Prologue from Ochrid - September 22 [October 5]
1. The Hieromartyr Phocas, Bishop of Sinope.
He exercised himself from his youth in all the Christian virtues. As bishop in his birthplace, the town of Sinope on the shore of the Black Sea, he strengthened the devout in their faith by his divine example and words, and brought many idol-worshippers to the true Faith. The stony-hearted pagans were filled with wrath against holy Phocas, and the Lord foreshowed to him in a vision his death by martyrdom. Phocas saw a shining dove fly down from heaven, carrying in its beak a beautiful wreath of flowers which it laid on his head, and a voice came from the dove: 'My cup is full, and it is for thee to drink it!' From this vision, the man of God learned that he must very soon suffer for Christ. He was not afraid, but, with thanksgiving to God, prepared himself for torture. Soon after this, the Governor, Africanus, took Phocas for interrogation and inflicted harsh tortures upon him: his whole body was beaten black and blue and torn with wounds, and, after imprisonment, he was thrown into boiling water, in which this courageous soldier of Christ finished his earthly course and entered into the joy of his Lord. He suffered in the time of the Emperor Trajan (98-117).
2. The Holy Prophet Jonah.
He lived more than eight hundred years before Christ. It is said that he was the widow's son of Zarephath in Sidon, whom the Prophet Elias raised from the dead. By his three-day sojourn in the belly of the whale, St Jonah foreshadowed the three-day sojourn of Christ in the tomb, and, by his deliverance from the whale's belly, the Lord's Resurrection from the dead. Everything else about this wonderful prophet is there to be read in the Book of Jonah.
3. The Holy Martyr Phocas the Gardener.
A compatriot of the hieromartyr Phocas, he had a garden in Sinope, near the Black Sea, which he cultivated himself. He refreshed all the passersby with the fruits of his garden, not neglecting to entertain their ears with the Word of God. But the governor, who was a persecutor of Christians, heard of him and sent soldiers to kill him. Phocas welcomed the soldiers so warmly that they held back from killing him, but, at his beseeching, carried out their orders and beheaded him. In that place, a church dedicated to him was soon built over his relics. St Phocas is especially venerated by seamen, and is invoked for aid by all who travel by sea. He suffered in 320.
4. Our Holy Father Cosmas of Zographou.
He was of a noble Bulgarian family. When his parents wanted him to marry, he fled to the Holy Mountain. He was a solitary and a wonderworker, living in asceticism in a cave near the monastery of Zographou, and was the greatest ascetic and wonderworker of that monastery. The Mother of God appeared to him several times. The cell in which Cosmas lived in silent asceticism and wrestled with demons remains to this day to the north-west of the monastery. Being gifted with discernment, he could see in the spirit, and described happenings in far-off times and places. He died in old age, on September 22nd, 1323, and, after a life of much toil, entered into the joy of his Lord.
5. St Peter the Merciful.
A man of God of the sixth century (see the passage for consideration below).
6. The Holy Priest Jonah.
The father of St Theophanes the writer of Canons, and of St Theodore the Scribe, he was a wonderworker. He died in the monastery of St Sava the Sanctified in the ninth century.
When a man clearly senses God's mercy toward him, he is startled, as from a dull and senseless dream, and becomes ashamed of his long blindness to God's unceasing compassion. In the time of Emperor Justinian, the chief imperial tax collector in Africa was a certain Peter, a very wealthy but very hard and merciless man. The beggars grumbled among themselves, that not one of them had ever received alms from Peter. Then, one of them bet that he would succeed in getting alms from Peter. He persistently begged alms of the miser until Peter, in a rage, hit him with a loaf of bread, since he had nothing else close at hand. Joyfully the beggar took the bread and fled. Immediately after this Peter became seriously ill and had this vision: He was being interrogated by demons in the other world. There was a scale, and on one side of it, the demons heaped Peter's sins, making that side extremely heavy. On the other side-which was empty-angels stood, sorrowing that they had not even one good deed in Peter's life to help balance the scale. One of them said: "We have nothing to place on the scale except one loaf of bread, with which he struck a beggar the day before yesterday." The angels placed this one loaf of bread on the empty side of the scale, and that loaf of bread outweighed the other side of the scale, laden with all of Peter's sins. When the vision was over Peter said to himself: "Indeed, this was not an apparition but the living truth, for I saw all my sins from my youth. And when I can be helped so much by one loaf of bread that I threw at a beggar, how much help would I receive from many deeds of almsgiving, performed from the heart and with humility?" And from that time, Peter became the most compassionate man in his town. He distributed all of his possessions to the poor, and when he had finished distributing his possessions, he sold himself into slavery for thirty gold pieces and distributed even his own price as a slave to the poor as alms in the name of Christ. He was, thereafter, called Peter the Merciful.
Contemplate the wrath of God against King Jehoshaphat (II Chronicles 18-20):
- How Jehoshaphat allied himself with the apostate King Ahab, and almost perished;
- How he allied himself with King Ahaziah, and again suffered a great loss;
- How God does not wish the faithful to unite with unbelievers.
On God the Holy Spirit, the Comforter
And I will pray the Father and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever(John 14:16)
Brethren, where there is love, there are no commands; requests take the place of commands. Among those who love one another, a request has greater power than does a command among those who do not love. The Holy Trinity represents the supreme kingdom and majesty of love. Isaiah refers to the Holy Trinity as Mighty Counsel (Isaiah 9:6) and the Incarnate Son of God as Angel of Great Counsel-that is, messenger. How does this counsel relate to the unity of God? You yourself are one being, but you still take counsel with yourself. Your mind asks your will, "Can you?" and asks your heart, "Do you want to?" And the will and the heart ask your mind: "Do you know how?" And, yet, even with this internal counseling with yourself, you are still one-one man, one person. Naturally, this is but a pale illustration and shadow of the Holy Trinity and Their perfect counsel, for there is complete equality and harmony of Persons in the Holy Trinity. That which the Father wills, the Son and the Holy Spirit immediately will. And He shall give you another Comforter. See how confident the Son of God is-that whatever He would request and counsel would immediately be confirmed in the great Divine Counsel? The Father will agree to send, and the Spirit will agree to be sent. The Son of God does not say: "I will pray to the Father to give you, and I believe that He will give you." Rather, He says: "I will pray and He will give you." He knows in advance that the Father will give what He asks. He knows this-if it can be thus said-from His own eternal experience. For through all eternity harmony reigns, has reigned and will reign between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. He shall give you another Comforter. By these words, the complete equality of the Son and the Holy Spirit is revealed. In other words, "The Father will send you another Comforter-equal in power with Me, of one Essence with Me and equal in honor with Me. He will be able to fully act for Me in His way in accordance with His Divine Person, which is uniquely different from My Person as the Son."
O my brethren, do you see how the undivided Holy Trinity participates in our salvation? Do you see Whose we are? Do you see what dignity is given to us mortal and sinful ones? O Most-holy and Most-glorious Trinity our God, have mercy on us and save us.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK