and counsels, sinful deeds, and the corrupting of others. These three evils are like one poisonous serpent that grows from a small snake into a giant serpent.
O Blessed Lord our Creator, help us by Thy power and Thy goodness, that we may be saved from the cruel serpent that Thou, O Lord Christ, didst defeat by the weapon of Thine invincible and honorable Cross. Help us to hearken only to Thy counsel, that we may walk only on Thy path, and shine by Thine example.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK