Prologue from Ochrid - April 12 [April 25]
1. Our Holy Father Isaac II of Syria (St Isaac the Syrian is commemorated on Jan. 28th).
St Gregory the Dialogist writes about this Isaac. He went to Italy in the time of the Goths and went into the church in the town of Spoleto to pray. He asked the verger to leave him locked in the church all night, and thus spent the night in prayer without moving from that place. He spent the next day and night in the same way. The verger called him a hypocrite and struck him a blow - and lost his reason at that same moment. Seeing how the verger was so fiercely tormented, Isaac bent over him and the evil spirit fled from him, leaving him whole. People came to hear of this happening, and the whole town thronged around this wonderful old man. They offered him money and goods, but he refused them all and would accept nothing. Instead, he withdrew to a forest, where he built himself a cell which quickly became transformed into a large monastery. Isaac became famous for his miracles, especially for his discernment. One evening he told the brethren to take all the hoes out to the vineyard and leave them there. The next day, the brethren set out for the vineyard, taking their lunch, as they had no workers. When they got there, they found as many people working as there were hoes to work with. It transpired that these people had come as thieves to steal the hoes, but, by the power of God, they were constrained to work all night.
On another occasion, a couple of almost-naked men came seeking clothing from Isaac. He sent a monk to a hollow tree at the end of the road, to bring what he found there. The monk went off, found some clothing and brought it back to the monastery. The abbot took the clothing and gave it to the beggars. They were profoundly ashamed as they recognised their own clothing, which they had concealed in that tree.
A man once sent two beehives to the monastery. A monk hid one of them on the way, and brought the other to the abbot. The saint said to him: 'Be careful when you go back to that beehive you hid on the way. It's been taken over by poisonous snakes. Take care they don't bite you!'
2. St Basil the Confessor.
In a time of iconoclasm, this virtuous man was bishop in the city of Parius in Asia Minor. He refused to sign the imperial order against the veneration of icons, for which he was greatly persecuted and tortured. But he remained firm as diamond in his Orthodoxy. He died in the first half of the 8th century, and went to the Lord.
3. Our Holy Father Acacius.
From the village of Goilitsa in Epirus, he was a great Athonite ascetic, spiritual guide and seer, and had many heavenly visions. He gave his blessing to several monks to seek martyrdom. He entered into rest at the age of 98, in 1730.
4. Our Holy Mother Athanasia.
Born on the island of Aegina of rich and eminent parents, she gave her goods to the poor and went off to a monastery, where she heaped greater and greater asceticism on herself. She took food only once a day, and that only bread and water, and in the Great Fast only once every two days. Only at Christmas and Easter did she taste flesh and oil. Although she was abbess of the monastery, she was the servant of all the other sisters and was ashamed that any should wait on her. She was made worthy of the great gift of wonderworking, both during her lifetime and after her death. She entered into rest in the Lord in 860.
The wicked Emperor Constantine Copronymos had a virtuous daughter, the maiden, Anthusa: "A beautiful branch on a wicked tree." Despite all the pressure placed on her by her father to marry, Anthusa remained adamant, for she was firmly attached with a sincere love for Christ the Lord. When her father died, Anthusa distributed her entire estate to the poor, entered a convent and was tonsured a nun. How much for astonishment are the many noble men who left the vanity of this world and followed the narrow path of Christ; twice as much for astonishment are the many women who despised both, youth and riches and the transitory attractions of this world for the love of Christ. Our Lord Himself said: " It would be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (St. Matthew 19:23). Difficult yes, but not impossible. For him, who despises himself, it is easy to despise the riches of the entire world.
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How He enters through closed doors among His disciples and gives them peace;
- How His glorified body does not have any material obstacles to appear wherever He wants.
About the city which is being built
"For here, we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come" (Hebrews 13:14).
Brethren, where are the great cities of Babylon and Nineveh? Today, only lizards lay in the dust of their towers. Memphis and Thebes, were they not the pride of the pharaohs and the princes of mankind? Today, it is difficult to establish the exact place where these two cities were located.
However, let us leave these cities of stones and bricks. Let us look at the cities of blood, flesh and bones. Men fashion the city of their bodies more slowly and more painstakingly than they fashion fortresses and cathedrals. Men spend about eighty to a hundred years to fashion the cities of their bodies and, in the end, see that their effort is in vain. That which took them decades to fashion with care and constant fear, collapses into the dust of the grave in the twinkling of an eye. Whose bodily city is not toppled over and turned into dust? Not anyones.
But, let us leave the cities of the body. Let us look at the cities of fortune which men have built from generation to generation. The materials of which these cities were built are: good times, pleasure, property, authority, honor and glory. Where are these cities? As a cob-web they spin around man in an instant and as a cob web they break and vanish, making the fortunate more unfortunate than the unfortunate.
Truly, we have no city here that will remain.
This is why we seek the city which is to come. This is the city built of Spirit, Life and Truth. This is the city whose one and only architect is the Lord Jesus Christ. This city is called the Kingdom of Heaven, Eternal Life, the dwelling place of the angels, the haven of saints and refuge of martyrs. In this city, there is no dualism of either good or evil but, everything is a harmony of good. Everything that is built in this city is built to last forever. Every brick in this city remains without end and termination. The bricks are living angels and men. In this city the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ sits on the throne and reigns.
O resurrected Lord, redeem us from beneath the ruins of time and lead us mercifully into Your eternal city of Heaven.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK