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Prologue from Ochrid - October 13 [October 26]

1. The Holy Martyrs Carpus and Papylus.

Carpus was Bishop of Thyateira and Papylus was a deacon. They were born in Pergamum, where they finally suffered for the Christian faith at the hands of the wicked governor, Valerius, in Decius' reign. Valerius bound them behind horses and dragged them off to Sardis, where he put them to harsh torture; but an angel of God appeared to them, healed them of their wounds and strengthened them. Carpus's servant, Agathodorus, followed his master with great sorrow until he also was taken for torture. After that, Valerius again bound them behind horses and dragged them from Sardis to Pergamum. When holy Carpus was tied to a tree and so terribly flogged that his whole body was laid open and his blood streamed down onto the ground, he smiled in the midst of these tortures. When they asked him why he smiled, the holy martyr replied that he saw the heavens open and the Lord sitting on his throne, surrounded by cherubim and seraphim. At the time of Papylus's martyrdom, this holy martyr healed a man, blind in one eye, by his prayers. Many, seeing this, came to believe in Christ the Lord. Thrown before wild beasts, the martyrs remained unhurt. When they were thrown into a fiery furnace, Agathonica, Papylus' sister, saw this and leapt into the flames. But the flames did not burn them. Finally, they were all beheaded with the sword in 251. Thus, after great spiritual endeavour, they received the wreath of glory in the Kingdom of Christ.

2. The Hieromartyr Benjamin the Deacon.

This soldier of Christ was a Persian, and, zealously preaching the Gospel, brought many pagans, both Persians and Greeks, to the Christian faith. He suffered in the time of the Persian King Yezdegeherd, in about 412. When he was thrown into prison, one of the king's nobles pleaded for him to the king. The king was willing to let him go free, on condition that he kept silent and spoke no more to the people about Christ. To this, Benjamin replied: 'I cannot possibly do that. Those who hide the talent they have received will be given over to greater suffering', and he continued to spread the Christian faith. The king then ordered that thorns be driven under his nails, and had him tortured until he gave his soul into God's hands.

3. The Holy Martyr Zlata of Meglin.

Born in the village of Slatina in the Meglin region, of poor peasants who had three other daughters, St Zlata was a meek and devout girl, wise with Christ's wisdom and golden ('zlata' means 'gold') not only in name but also in her God-fearing heart. When Zlata went out one day to get water, some shameless Turks seized her and carried her off to their house. When one of them urged her to embrace Islam and become his wife, Zlata answered fearlessly: 'I believe in Christ, and know Him alone as my bridegroom; I shall never deny Him even if you put me to a thousand tortures and cut me into pieces.' Her parents and sisters then arrived, and said to her: 'O our daughter, have mercy on yourself and us. Deny Christ publicly, that we can all be happy. Christ is merciful; He will forgive your sin, committed under the pressure of life.' Her poor parents and kinsfolk wept bitterly. But Zlata's heroic soul would not be overcome by devilish seduction. She replied to her parents: 'When you urge me to deny Christ, the true God, you are no longer parents or sisters to me; I have the Lord Jesus Christ as father, the Mother of God as mother and, for brothers and sisters, the saints.' Then the Turks threw her into prison, where she lay for three months, and they took her out every day and flogged her until her blood flowed onto the ground. Finally, they hanged her upside-down and made a fire to choke her to death with the smoke. But God was with Zlata, and gave her strength in her suffering. At the very end, they hanged her from the tree and cut her into pieces. Thus this martyrmaiden gave her soul into God's hands, and entered into the realm of Paradise, in 1796. Pieces of her relics were by the Christians to their homes, that they might bring a blessing to them.

Reflection

There is nothing more wretched than a man who, in the hour of misfortune, abandons hope in God and resorts to a means of salvation contrary to the Law of God. Not only does such a man not succeed in righting his outward situation, but he also loses his soul. Such was the case with Emperor Michael Palaeologus. In order to save his kingdom-threatened by the Bulgars and Serbs-he sought help from the pope, and agreed to an uncanonical union. What did he gain by this? He did not save the kingdom, but did commit numerous evil crimes. Soon after, he died miserably in a military campaign against John Ducas, Prince of Epirus. The Orthodox people were so resentful toward him that his son, Andronicus, dared not bury him publicly, but buried him at night without a funeral or prayer. He was cut off from the Orthodox Church, and he was not received by the Roman Church. Michael Palaeologus died outside the Church of God. Following Michael's death, his widow, the empress, issued the following decree: "My majesty abhors and regards as loathsome this action [the Union] that has recently occurred in the Church and created discord in it…. And, as the Holy Church of God has determined not to sanction any official commemoration of my deceased spouse, our lord and king, because of the aforementioned deed and discord, My Majesty also, submitting all things to the fear of God and obedience to the Holy Church, approve and accept this, the Church's decision, and never will I dare to perform a memorial service for my lord and spouse."

Contemplation

Contemplate the wondrous punishment by which the Apostle Peter punished Ananias (Acts 5):

  1. How Ananias, and then his wife Sapphira, lied and concealed part of the money;
  2. How the Apostle Peter denounced them, and they fell down and died one after the other.

Homily

On the burden of sin and deliverance from sin

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1).

Fear, confusion, weakness, infirmity and darkening of the mind are born of sin. By sin, a man provokes others against himself, confuses his own conscience, attracts demons to himself, and gives them weapons against himself. By sin, a man separates himself from God, estranges himself from his guardian angel, and walls himself off from the source of all good. The committing of sin signifies a declaration of war against God and all godly powers. This is more preposterous than if a withered autumn leaf were to declare war on the wind. And, indeed, the most preposterous thing of all occurs: a man declares war on God! This declaration alone guarantees ruin and destruction for a man if he does not quickly come to himself, repent and flee to God for mercy.

The great King David was well aware of the terrible predicament of the sinner, and he himself experienced it. He felt inexpressible fear, confusion, weakness and loneliness; he felt the arrows of men and the arrows of demons. But, realizing his horrible situation, David acknowledged his sin, prostrated himself in ashes before God, soaked the ground with tears of repentance and words of anguish that burned like fire, and prayed to the merciful God to forgive him. And, when all was forgiven him, he felt inexpressible blessedness. This blessedness of the forgiven soul he could not express in words. He could only declare, confirm and assure us of the condition of sinfulness and the condition of forgiveness from God, based on his direct experience of both conditions: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1). What is this blessing? Freedom, courage, indescribable joy, power, strength, clarity of thought, peace of conscience, hope in God, hymnody to God, love for one's neighbors, and meaning to one's life! In other words: light, joy and strength are the blessing. This is the blessing that one who is forgiven of sin feels here on earth. If this is so, then what is the blessing that awaits him in heaven, that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man (I Corinthians 2:9)?

O Lord our God, forgive us our transgressions by Thine infinite mercy, and cover our sins!

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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