Prologue from Ochrid - September 11 [September 24]
1. Our Holy Mother Theodora.
From Alexandria, she was the wife of a young man. Urged on by a fortune-teller, she committed adultery with another man. Her conscience immediately began to trouble her, and she cut off her hair and dressed in men's garb, then went off to the men's monastery of Octodecatos under the man's name of Theodore. Her labours, fasts, vigils, meekness and tearful repentance were a source of wonder to all the brethren. Slandered by some harlot, who said that Theodora had lain with her, she would not let the truth be known, regarding it as a punishment from God for her former sin. Driven out of the monastery, she spent seven years wandering in the forests and deserts, caring for the harlot's child. She overcame all the enemy's assaults, refusing to worship Satan, to take food from the hand of a soldier or to heed her husband's demand that she return to him - for all that was simply devilish illusion, and when Theodora made the sign of the Cross, it all vanished away like smoke. After seven years, the abbot of the monastery received her back, and she lived there in asceticism a further two years and then entered into rest in the Lord. Only then did the monks learn that she was a woman; an angel appeared to the abbot and explained everything to him. Her husband came to her funeral, and remained till his death in the cell of his former wife. St Theodora had very great grace from God: she tamed wild beasts, healed sicknesses and brought water to a dry well. Thus God glorified this true penitent, who, with heroic endurance, spent nine years repenting of one sin. She entered into rest in the year 490.
2. St Paphnutius the Confessor.
A bishop in the Egyptian Thebaid, he suffered greatly for the Orthodox faith: heretics put out one of his eyes and broke his left leg. He took part in the First Ecumenical Council, refuting the Arian heresy with great power. The Emperor Constantine valued him greatly, and often kissed him on the missing eye, lost for the truth of Orthodoxy. At the Council, he stood in opposition to the western representatives, who proposed that secular priests be completely forbidden to marry. He was chaste throughout the whole of his life.
3. Our Holy Father Ephrosynus the Cook.
A simple man and a man of God, he served as cook in a certain monastery in the ninth century. The spiritual father of this monastery dreamed one night that he was in Paradise, and there saw Ephrosynus, who chose for him three apples of Paradise. When he awoke, he saw these three lovely and fragrant apples on his pillow. He quickly found Ephrosynus and asked him: 'Where were you last night, brother?' Where you were, Father', the blessed man of God replied. The spiritual father then revealed the whole affair to the monks, and all knew of the holiness and godliness of Ephrosynus. But he, fearing the praise of men, immediately fled from the monastery and hid himself in the desert, where he spent the rest of his life.
4. The Holy Martyr Ia.
Denounced by an idolatrous priest, she suffered for the Lord in Persia in the time of Sapor II, in 363. According to tradition, the sun was darkened at the time of her death, and the whole air was filled with a wonderful fragrance. She is glorified forever by the Lord.
5. The Holy Martyrs Diodore, Didymus and Diomedes.
They were flogged for Christ's sake in Laodicea, and gave their souls into the hands of their Lord.
One must not hinder anyone on the path of perfect devotion and service to God. Many saintly women who wanted to flee from marriage and devote themselves to God were pursued and hindered in this by their husbands. These women were usually victorious in the end, remaining steadfast in their intention, and often awakened the consciences of their husbands by their example, and directed them on the path of salvation. St. Theodora, dressed in men's clothing, had to carefully hide from her husband, and she retreated to a men's monastery. However, there were prudent husbands who approved their wives' intentions, permitting their withdrawal from the world to devote their lives completely to God. King Frederick was betrothed to a Czech maiden, Agnes. But she never agreed to enter into marriage, and broke her betrothal, fleeing to a monastery. Then the prudent king said: "Had she left me for a mortal man, I would have sought revenge; but I must not find myself insulted that she chose the Heavenly King in place of me."
Contemplate Solomon's terrible turning away from God, and God's punishment (I Kings 11):
- How, in his old age, Solomon was captivated by many women, turned away from God, and began to serve idols;
- How God became enraged and gave the kingdom over to Solomon's servant;
- How Solomon turned away from God, even though God had appeared to him twice, and even though he had endowed him with wisdom and great glory;
- 4. How even the greatest man can fall, if he does not watch over himself with the fear of God.
On Christ as the Bread of life
I am the Bread of life(John 6:35).
Who can give life, my brethren, other than the One who created it? Who, in truth, can the Bread of life be, other than our Creator? He created, He sustains, He nourishes and He gives life. If wheat nourishes the body, Christ nourishes the soul. If our body is sustained by earthly bread, our soul is nourished and lives by Christ. If our souls are nourished by some other food, and not by Christ, our souls decay and die, and do not live. Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life (John 6:27). So says the Lord in a previous statement. First, He examines the hunger of men and then offers bread to satisfy it. Indeed, He offers the hunger, and then bread, for men are confused with regard to hunger. They are hungry for something but do not know what. Even when satisfied with earthly food and even when overfilled, they feel a certain insatiable hunger. Although they see that the whole earth, and all the bread on earth, cannot satisfy this mysterious hunger, they rush after earthly food; they vie for the earth and only for the earth. The true hunger of men is the hunger for heaven, for eternal life, for God. The Lord Jesus first emphasizes that hunger, and then prepares the meal for its satisfaction. He Himself is that meal: I am the Bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger (John 6:35). They shall be satisfied, they shall rejoice, they shall be enlivened, they shall know God, and they shall know themselves. O my brethren, He will raise them from the dead! For constant feeding on the food which perishes, without immortal, spiritual food, gradually dulls the soul and finally renders it completely dead. Dead of what? Of hunger. The body is of the earth and is satisfied with earthly food, but the soul is of the breath of the Source of life Himself, and seeks food and drink from its one and only Source.
O Lord Jesus, Bread of eternal life, of true and imperishable life, sweetest Bread-nourish us with Thyself.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK