Prologue from Ochrid - October 3 [October 16]
1. The Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite.
He is counted among the seventy lesser apostles. This wonderful man was of a noble, pagan family in Athens. Finishing his education in Athens, he went to Egypt to learn more. One day while he was there, the Lord Christ breathed His last on the Cross, and the sun was darkened and it was dark in Egypt for the space of three hours. Then Dionysius cried out: 'Either God the Creator of the world is suffering, or the world is ending.' Returning to Athens, he married a woman called Damaris and had sons by her. He was a member of the highest court in Greece, the Areopagus, and was always thereafter known as the Areopagite. When the Apostle Paul preached the Gospel in Athens, Dionysius was baptised with his whole household (Acts 17:34). Paul consecrated him bishop of Athens (he having left his wife and children and status from love of Christ), and he travelled widely with Paul, coming to know all the other apostles. He went especially to Jerusalem, to see the most holy Mother of God, and wrote of his meeting with her in one of his works, being at the burial of the Most Pure along with the other apostles. When his teacher, St Paul, suffered martyrdom, Dionysius desired to die such a death himself, so he went off to Gaul to preach the Gospel among the barbarians, accompanied by Rusticus, a priest, and a deacon called Eleutherius. They endured much but met with great success. By their labours, many were turned to the Christian faith and Dionysius built a small chapel in Paris* where he celebrated divine service. When he was ninety years old, he was seized and tortured for Christ, together with Rusticus and Eleutherius, until they were all three beheaded with the sword. The severed head of St Dionysius jumped a long way and fell in front of a Christian woman, Catula, who buried it with his body. He suffered in the time of Domitian, in the year 96. He wrote several famous works: on the names of God, on the heavenly and ecclesiastical hierarchies, on mystical theology and on the most holy Mother of God.
*Author's note: Some historians think that Dionysius of Paris was other than St Dionysius the Areopagite.
2. Our Holy Father John the Chozebite, the Egyptian.
He lived in asceticism in the community of Chozeba in the time of the Emperor Justinian. Whenever he served the Liturgy, he saw a heavenly light in the altar. Ananias, an elder, lived the ascetic life not far from him, and the humility of these two saints was wonderful. A man brought his mad son to Ananias, to be healed by his prayers. Ananias sent him to St John, as being greater than he. John could not disobey the elder, but cried out: 'In the name of Jesus Christ, it is Ananias, not I, who commands you to come out of this boy!' And the boy was healed immediately.
3. Our Holy Father Dionysius of the Kiev Caves.
He was a hieromonk and an anchorite. The following occurred at Easter in 1463: he was going round the graves with Cross and censer, to cense the relics and graves of the saints buried there. With overflowing joy in the Resurrection, he cried out on going into the caves: 'My holy fathers and brethren, Christ is risen!' At that, a voice like thunder rose from the tombs: 'He is risen indeed!'
4. St Hesychius the Chorebite.
He was at first careless for his soul's salvation, but he became seriously ill and died, and came back from the dead and was healed. This wrought a profound change in him. He shut himself in a cell on the Holy Mountain and spoke not a single word to anyone for twelve years. Before his death, the monks opened his cell and begged him to give them some instruction. He only said: 'He who ponders on death cannot sin.' From him descended those knows as the `hesychast', who held silence, pondering on God and mental prayer to be chief works of the true monk. They had a skate, known as the Hesychast or Silent, on the Holy Mountain. It is said of Gregory the Theologian that he was hesychast during the great Fast. St Hesychius lived in the sixth century.
A vision of St. Andrew: Walking one day along the streets of Constantinople, St. Andrew saw a large, splendid procession. A rich man had just died, and his funeral procession was majestic. However, when Andrew looked more closely, he saw many black figures capering around the corpse with joy: some laughing like prostitutes, others barking like dogs, others grunting like swine, and others pouring a foul liquid over the body of the deceased. They all mocked the processional chanters, saying: "You are chanting over a dog!" Astonished, Andrew wondered what this man had done in his life. Glancing around, he saw a handsome youth standing by a wall and weeping. "For the sake of the God of heaven and earth, tell me the reason for your weeping!" he said, and the youth replied that he was the guardian angel of the deceased. The dead man had grievously offended God by his sins, and had rejected the counsels of his angel. He had completely given himself over to the black devils. The angel said that that man had been a great and unrepentant sinner: he had been a liar, a despiser of men, a miser, a perjurer and a libertine, who had defiled three hundred souls by his debauchery. He had been honored by the emperor and respected by men, but all in vain. The great funeral retinue was also in vain. Death had caught up with the rich man in his unrepentant state, and the harvest had come to him suddenly.
Contemplate the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians (II Chronicles 32):
- How Sennacherib and his mighty army surrounded the walls of Jerusalem and mocked the God of Israel;
- How Hezekiah and the Prophet Isaiah fervently prayed to God for deliverance;
- How an angel slew 185,000 Assyrians by night; how Sennacherib was slain by his sons; and how Jerusalem was saved.
On fear and joy in God
Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice in Him with trembling (Psalm 2:11).
The prophet of God speaks these words to earthly kings and judges, for they are inclined to pride and lasciviousness born out of the power and riches that are given to them. O you kings and judges-clods of dust beneath the feet of God-do not forget that you are only the servants of God, hirelings from today until tomorrow! Of what does a hireling think, digging in the field all day? About the pay that he will receive in the evening. Of what is the hireling proud? Not of his labor, but rather his pay. In what does the hireling rejoice? In his labor, his sweat, or his pay? Naturally, in his pay. O kings and judges, your service in the field of this life is the labor of a hireling. Therefore, with fear serve your Lord, who hired you: for you know not how your Lord will evaluate your labor in the end, or what pay He will render unto you. Serve with great humility, saying to yourself: We are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10). Whether you will receive a reward or punishment when you go down into the grave and come before the King and Judge is uncertain. Therefore, fear must fill all the days of your service.
Rejoice in Him with trembling. Rejoice with a pure and holy joy, as the angels rejoice in the living and unapproachable God. The joy of Paradise is fragrant with purity and sanctity; but the malicious joy of hades is accompanied by rebellious laughter. Therefore the joy of Paradise is eternal, while the laughter of hades is turned to rage and groans.
Serve with fear, for the Lord is just; rejoice with trembling, for the Lord is exalted and holy. O Lord our God-just and exalted, awesome and holy-all of our life on earth is service to Thee and joy in Thee. If we do not serve Thee, we serve our own destruction; and if we do not rejoice in Thee, we rejoice in our own evil works. We worship Thee and pray Thee to help us, that our service be directed by fear of Thee, and that our joy be purified by our trembling before Thee.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK