Prologue from Ochrid - October 9 [October 22]
I. The Holy Apostle James.
The son of Alphaeus and one of the twelve Great Apostles, he was the brother of the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew. He was a witness of the true words and miracles of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and a witness of His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. After the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, it fell to the lot of the Apostle James to preach Christ's Gospel in Eleutheropolis and the surrounding area, and then in Egypt, where he suffered for his Saviour. With great power both in word and act, James spread abroad the saving news of the incarnate Word of God, rooting out idol worship, driving demons out of men, healing all manner of sickness and disease in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. His labours and his zeal were crowned with great success. Many pagans came to belief in Christ the Lord, churches were founded and set in order and priests and bishops were made. He suffered in Egypt in the town of Ostracina, being crucified by the pagans. Thus this great and wonderful apostle of Christ went to the heavenly Kingdom, to reign forever with the King of glory.
2. Our Holy Father Andronicus and his wife Athanasia.
A citizen of Antioch in the time of Theodosius the Great (379-95), Andronicus was a goldsmith by profession. Both he and his wife were very devout, striving without ceasing to walk in the ways of the Lord. They gave a third of what they earned to the poor, another third to the Church and kept the last for their own use. When they had had two children, they agreed to live in future as brother and sister. Then, by God's unfathomable providence, both their children died on the same day. They grieved deeply until the martyr Julian appeared to Athanasia by their grave and comforted her with the tidings that their children were in the Kingdom of God, and that they were better off there than with their parents on earth. After this, they left everything and went to Egypt, there receiving the monastic habit: Andronicus with the elder, Daniel, at Scetis and Athanasia in a women's monastery in Tabennisi. Being pleasing to God by many years of asceticism, they entered into the eternal Kingdom of Christ: first Athanasia and then, eight days later, Andronicus.
3. Holy and Righteous Abraham and Lot.
Read about them in the Book of Genesis.
4. St Dimitrios, Patriarch of Alexandria.
The eleventh Bishop of Alexandria after St Mark the Evangelist, he governed his flock long and wisely from 189 to 231. During his time, at the request of the Indians, he sent St Pantaenus, the director of a famous catechetical school in Alexandria, to preach the Gospel in India. Pantaenus found in India the Gospel that St Matthew wrote in Aramaic.
5. St Stephen, Despot of Serbia.
Son of the Despot George and Queen Irene, he lived for a time with his sister Mara at the court of Sultan Murat II and was blinded at Jedrene together with his brother Grgur. He began to reign over the Serbs in 1458, but was forced almost at once to flee to Albania, where he married Angelina, the daughter of Skenderbeg. Blind and unhappy, but utterly given to God, he died in Italy in 1468. His relics are preserved in the monastery of Krusedol, the foundation of his son Maxim.
How God both punishes and shows mercy is clearly shown to us from the lives of the last of the Serbian Despots during the Turkish conquest of the Serbian lands. The Turks did not come to the Balkans by their own power to enslave Christian peoples (Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbs) but by God's permission, in the same way that Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and took the Hebrews into slavery, not by his own power but rather by God's permission. Because of the sins of their princes and nobles, the Serbian people suffered bitterly; and the princes and nobles themselves suffered even more bitterly. Despot George died as an exile; two of his sons, Grgur and Stefan, were blinded by the Turks; his daughter was forced to become the wife of a sultan; his middle son rose up against his own mother, Irene, and brother Grgur, and seized the shaky throne of Smederevo by force, only to die soon thereafter. As soon as he became despot, the blind Stefan had to flee to Albania, then to Italy where, as an exile and an unfortunate, he reposed. All of this is God's punishment. Yet where is His mercy? God glorified both Stefan and his wife Angelina and their children Maxim and John. After eight years of lying in the grave, Stefan's body was exhumed and found to be intact, and exuded a sweet, heavenly fragrance. Many miracles were manifested from his holy relics. God graced his wife and his children in the same manner, glorifying and sanctifying them.
Contemplate the wondrous bringing down of fire from heaven by the Prophet Elias (I Kings 18):
- How St. Elias prayed to God on Mount Carmel in the presence of King Ahab and the idolatrous priests;
- How the fire fell from heaven and consumed the sacrifice that Elias offered to God.
On how only the foolish deny God
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt. They have done abominable works (Psalm 14:1).
The mind is the rudder of man's entire being. It counsels, persuades and guides. Both the soul and the body act according to the mind. If the mind is upright before God, then the whole man is upright. If the mind is iniquitous before God, the whole man is iniquitous. Even if someone merely thinks, "There is no God," the thought immediately manifests itself in his deeds. Evil thoughts come first and evil deeds inevitably follow. Do you see how well the inspired prophet knows the nature of man? First, he underlines the cause, then he cites the consequences. Evil deeds necessarily proceed from evil thoughts. That is why, brethren, you should not believe those who say: "I do not believe in God, but I do good deeds." First of all, he who does not believe in God does not know what good is, nor can he differentiate good from evil. By his disbelief, a man cuts himself off from the greatest Good and the Source of every good! Furthermore, let us carefully study this: you will see that all the deeds of the ungodly are corrupt and hateful. They are corrupt because they are evil, worthless and transitory; they are hateful, because they are contrary to the will of the Living God. The godless cannot distinguish good from evil, for only in the light of God's law can one determine precisely what is good and what is evil. However, it can also be that those who merely say they believe in God do corrupt and hateful deeds, acknowledging God with their lips but denying Him in deeds. It is good to confess God with your lips, but that is a long way from being enough! One must also acknowledge Him with the heart, and confirm one's faith by good deeds. Even so, it does happen that a man believes in his heart, and confesses with his lips, and still sins. This happens either from the weakness of the will or from the devil's arrows. Let such a one repent, and he will be forgiven immediately. Repentance is salvific even for the godless; how much more so for a believer? As long as a man is on earth, he has a chance for repentance. But who can be certain that his time will extend beyond this night? Hence, delaying repentance is utter foolishness.
O most gracious Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God; help us to repent as Thou dost help us to breathe.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK