Prologue from Ochrid - April 4 [April 17]
1. Our Holy Father Joseph The Hymnographer.
He was born in Sicily of devout and virtuous parents, Plotinus and Agatha. After the death of his parents, he moved to Salonica, where he became a monk. As a monk, he was an example to all in fasting, restraint, ceaseless supplication, psalmody, vigils and toil. The Bishop of Salonica ordained him hieromonk. The famous Gregory of Decapolis, visiting Salonica, loved Joseph with heart and soul for his rare character, and took him back with him to his monastery in Constantinople. When the flame of iconoclasm sprang up again under Leo the Armenian, Joseph was sent to Rome to call the Pope and the Roman Church to battle for the true Faith. But pirates captured him on the way and took him to Crete, where he was kept in prison for six years by the heretics. Joseph rejoiced that he was made worthy to suffer for Christ, and thanked God constantly, regarding the iron chains with which he was bound as golden ornaments. In the sixth year, around Christmas, the wicked Emperor was murdered at the morning service in church. At the same moment, St Nicolas appeared to Joseph in the prison and said to
him: 'Get up and follow me. 'Joseph felt himself lifted up in the air, and found himself all at once in Constantinople. His arrival was a source of rejoicing to all the Orthodox faithful. He composed Canons and hymns for many of the saints. He had the gift of insight, because of which Patriarch Photius made him spiritual father and confessor to his priests, recommending him as 'a man of God, an angel in the flesh, a father of fathers'. In great old age, he gave his soul into the hands of the God he had served so faithfully in work and song. He died peacefully on the eve of Holy Thursday in 883.
2. The Holy Martyr Pherbutha, her widowed sister and their slave.
In the reign of the Persian King Saborius, a bishop, St Simeon, was executed. His sister, Pherbutha, was taken to court for the Queen's pleasure. Pherbutha was unusually beautiful, and she therefore had many suitors, including pagan priests and soothsayers. Pherbutha refused them all, thus bringing down great wrath upon her head. When, just at that time, the Queen fell ill, all the priests informed the King that the Queen had been poisoned by Pherbutha, and, as a means of healing, proposed that Pherbutha, her sister and their slave, as Christians, be sawn to pieces, that three parts of their bodies be placed on one side and three on the other, and that the Queen be taken through between them. The King agreed to this bloody suggestion of the soothsayers', and Pherbutha, her sister and their slave-girl suffered in this way for Christ in 343, thereby meriting an unfading wreath in the deathless Kingdom of their Lord.
3. Our Holy Father Zossima.
A monk of the Jordan community in the reign of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger, he found St Mary of Egypt, gave her Communion and buried her. He entered into rest in the Lord, at the age of 100, in the 6th century.
4. Our Holy Father, the Martyr Nicetas.
He was a Slav from Albania. As a monk of the Holy Mountain, he went to Serres, where be disputed with the mullahs about the Faith. Being unable to overcome him by reason, the Turks put him to torture, under which St Nicetas died and gave his soul to God in 1808.
He who glorifies God, God also glorifies him. This was clearly and abundantly shown in the lives of the saints. St. Joseph the Hymnographer, indeed, glorified God in works, in sufferings and in hymns. God glorified him both in this life and after death. During his life, the Holy Father Nicholas appeared to him in prison and freed him. When St. Joseph wondered whether he should compose a Canon to the Apostle Bartholomew, this apostle appeared to him in radiant vestments and said to Joseph that it is well-pleasing to God that he compose this Canon. When St. Joseph died, a citizen of Constantinople learned of the glory by which God glorified His chosen one. This man had come into the church of St. Theodore Phanariot to beseech the saint to reveal to him where one of his escaped servants had hidden. Because St. Theodore was known among the people as a saint who reveals where something is that had been lost or stolen, he was called Phanariot, which means The Revealer . For three days and three nights, this man prayed and when he received no response from the saint, wanted to leave. At that moment, St. Theodore appeared to him in a vision saying: "Why do you become angry O man? Joseph the Hymnographer's soul was being separated from his body and we were with him. When he died this night, all of us whom he glorified in hymns, translated his soul to the heavens and placed it before the Face of God. That is why I was tardy in not appearing to you."
To contemplate the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus:
- How His soul returned again from Hades into His body;
- How He, through His Divine Power, by which He resurrected other dead bodies, resurrected His own body.
About the Church as the Body of the Lord
"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" (St. John 2:19).
Thus spoke the Lord to the wicked Jews about "the Temple of His body" (St. John 2:21). But since it was not given to the wicked to understand anything, so also the Jews did not understand and mocked Him. The Lord did not rebuke them for that but that which He spoke, occurred. The Jews destroyed His body but He restored it again and raised it in glory and power. The wicked punished God with destruction but God reprimanded the wicked by restoration. It is satisfying to the wicked ones to be able to show their power by killing but, to God, there was joy to show His power by giving life. There is nothing as short-lived as the triumph of evil nor nothing as lasting as the triumph of truth.
"Destroy this temple." The Lord referred to His body as the Church. Destroyed, that Church was crowded into a dark tomb and by means of a heavy stone prevented light from having access to it. But, that Church was not in need of the light of the sun. It had its own light, its own Sun of Righteousness, Who shone from within. The tender Heavenly Hand removed the stone from the tomb and the Lord resurrected in glory and in power. That which once occurred to the All-Pure Body of Christ, occurred many times later to the Church of the holy ones on earth. The enemies of the Church cruelly persecuted and tormented it, demolished it and buried it in darkness. But, the Church after such bruises and confinement, resurrected again with greater glory and power. Just as the Church of His Body resurrected, so it will at the end of time, the Church of His holy ones will resurrect in fullness and perfection.
O resurrected Lord, do not give us over to decay and eternal death, but resurrect us to life eternal.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK