Prologue from Ochrid - October 14 [October 27]
1. Our Holy Mother Petka (Paraskeva).
This glorious saint was of Serbian birth, from the town of Epibata, between Silinaurius and Constantinople. St Petka's parents were wealthy and devout Christians, and had one son, Euthymius, who became a monk during his parents' lifetime and later became Bishop of Madytos. After her parents' death, the maiden Petka, always desirous of the ascetic life for the sake of Christ, left her home and went first to Constantinople and then to the Jordan wilderness, where she lived to old age in asceticism. Who can describe all the labours, the sufferings, the temptations from demons that Petka endured for many years? In her old age, an angel of God appeared to her and said: 'Leave the wilderness and go back to your home.' St Petka obeyed the voice from heaven, left her beloved wilderness and returned to Epibata. She lived a further two years there, still in ceaseless fasting and prayer, and then gave her spirit into God's hands and went to join the company of Paradise. She entered into rest in the eleventh century. Her wonderworking relics were, in the course of time, taken to Constantinople, Trnovo, Constantinople again and Belgrade. They are now in Romania, in the town of Jassy. St Petka's spring is to be found in Belgrade. The waters miraculously heal all the sick who, with faith in God and love for this saint, hasten to ask her aid.
Author's note: In the Greek Synaxarion, there is recorded this miraculous happening with St Petka's help on the island of Chios in 1442: A hieromonk, Ambrose, was celebrating Vespers in the church of St Petka. No-one else was in the church. At the end of the service, rain suddenly began to pour down in torrents with a great roar, and this continued all night. Ambrose was unable to leave the church. Thinking that the island would be completely flooded by the storm, he began to pray to St Petka to save his homeland and soothe God's righteous anger. He had a dream at dawn and saw the church roofless, and, in the heights, a cloud of light within which stood the form of a beautiful woman in prayer to God. After her prayer, she said to the priest: 'Ambrose, don't be afraid; your homeland is saved.' And the rain stopped at once. From that time, the island of Chios has celebrated St Petka's day with great solemnity.
2. The Holy Martyrs Nazarius, Gervasius and Protasius.
Nazarius was born in Rome of a Jewish father and a Christian mother. His mother, Perpetua, was baptised by the Apostle Peter himself. Receiving his mother's faith, Nazarius of his own volition gave himself to the fulfilling of all the Church's precepts. Fearlessly preaching the Gospel, he went to Milan. There he found Gervasius and Protasius in prison, and ministered to them with great love. Discovering this, the local governor ordered that Nazarius be whipped and driven out of the city. His mother appeared to him in a vision and told him that he must go to Gaul (France) and preach the Gospel there, and Nazarius did so. After several years, Nazarius came again to Milan, now with the young Celsus, his disciple, whom he had baptised in Gaul. The brothers Gervasius and Protasius were still in prison, and Anulius the governor soon had Nazarius thrown in with them. Christ's martyrs rejoiced greatly at the providence of God that had brought them together again. The Emperor Nero ordered that Nazarius be killed, and the governor took him and Celsus out of prison and beheaded them. Gervasius and Protasius were also beheaded very soon after that by a General Astacius, who was passing through Milan to wage war against the Moravians. The general heard that these two brothers would not offer sacrifice to idols, and, being afraid that he might lose the war because of this, he ordered that they be beheaded at once. Gervasius and Protasius were twins, the sons of godly parents Vitalius and Valeria, who were also martyred for the Faith. The relics of St Nazarius were taken from a garden outside the city to the Church of the Holy Apostles by St Ambrose, and those of St Gervasius and St Protasius were revealed to him in a strange vision.
Examples of how the saints themselves reveal their hidden relics to men justify the honor rendered to the relics of the saints-not to mention the miraculous action of these relics, which doubly justifies them. For a long, long time, no one could locate the grave of St. Parasceva. Then it happened that a sailor died, and his body was carelessly laid in the proximity of the saint's grave. When the body turned into carrion and began to emit an unbearable stench, a monk who lived nearby summoned the peasants to help him bury the corpse. It happened that they buried him in St. Parasceva's own grave. That night, St. Parasceva appeared in a dream to one of those peasants (George by name) who had buried the corpse. She appeared as a beautiful and exquisitely-adorned queen, surrounded by many glorious soldiers. She said: "George, exhume my relics at once, and lay them in another place; for I can no longer endure the stench from that corpse." Then she told him who she was, and where she was from. The same night a local peasant woman named Euphemia had the same dream. The next day, the peasants began to dig and in fact found the relics of St. Parasceva. They were extraordinarily fragrant, and soon proved to be miracle-working.
Concerning the relics of St. Gervasius and St. Protasius, St. Ambrose relates how their relics were discovered in a similar manner. One night, two handsome youths and an old man appeared to Ambrose, who was awake. He thought that the old man was the Apostle Paul. While the young men remained silent, the old man spoke to Ambrose concerning them, saying that they were Christ's martyrs, and that their relics lay in the very place where Ambrose was praying to God at that time. He went on to say that everything else concerning them would be revealed in a book that Ambrose would find in their grave. The following day, Ambrose recounted his vision and began to dig, and found the relics of both men. From the book that he found he learned that their names were Gervasius and Protasius. In the presence of St. Ambrose, a certain blind man named Severus touched these holy relics and immediately received his sight.
Contemplate the wondrous healings worked by the holy apostles (Acts 5):
- How many signs and miracles were performed through the hands of the apostles;
- How many of the sick were healed just by the shadow of the Apostle Peter.
On how the angels do battle for the righteous
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him and delivers them (Psalm 34:7).
The angel of the Lord will do battle for those who fear God. This has been clearly shown many times, as has been recorded; and it has occurred numberless times that have not been recorded. The Archangel Michael took up arms for Joshua, the Son of Nun. An angel did battle for the righteous King Hezekiah and, in one night, destroyed the army of the Chaldeans. How many times have angels visited the Christian apostles and martyrs of in prison, strengthened them, and caused them to rejoice? The consolation of the righteous one comes from knowing that God is All-seeing, and sees his misfortune; that God is Omnipotent, and has power to save him from misfortune; that God is All-merciful, and will save him from misfortune. God will send His radiant angel to the aid of the righteous. The righteous one will not have to struggle against his tyrant, for the angel of God will do battle in his place. When God's angel takes up arms, what army dares confront him? What empire will wage war against him? In an earlier Psalm, the Prophet David says: No king is saved by the multitude of an army; a mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety (Psalm 33:16-17).
Hence, it does not help at all if the unjust, the worldly, are allies. When God's angel takes up arms-all will burst as a bubble of water. Even when he was king, David remembered how, as a mere shepherd boy, he killed Goliath, a giant who was armed to the teeth, with a slingshot. On many occasions, David sensed the assistance of God's angel. That is why he could with confidence console the oppressed but righteous ones with these words of comfort and strength: the angel of the Lord encamps around all who fear the Lord, and who serve Him, and an angel of God will deliver them.
O my brethren, let us not doubt these words, but carefully consider, on a daily basis, how the angel of God leaves us in sorrow when we sin, and how he hastens to our assistance with joy and unspeakable power when we repent and implore God's mercy.
O Lord God, our Creator, the King of myriads of angels: forgive us, and save us, and protect us by Thy holy angels.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK