Prologue from Ochrid - August 19 [September 1]
1. The Holy Martyr Andrew Stratelates.
He was an officer, a tribune, in the Roman army in the time of the Emperor Maximian. A Syrian by birth, he served in his native land. When the Persians attacked the imperial Roman army, this Andrew was entrusted with the command in the battle against the enemy whence his title: commander, stratelates. A secret Christian, although as yet unbaptised, Andrew commended himself to the living God, and, taking only the cream of the army, went to war. Before the battle, he told his soldiers that, if they all called upon the aid of the one, true God, Christ the Lord, their enemies would become as dust scattered before them. All the soldiers, fired with enthusiasm by Andrew and his faith, invoked Christ's aid and attacked. The Persian army was utterly routed. When the victorious Andrew returned to Antioch, some jealous men denounced him as a Christian and the imperial governor summoned him for trial. Andrew openly proclaimed his steadfast faith in Christ. After harsh torture, the governor threw Andrew into prison and wrote to the Emperor in Rome. Knowing Andrew's popularity among the people and in the army, the Emperor ordered the governor to set Andrew free, but to seek another occasion and another excuse (not his faith) to kill him. By God's revelation, Andrew came to know of this imperial command, and, taking his faithful soldiers (2,593 in all) with him, went off to Tarsus in Cilicia, where they were all baptised by the bishop, Peter. Persecuted here also by imperial might, Andrew and his companions withdrew deep into the Armenian mountain of Tavros. There in a ravine, while they were at prayer, the Roman army came upon them and beheaded them all. Not one of them would recant, all being determined on death by martyrdom for Christ. On the spot where a stream of the martyrs' blood flowed down, a spring of healing water sprang forth, healing from every disease. The bishop, Peter, came secretly with his people and buried the martyrs' bodies in that same place. They all suffered with honour at the end of the third century and were crowned with wreaths of eternal glory, entering into the Kingdom of Christ our God.
2. Our Holy Father Theophanes.
Born in Jannina, he left everything as a young man and went to the Holy Mountain, where he became a monk in the monastery of Docheiariou. In fasting, prayer, vigils and the stripping away of all that was unnecessary, he stood out among all the monks, and was consequently chosen in due time as abbot. Later, through some disagreement with the monks, he left the Holy Mountain and, with his nephew, went to Berea in Macedonia, where he founded a monastery dedicated to the most holy Mother of God. When this monastery began to flower with the spiritual life, he left his nephew in charge and went to Naousa, where he founded another monastery, in honour of the Holy Archangels. He died peacefully some time in the fifteenth century. His wonderworking relics rest today in Naousa, and reveal God's great power.
3. The Holy Martyrs Timothy, Agapius and Thecla.
They suffered for Christ in the time of the wicked Emperor Diocletian. Timothy was burned by fire, and Agapius and Thecla thrown to the wild beasts.
When an unexpected misfortune happens to us who are innocent, we should not immediately grieve but rather we should try to see in this the Providence of God, Who, through that misfortune, is preparing something new and beneficial for us. One day, unexpected news came to Blessed Theophanes, the abbot of Dochiariu, that the Turks had seized his sister's son, forced him to embrace Islam and took him to Constantinople. Theophanes immediately traveled to Constantinople and, with the help of God, succeeded to find his nephew and to secretly bring him out of Constantinople and brought him to his monastery on Mt. Athos. There, he again, received his nephew into the Christian Faith and, after that, also tonsured him a monk. However, the brethren began to complain against their abbot and his nephew for fear of the Turks, for they were afraid that the Turks would find out and come and destroy the monastery. Not knowing what to do, St. Theophanes took his nephew and, with him, secretly withdrew not only from Dochiariu but also from the Holy Mountain and came to Berea. The later activities of Theophanes in Berea and in Naousa proved how much that misfortune was beneficial to the Church. That which Theophanes could never succeed to achieve on the Holy Mountain, he achieved in these other places to which he had fled from that misfortune. Namely: he founded two new monasteries, where, in time, many monks were saved and where countless men found comfort for themselves. In addition to this, his holy relics among the Christian people became a source of healing for the strengthening of faith among many unbelievers and those of little faith. Thus, God wisely directs the destiny of men through unexpected misfortunes, which momentarily seem to men that they are going to their final destruction
To contemplate the wondrous Providence of God in the life of David (1 Samuel 16 1 Kings 16):
- How the Spirit of God withdrew from Saul because of Saul's sin;
- How an evil spirit assaulted Saul so that he sought a harpist in order
- How the servants of the king precisely found David and brought him to the king so as to calm him with the harp.
About the power of the Lord and the weakness of idols
"Behold, the Lord rideth upon a light cloud and shall come into Egypt: And the idols of Egypt shall be moved at His presence" (Isaiah 19:1).
Fleeing from King Herod, the Pharaoh of Jerusalem, the Lord came to Egypt. The true Israel is not reckoned according to the place but rather according to the spirit and deeds. At the time of the birth of the Lord, greater evil [Herod] reigned in Jerusalem than ever reigned in the Egypt of the Pharaohs as it often happens when believers fall away from the Faith, they become worse than the unbelievers who never knew the true Faith. Such is the case in our days with the rulers in Russia who apostatized from Christ. At that time, Egypt was a kinder and more hospitable place for the Savior of the world than was Jerusalem. Compare the words of the prophet with the words of the angel in a dream to the Righteous Joseph: "Arise, and take the young Child and His mother and flee into Egypt" (St Matthew 2:13) and immediately you will be convinced that the words of Isaiah do not refer to anyone other than Christ the Lord. You will be convinced of this even more when you hear the words of the other prophet who speaks: "Out of Egypt I called My son" (Hosea 11: 1).
What does "a light cloud" upon which He [the Lord] will come to Egypt signify? This signifies the body of the Lord in which He will clothe His divinity, for the body of man is as a dense cloud in which the soul resides. Therefore, that is the prophetic vision of the Incarnate Lord. Some interpreters also think that "a light cloud" signifies the Most-pure Mother of God who, by long fasting and prayer and other mortifications made her body as light as a cloud. Especially "light was that cloud" the body of the Birth-giver of God because of the absence of passions, which burden the human body.
O, All-merciful Lord, Who desires salvation for all mankind and does not look to see who is a Jew and who is an Egyptian, save and have mercy on us for we continuously hope in Your Name.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK