Prologue from Ochrid - September 9 [September 22]
1. Ss Joachim and Anna.
St Joachim was of the tribe of Judah, and a descendant of King David. Anna was the daughter of Matthan the priest, of the tribe of Levi as was Aaron the High Priest. This Matthan had three daughters: Mary, Zoia and Anna. Mary was married in Bethlehem and bore Salome; Zoia was also married in Bethlehem and bore Elisabeth, the mother of St John the Forerunner; and Anna was married in Nazareth to Joachim, and in old age gave birth to Mary, the most holy Mother of God. Joachim and Anna had been married for fifty years, and were barren. They lived devoutly and quietly, using only a third of their income for themselves and giving a third to the poor and a third to the Temple, and they were well provided for. Once, when they were already old and were in Jerusalem to offer sacrifice to God, the High Priest, Issachar, upbraided Joachim: 'You are not worthy to offer sacrifice with those childless hands.' Others who had children jostled Joachim, thrusting him back as unworthy. This caused great grief to the two aged souls, and they went home with very heavy hearts. Then the two of them gave themselves to prayer to God that He would work in them the wonder that He had worked in Abraham and Sarah, and give them a child to comfort their old age. God sent them His angel, who gave them tidings of the birth of 'a daughter most blessed, by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and through whom will come the salvation of the world.' Anna conceived at once, and in the ninth month gave birth to the holy Virgin Mary. St Joachim lived for eighty years and Anna for seventy-nine, and they both entered into the kingdom of God.
2. Commemoration of the Third Ecumenical Council.
This Council met in 431 in Ephesus, in the time of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger. Two hundred fathers gathered at it. The Council condemned Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, for his heretical teaching on the most holy Virgin Mary and the birth of the Lord. Nestorius would not call the holy Virgin the Mother of God, but only the Mother of Christ. The holy fathers, in condemning Nestorius's teaching, confirmed that the holy Virgin be called the Mother of God. Besides this, it confirmed the decisions of the First and Second Councils, especially the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, laying down that no-one may add anything to, or take anything from, this Creed.
3. The Holy Martyr Severian.
He was a nobleman of Sebaste. At the time of the martyrdom of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (March 9th), he succoured them in prison, encouraging and serving them. After their glorious death, he was also-arrested, whipped and tortured for Christ, and finally hanged from a tree with a heavy stone round his neck and another hanging from his feet. Praising God for everything, he breathed his last in the reign of the Emperor Licinius, in the year 320.
4. St Theophanes, Confessor and Faster.
After a life pleasing to God, in which he underwent much suffering for Christ, he died peacefully in the year 299.
5. St Nicetas the Man of God.
He lived in Constantinople in the twelfth century. His life was so pleasing to God that the doors of the church opened of themselves before him, and the icon-lamps lit spontaneously. At the desire of Sozon, a deacon, and at Nicetas's prayers, a priest with whom Sozon had quarrelled and with whom he remained estranged, appeared from the other world. There appeared first a row of priests robed in white, then a row in red vestments. Sozon recognised his adversary among them, and made his peace with him. This happened at night in the church at Blachernae.
One should not give alms with pride but rather with humility, considering that the one to whom the alms is given is better than oneself. Did not the Lord Himself say: "Insomuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (St. Matthew 25:40). Theophanes the Confessor, even as a child, possessed a mind illumined by the light of Christ. Once, while walking along the street, he saw an unclothed child freezing. He quickly removed his clothes, clothed the child and thus warmed him and brought him to life. He then returned home naked. His startled parents asked him: "Where are your clothes?" To that Theophanes replied: "I clothed Christ." That is why he was given the grace of Christ and was later a great ascetic, a sufferer for the Faith of Christ and a miracle-worker. If, therefore, we give alms regardless in whose name or in our own name, we cannot avoid pride which, as soon as it appears in the heart, destroys all the good deeds performed. When we give to the beggar as a beggar and not as Christ, we cannot avoid either pride or disdain. What value is there in performing an act of mercy, taking pride ourselves and disdaining the man? Virtue is not a virtue when it is mixed with sin, just as milk is not milk when it is mixed with gasoline or vinegar.
To contemplate the wisdom of Solomon (1Kings 3):
- How two women disputed over a child, both saying, that the child was hers;
- How Solomon ordered that the child be cut in two and one half to be given to each woman: "And the king said, divide the living child in two and give half to the one and half to the other" (1 Kings 3:25);
- How the real mother cried out for the child and thus it was known that the child was hers: "O my lord, give her the living child and in no wise slay it" (1 Kings 3:26).
About the witness of God about God
"If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true" (St. John 5:31).
This is how the Lord spoke to a false and lying people. He spoke these words to the elders of the Jews, not as an instruction, but rather as a reproach. They did not believe one man when he spoke of himself, but rather sought two witnesses. Brethren, do not even think that what the Lord says of Himself is not true but rather that the Jews did not consider that as true. From thence, according to the interpretation of our holy fathers, the words: "My witness is not true," must be understood to mean, that this witness was not true in the eyes of the Jews. And that every word that the Lord Jesus spoke about Himself is true, as He expressed in another place saying: "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true" (St. John 8:14). Here the Lord teaches; there He reproaches; here He confirms how a thing is; there, however, how the thing seemed to be to the Jews. The Jews did not believe His witness about Himself but, they sought other witnesses. He cited three great witnesses: first, the witness of His own works: "The very works that I do - bear witness of Me" (St. John 5:36); second, the witness of His Heavenly Father Who witnessed about Him as His Son on the Jordan and on Tabor: "And the Father Himself, Who sent Me, has witnessed of Me" (St. John 5:37); and finally, the third, the witness of the Holy Scriptures: "Search the scripturesthese are they which testify [witness] of Me" (St. John 5:39). With a bit of understanding, what other kind of witness would a man require? But, the understanding of the Jewish elders was darkened to so great an extent that they were able to see nothing and to understand nothing. When the Lord, the Lover of Mankind, did all that was necessary to save the Jewish elders and when they rejected all the witnesses about Him and by this, rejected even their own salvation, He then said to them: "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true" (St. John 8:14).
O, my brethren, let us not be stony-hearted as those blinded elders and let us not reject our only salvation. We do not seek any other witnesses but rather believe that which the Lord Jesus alone says of Himself. He said of Himself that He is the Truth: "I am the Truth" (St. John 14:6), and it is by this truth that we are nourished and saved.
O Lord Jesus, the Living Truth, the Eternal Truth, do not distance Yourself from us but enlighten us and save us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK