Prologue from Ochrid - September 12 [September 25]
1. The Hieromartyr Autonomus.
A bishop, he left Italy for Bithynia in Asia during Diocietian's persecution, going to a place called Soreoi, where he brought many to the Christian faith and built them a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael. He stayed in the house of a devout Christian, Cornelius, whom Autonomus ordained priest and then consecrated bishop. Not far from the town of Soreoi was a place called Limnae, entirely inhabited by pagans. St Autonomus went to this place and quickly brought many to the light by the Gospel of Christ. This roused the pagans, and they hurried one day to the church of the Archangel Michael in Soreoi and, during divine service, slew Autonomus in the altar, killing also many other Christians in the church. In the time of the Emperor Constantine, a noble courtier, Severian, built a church over St Autonomus's grave. Two hundred years after his death, St Autonomus appeared to a soldier called John. This soldier dug up the saint's relics and found them to be completely uncorrupt, and many of the sick received healing from them. Thus God glorified him who glorified Him while in the body.
2. The Hieromartyr Cornutus, Bishop of Iconium.
Born in Nicomedia, in the village of Sarsalus, he was already very old when a persecution arose under Decius and Valerian. A torturer, Perinius, came to Nicomedia and began to seek out the Christians. They went out of the city and hid, but their aged bishop would not leave and presented himself to Perinius, proclaiming himself a Christian. The torturer bound him hand and foot and ordered that he be dragged through the town until his blood flowed. He gave his holy soul to God under the sword.
3. The Holy Martyr Julian, with his 40 companions.
They all suffered in about the year 300, being first tortured and then beheaded. In the face of death, St Julian prayed thus: 'To those who take some of my dust, grant, 0 Lord, the forgiveness of their sins and the subduing of their passions; may marauding birds never invade their fields, nor grasshoppers nor caterpillars, nor any other such dangerous or deadly thing; and do Thou receive my soul in peace.'
4. Our Holy Father Daniel of Thasos.
An ascetic and the founder of a great monastery, he was a contemporary of St Joannicius the Great and was present when Joannicius visited the island of Thasos, where the people besought him to free them from an infestation of snakes. The saint prayed to God, and the snakes, in large numbers, rushed into the sea and were drowned.
5. The Holy Martyrs Macedonius, Tatianus and Theodulus.
They suffered for Christ the Lord in the time of Julian the Apostate at Myropolis in Phrygia. They were harshly tortured for destroying the statue of an idol, and burned on an iron grid until they gave their souls to God. While they were burning over the fire, these courageous men cried out mockingly to the torturer: 'Why not try our meat, to see if it's done!', and also, like the glorious archdeacon Laurence: 'Turn us over; we're done on this side!' Seeing and hearing the holy martyrs on the fire, the torturers were infinitely more confused and frightened than they were.
What kind of bond should there be between man and God? An unbreakable and continual bond. "Adhere to God as a son adheres to his father," counseled St. Anthony. And St. Alonius said: "If a man is not set in his heart that there is no one else in the world but himself and God, he cannot find peace in his soul." The one God is enough, and more than enough, for all that the heart of man can desire. Without a single protest, Blessed Theodora received a stranger's child, given to her by slanderers, as if it were her own. Theodora raised this child with love, and reared it in the fear of God. Before her death, this is how she counseled the child: "What is more necessary for man than God and His divine love? He is our refuge, He is our treasure, He is our food and drink, He is our raiment and shelter, He is our health and strength, He is our happiness and joy, He is our hope and our trust. Strive then, my son, to gain Him. If you succeed in gaining the One God, it will be sufficient for you; you will rejoice more in Him than if you had gained the entire world." In saying this, St. Theodora did not speak from a book or from someone else's words, but on the basis of her own personal experience. She lived for seven years, driven out and scorned by all men, and during that time she learned by experience that God was everything to her, and that the One God was sufficient for all that the heart of man desires.
Contemplate the division of Solomon's kingdom (I Kings 11):
- How, because of Solomon's sins, the kingdom of Israel was divided;
- How Jeroboam, the king's servant, became king over ten tribes; and Rehoboam, the king's son, became king over two tribes;
- How, even today, it happens that the sins of the father bring down misfortune on the son; and the sins of the elders of the nation, on the people.
On how the soul must feed on Christ in order to live
He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me(John 6:57).
Thus speaks Christ the Lord, the Life and Source of life. A tree feeds on the earth, air and light. If a tree does not feed on the earth, the air and the light, will it be able to grow and live? What does an infant at its mother's breast feed on, except its mother? If it does not feed on its mother, will it grow and live? So it is that our soul will not grow or live, if it does not feed on Christ, the Living and Immortal One. The words here are not about life in general, by which nature lives, nor about the stunted life by which pagans live, but rather about the special, divine and eternal life-a life full and joyful. Only Christ gives this life to men, and it comes only to those who feed on Christ. Each man is as great as the food he feeds on, and each man is as alive as the food he feeds on. The words here are not about bodily food, for only man's body-not man's soul-is fed by bodily food. Men differ both in physical growth and physical life, but these differences are totally insignificant. However, the difference in spiritual growth and life among men is enormous. While some men, by the growth of their souls, barely raise themselves above the earth, others raise themselves to the heavens. The difference between Herod and John the Baptist is no less than the difference between a king and an angel. While the former drags his body and soul through the earth and wickedly defends his throne on earth, the latter stands his body on a rock in the wilderness, and is raised in soul to the heavens among the angels.
O my brethren, let us lift up our souls to the heavens, where Christ the Lord sits on the throne of eternal glory, and let us feed and nourish our soul and heart with Him, the pure and almighty Life. Only then will we be made worthy to be His fellow heirs in the Kingdom of Heaven.
O Lord Jesus, our true God, our sweet food and our man-loving Nourisher; cast us not away from Thy divine bosom, for we are weak and helpless. Nourish us with Thyself, O our merciful Nourisher.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK