Prologue from Ochrid - April 14 [April 27]
1. St Martin the Confessor, Pope of Rome.
Martin became Pope on July 5th, 649, at the time of a furious quarrel between the Orthodox and the Monothelite heretics. Constans the Second, Heraclius' grandson, was on the throne at the time, and Paul was Patriarch of Constantinople. To restore peace in the Church, the Emperor himself wrote a dogmatic decree, the Typos, which leaned heavily towards heresy. Pope Martin summoned a Council of 105 bishops, at which the Emperor's statement was condemned. At the same time, the Pope wrote a letter to Patriarch Paul, begging him to uphold the purity of the Orthodox faith and to counsel the Emperor to reject the theories of the heretics. This letter infuriated both the Patriarch and the Emperor. The Emperor sent one of his generals, Olympius, to take the Pope to Constantinople in bonds. The general did not dare to bind the Pope with his own hands, but instructed one of his soldiers to kill him with the sword in church. But, when the soldier entered the church with his sword concealed, he was instantly blinded. So, by the providence of God, Martin escaped death. At that time, the Saracens fell upon Sicily, and Olympius went off there, where he died. Then, by the intrigues of the heretic Patriarch Paul, the Emperor sent a second general, Theodore, to bind and take the Pope on the charge that he, the Pope, was in collusion with the Saracens and that he did not reverence the most holy Mother of God. When the general arrived in Rome and read the accusation against the Pope, he replied that it was libel; that he had no contact of any sort with the Saracens, the opponents of Christianity, 'and whoever does not confess the most holy Mother of God and do her reverence, let him be damned in this age and in that which is to come'. But this did not affect the general's decision. The Pope was bound and taken to Constantinople, where he lay long in prison in great sickness, tortured by both anxiety and hunger, until he was finally sentenced to exile in Cherson, where he lived for two years before his death. He gave his soul into the hands of the Lord, for whom he had suffered so greatly, in 655. The evil Patriarch, Paul, died two years before him and, when the Emperor visited him on his deathbed, he smote his head against the wall, confessing with tears that he had greatly sinned against Pope Martin and asking the Emperor to set Martin free.
2. The Holy Martyrs Antony, John and Eustace.
These three were all at first pagans and fire-worshippers. They were slaves at the court of the Lithuanian Prince Olgard in Vilna. Their former names were Krugletz, Kumetz and Neghilo. All three were baptised by a priest called Nestor. The three of them were hanged, one behind the other, from the same oak tree in 1347. Christians cut down this oak and built a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, in which they laid the precious relics of these martyrs, making the Holy Table from the stump of the tree. Their relics are preserved in Vilna.
3. The Holy Martyr Ardalion the Actor.
He was at first an actor, a comedian. For the merriment of the crowd, his favourite role was a burlesque of martyrs for the Faith that mocked the Christians in every possible way. But when a persecution of Christians arose under Maximian, his spirit changed entirely. He called out in a loud voice before the crowd that he was a Christian, and that they must not laugh. For this, Ardalion was tried and suffered for Christ, and died bound on a red-hot iron litter, playing the role of martyr in very truth and with honour.
"It is befitting for a monk to love God as a son and to fear Him [God] as a slave," says St. Evgarius. Naturally, this is also befitting to every Christian, even though he might not be a monk. It is a great art for anyone to unite love for God and to have fear of God. Many other Holy Fathers whenever they speak about love for God, at the same time, also mention fear of God, and vice-versa. In his homily: "On Perfect Love," St. John Chrysostom speaks about suffering and the pains of Hell at the same time. Why? Because the great love of man toward God without fear, imperceptibly crosses over into pride and then, again, a great fear of God without love leads to despair.
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How He appeared to the disciples on the shore of the lake and addresses them as "children" (St. John 21:5) .
- How He fills their nets again with fish and they knew Him but did not dare to ask Him, "Who are You?" (St. John 21:12).
About the personal experience of all the apostles
"What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands---We proclaim now to you " (1 St. John 1:1).
Behold, such is the apostolic preaching! The apostles do not speak as worldly sages, nor like philosophers and even less as theoreticians who make suppositions about something in order to discover something. The apostles speak about things which they have not sought but which unexpectedly surrounded them; about the fact which they did not discover but, so to speak, unexpectedly found them and seized them. They did not occupy themselves with spiritual researches nor have they studied psychology, neither did they, much less, occupy themselves with spiritism. Their occupation was fishing - one totally experiential physical occupation. While they were fishing, the God-Man [Jesus] appeared to them and cautiously and slowly introduced them to a new vocation in the service of Himself. At first, they did not believe Him but they, still more cautiously and slowly with fear and hesitation and much wavering, came toward Him and recognized Him. Until the apostles saw Him many times with their own eyes and until they discussed Him many times among themselves and, until they felt Him with their own hands, their experienced fact is supernatural but their method of recognizing this fact is thoroughly sensory and positively learned. Not even one contemporary scholar would be able to use a more positive method to know Christ. The apostles saw not only one miracle but numerous miracles. They heard not only one lesson but many lessons which could not be contained in numerous books. They saw the resurrected Lord for forty days; they walked with Him, they conversed with Him, they ate with Him, and they touched Him. In a word: they personally and first handedly had thousands of wondrous facts by which they learned and confirmed one great fact, i.e., that Christ is the God-Man, the Son of the Living God, the Man-loving Savior of mankind and the All-Powerful Judge of the living and the dead.
O resurrected Lord confirm us in the faith and ardor of Your Holy Apostles.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK