Prologue from Ochrid - April 15 [April 28]
1. The Holy Apostles Aristarchus, Pudens and Trophimus.
These were all numbered among the Seventy. Aristarchus was Bishop of Apamea in Syria. The Apostle Paul mentions him several times (Acts 19:29; Col. 4:10; Philem. v.24). He was seized in Ephesus, together with Gaius, by a mob that had risen up against Paul. The Apostle wrote to the Colossians: 'Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner saluteth you', and, in the Epistle to Philemon, Paul calls Aristarchus 'my fellow-labourer', together with Mark, Demas and Lucas.
Pudens was an eminent Roman citizen. The Apostle Paul mentions him once (II Tim. 4:21). Pudens' house was first the refuge of the chief apostles and was then turned into a church dedicated to the Good Shepherd.
Trophimus was an Asian (Acts 20:4), and accompanied St Paul on his journeys. In one place, Paul writes: 'Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick (II Tim. 4:21).
During Nero's persecution, when the Apostle Paul was beheaded, these glorious martyrs were also beheaded.
2. The Holy Martyr Sabbas the Goth.
There was a brutal persecution of Christians on the part of the Goths. A Gothic prince came to the village where this devout Sabbas lived, and asked the villagers if there were any Christians there. They answered him on their honour that there were none. Then Sabbas stood before the Prince and the people, and said: 'Let no-one swear an oath on my behalf. I am a Christian.' The prince, seeing this poor wretch, let him go in peace, saying: 'This one can do neither harm nor good.' The next year, just at Easter, a priest, Sansal, came to the village and celebrated Easter with Sabbas. the pagans, coming to hear of this, descended suddenly on Sabbas's house and began to belabour the men of God without mercy, then, having dragged Sabbas naked through thorns, bound them both to trees and tried to force them to eat meat offered to idols. But the men of God, remembering the Apostle's words, would not touch the unclean, diabolical sacrifices. The prince finally sentenced Sabbas to death and handed him over to the soldiers. Sabbas went to the place of execution full of joy, praising God. Recognising in him a good man, the soldiers sought to set him free on the way, but Sabbas was greatly distressed by this and told the soldiers that they were in duty bound to carry out the prince's command. Then the soldiers brought him to a river, tied a rock round his neck and threw him into the water. His body was cast up onto the bank. Later the Greek commander Ionnios Soranos, in the time of the Emperor Valens, found Sabbas's body during a war with the Goths and took it to Cappadocia. St Sabbas suffered in 372, at the age of 31.
3. The Holy Martyrs Vasilissa and Anastasia.
Two devout Roman women, they gathered the bodies of the apostles' disciples for burial during Nero's persecutions. They were arrested for this and imprisoned and, after prolonged torture in which their breasts were cut off and their tongues cut out, they were beheaded.
Concerning contemplation, St. Gregory Sinaites writes: "We confirm that there are eight principle subjects for contemplation: First, God, invisible and unseen; without beginning and uncreated; the First Cause of everything that exists; Triune; the one and only pre-existing Divinity; Second, the order and rank of rational powers: [the bodiless powers of heaven; the angelic world]; Third, the composition of visible things; Fourth, the plan of the Incarnation of the Word; Fifth, the general resurrection; Sixth, the awesome second coming (Second Advent) of Christ; Seventh, eternal torment; Eighth, the Kingdom of Heaven. The first four have already been revealed and belong to the past. The last four have not yet been revealed and belong to the future, even though these four are clearly contemplated by those who, with the help of acquired Grace, attained complete purity of mind. Whosoever approaches this task of contemplation without the illumination of Grace, let him know that he is building fantasies and does not possess the art of contemplation." Thus wrote the great and discerning Gregory Sinaites who, that which he knows, he knows form personal experience.
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How he is concerned about the physical nourishment of His disciples; How He breaks and blesses bread for the disciples in Emmaus;
- How by the shore of the lake he asked His disciples: "Have you caught anything to eat?" (St. John 21:5). When they answered Him that they have not, He prepared bread and fish and gave it to them.
About how we will resemble Him Whom we love
"Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).
Until now, we were slaves and now we are the children of God. We were the slaves of evil and now we are the servants of good; the supreme good in heaven and on earth. We were slaves to all of that which is lower and worse than man and now, we will serve the All-Highest and the All-Good. We were squashed by darkness and now, we will labor in the light. Until now, the devil, sin and death held us in continual fear and now, we will live close to God in freedom and joy.
Now, when now? Now, when the Lord appeared on earth in the flesh, when He gave us the knowledge of light, freedom and life; when He gloriously resurrected and manifested Himself in His glorified body; when He fulfilled all the prophecies of the prophets and all of His promises. Now we, too, are the children of God: "The sons of light and the heirs of the Kingdom."
"We shall be like Him." Truly, this has not yet materialized but He has manifested Himself and, for now, that is sufficient. He Himself showed how beautiful man is in the resurrection and we know that we will also be the same as He. The Apostle John says: "We know that we shall be like Him." He does not say we suspect or it has been told to us but he does say: "We know that we shall be like Him." For He did not resurrect for His sake, but for our sake. He did not resurrect from the grave, only to show His power to the dead who are without hope, but to assure the dead that they, too, will live again and to show them how they will be when they become enlivened. Neither did the apostles write: " We know," because of their vanity before the ignorant, but because of brotherly love toward man, that all men may know the same and "that we may also know."
O resurrected Lord, confirm in us also this saving knowledge through the prayers 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