Prologue from Ochrid - March 31 [April 13]
1. The Hieromartyr Hypatius, Bishop of Gangra.
Born in Cilicia, he was bishop in the town of Gangra. At the First Ecumenical Council, he was lauded on all sides for his devout life and miracles. The Emperor Constantius ordered a bust of Hypatius to be made in the saint's lifetime, and he kept this bust in his palace as a weapon against every adverse power. Returning once from Constantinople, Hypatius was attacked in a gorge by a heretic, Novatianus, and was pushed off the road into the mud. On top of that, a woman of that company threw a rock at his head, and the saint thus finished his earthly course. But this woman suddenly went insane, and, taking the same rock, began to strike herself with it. When they brought her to the grave of St Hypatius and prayed for her, she was healed by Hypatius's compassionate spirit and spent the rest of her life in repentance and prayer. St Hypatius suffered and went to the eternal Kingdom of Christ our God in 326.
2. St Jonah, Metropolitan of Moscow.
He was born in the province of Kostmor, becoming a monk at the age of twelve and as such living in the Simonov monastery near Moscow. He became Bishop of Ryazan in the time of Metropolitan Photius, and when Photius died, Jonah was chosen as Metropolitan and sent to Constantinople for consecration and confirmation. But, at the same time, a man called Isidore, a Bulgarian by birth, outwitted Jonah, arrived in Constantinople before him and was consecrated as the Metropolitan for Russia. Jonah returned to his seat at Ryazan. But the malicious Isidore ended his reign as Metropolitan in an evil way. He went to the Council of Florence, and only returned to Moscow three years later. He was condemned as an apostate from Orthodoxy and exiled. It is not known where he died. Jonah, the good and wise pastor, came to the Metropolitical throne. He was a great wonder-worker, a seer and a spiritual guide. When the Agarians besieged Moscow, Jonah sent them packing by his prayers. In old age, he desired to experience such illness that he would suffer greatly, and would by his sufferings be completely purified before his departure to the other world. At his prayer, God gave him wounds in his feet, which were foreseen in a vision by a priest, James. The saint died of these wounds and went to join the citizens of heaven on March 31st, 1461. Many miracles were performed through his relics. A dumb man, John, was brought to the saint's relics. John kissed Jonah's hand and, as he related afterwards, the hand grabbed hold of his tongue and he felt a sharp pain. When it let his tongue go, he went back to his friends - and spoke as if he had never been dumb.
3. The Hieromartyr Audas, Bishop of the City of Suza.
He was beheaded for Christ in 418 in Persia by King Yezdegeherd. His deacon, St Benjamin, was released by the torturers on condition that he preach the Gospel no more. He observed this condition for a time, but his heart could not bear it and he began again to spread the truth of Christ among the people. For this he was arrested and killed in 421, three years after St Audas.
4. Our Holy Father Apolionius.
A famous Egyptian hermit, he renounced the world at the age of fifteen and withdrew to a mountain, where he lived for forty years eating only wild plants. After that, he founded a monastery in which he had 500 monks. He entered peacefully into rest in 395.
St. John of the Ladder says: "He who in his heart is proud of his tears and secretly condemns those who do not weep is like a man who asks the king for a weapon against his enemy and then commits suicide with it" (Step 7). If your heart is softened, be it from repentance before God or be it from knowing the boundless love of God toward you, do not become proud toward those whose hearts are still hard and calloused. Remember how long it has been since you had a hard and calloused heart. There were seven brothers who were ailing in a hospital. One of them was restored to health and rose to his feet. He hurried to serve his other brothers with fraternal love and concern so that they too would recover. You be like that brother also. Consider that all men are your brothers, sick brothers. If you feel that God has given you health before them, know that it was given to you through mercy, so that even you as a healthy person may serve others who are sick. Of what do we have to be proud? As though good health comes from ourselves alone and not from God. As though a mud hole can cleanse itself and not from a source deeper and cleaner.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:
- How His body lies peacefully in a grave;
- How He descended in the Spirit to the souls in Hades in order to redeem the souls of the forefathers.
About joy after sorrow
"So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice" (St. John 16:22).
The father steps up to the gallows and his sons are crying around him. Instead of the sons comforting him, he comforts his sons. Something similar to this happened to the Lord and His disciples. Walking toward His bitter death, the Lord is more saddened because of the grief of His disciples, rather than by that which He has to endure. He caresses them with consolation and encourages them with the prophecy of the new and impending vision: "But I will see you again." This is a prophecy about the resurrection. Many times our Lord prophesied His death, but when He prophesied His death, He also prophesied His resurrection. Nothing unforeseen ever did happen to Him. He did not prophesy about Himself only, but also about them [the disciples]. They will be in great sorrow as a woman when she gives birth and endures pain. As a woman forgets her pain and rejoices when she gives birth "for a child has been born into the world" (St. John 16:21), so will it be with them. In their consciousness Christ the Lord was not completely in the form of the God-Man. As long as they had known Him as a sufferer and mortal man, they only knew Him partially; until then, the pain of birth lasts in their souls. But when they see Him again, resurrected and alive, miraculous and almighty, Lord over all things in heaven and on earth, the pain and sorrow will cease and joy will appear in their hearts. For Christ will be completely formed in their consciousness as the God-Man and then they will know Him in His fullness and in His totality. Only then will He be totally born for them.
So with us brethren, as long as we know Him only from His birth to His death on Golgotha, we know the Lord Jesus partially. We will know Him completely only when we know Him as the Resurrected One, the Victor over death.
O Lord All-victorious, have mercy on us and by Your resurrection cause us to rejoice as You comforted and made joyful Your disciples.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK