Prologue from Ochrid - August 25 [September 7]
1. The Holy Apostle Bartholomew.
Today is the commemoration of the translation of St Bartholomew's relics, while his main feast falls on June 11th. When this great Apostle was crucified in Ourbanopolis in Armenia, Christians took his body and buried it in a leaden coffin. When numerous miracles had been wrought over the Apostle's grave, especially hearings of the sick - which led to an increase in the number of Christians - the pagans took the coffin containing Bartholomew's relics and cast it into the sea. At the same time, they threw in four other coffins with the relics of four martyrs: Papian, Lucian, Gregory and Acacius. By God's providence, the coffins did not sink, but floated, carried by the waves, to various places: Acacius's to the city of Askalon, Gregory's to Calabria, Lucian's to Messina, Papian's to another place in Sicily and Bartholomew's to the island of Lipara. By some mysterious revelation, the Bishop of Lipara, Agathon, learned of the approach to Lipara of the relics of St Bartholomew. Agathon, with his clergy and people, went out to the shore and awaited the coffin with great joy. On that occasion, many of the sick were healed by the holy Apostle's relics. They were placed in the church of St Bartholomew and lay there until the time of Theophilus the Iconoclast (about 839), then, when the Moslems threatened the Liparites, the Apostle's relics were taken to the town of Benevento. Thus God glorified His apostle by miracles, both during his lifetime and after his death.
2. The Holy Apostle Titus.
One of the Seventy, he was born in Crete and educated in Greek philosophy and poetry. Led by a dream, he read the Prophet Isaiah and came to doubt all Hellenic learning. Hearing of Christ the Lord, he went to Jerusalem with some other Cretans, and himself heard the words of the Saviour and saw His mighty works. His youthful heart clave utterly to Christ. He was later baptised by the Apostle Paul, whom he served in the works of the Gospel as a son serves his father. Paul loved Titus so greatly that he sometimes called him his son (Titus 1:4), and sometimes his brother (II Cor. 12:18). Titus travelled widely with the great Apostle of the people, and was by him made Bishop of Crete. At the time of Paul's suffering in Rome, Titus was there, and buried the body of his teacher and spiritual father. He then returned to Crete, where he had great success in baptising the pagans, and wisely governed the Church to great old age. He entered into rest at the age of ninety-four.
3. The Holy Confessors of Edessa.
They suffered greatly in imprisonment and exile for the Orthodox faith in the time of the Emperor Valens, who held the Arian heresy. They were freed under the Emperor Theodosius.
4. St Menas, Patriarch of Constantinople.
He governed the Church wisely from 536 to 552. Before that, he ran the Home of St Sampson for the poor and needy (see June 27th). Pope Agapetus, who had come to Constantinople at that time to oppose and depose the heretical Patriarch, Anthimus, participated in Menas's consecration as bishop there. It is said that the following marvel came to pass in Constantinople in the time of Patriarch Menas: a Jewish boy went to church with his friends and, following their example, received Holy Communion. The boy's father, a glassblower, when he heard of his son's action, seized him and threw him into the red-hot kiln that he had prepared for the firing of glass. The boy remained shut in this kiln for three days and nights, but, when the kiln was opened, he was found alive and unharmed, preserved by God's providence.
The superhuman courage and readiness of our Christian foretellers to endure all sufferings and voluntary death for Christ, evoked fear on their tormentors. Emperor Maximian, a fierce and merciless persecutor of Christians, ordered his pro-consul in Antioch to release St. Andrew Stratelates from prison to freedom out of fear that the people, who respected Andrew more than they did the emperor, would rebel. Emperor Valens ordered his eparch in Edessa to slay all Christians who opposed Arius. The eparch had more human compassion than the emperor and secretly warned the Christians at night not to come out of the city the following day into the field where they usually held services (since the Arians had seized all the churches in the city) so that they would not be killed. The next day, contrary to this warning, all the Christians set out happily to the field, rejoicing that they will suffer and die for the True Faith. The eparch, going with the soldiers from the city, saw a Christian woman with a child in her arms as she hurried past the soldiers toward the field. The eparch said to her: "Have you not heard that the eparch, with his soldiers, will come and kill all that he finds there?" The woman answered: "I heard and, because of that, I am hurrying that I may die for Christ with the others." The eparch further asked: "And why are you taking this child with you?" The woman replied: "I also want my child to become worthy of martyrdom together with me." Hearing and seeing this, the eparch became frightened and returned and informed the emperor. The emperor became greatly frightened and revoked his order concerning the massacre.
To contemplate the unusual generosity of David (1 Samuel 24 1 Kings 24):
- How Saul, pursuing David, entered without knowledge into the cave where David was hiding with the young men;
- How the young men pressured David to kill Saul but David refused;
- How David cried out to Saul: "The Lord judge between me and you" (1 Samuel 24:12 1 Kings 24:12).
About the opened prison and the lighted darkness
"That you may say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves" (Isaiah 49:9).
Who is the greater prisoner than he who is bound by sin? Is there a greater darkness than the darkness of sin, death and hell? Who can loose from sin? "God alone". Even the Scribes and Pharisees themselves acknowledged this. "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (St. Mark 2:7). Christ released many from sin, and made them free and whole. Therefore, if "God alone" is able to release prisoners from sins, then why did not the Jews acknowledge Him as God? The reason being is that they were bound by sin and were unable logically to reflect to the end, nor yet did they allow the Lord to release them from the bonds of sins. Look and see into what kind of stupidity the wise men of the Jews fall: while on the one hand, they confirm that "God alone" is able to loose man from sin while, on the other hand, they accuse Christ that He works with the help of the devil! The devil is the one who binds, so how can the devil lose? The devil is the one who destroys man, how then will he save him? Where there are devils, there also is prison: sin, death and hell. "Christ alone" had the power, the divine, unequaled power to lead and to save the souls of men out from prison. "My son, your sins are forgiven you!" (St. Mark 2:5). "Young man arise!" (St. Luke 7:14) "Lazarus, come forth!" (St. John 11:43). By His mighty word He removed the bonds of the sinners and led the dead into the light of life. By His descent into Hell, he destroyed the throne of Satan and freed the souls of the righteous ones. By His resurrection, He fully and completely revealed His irresistible authority over all the diabolical bonds of the devil, over all the intrigues of hell and over the "last enemy death": "The last enemy that will be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:26).
O Lord, Victor over demons, Liberator from sin, Raiser of the dead, You do we worship and to You do we pray: free us, resurrect us and bless us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK