Prologue from Ochrid - April 16 [April 29]
1. The Holy Martyrs Agapia, Chionia and Irene.
They were sisters from the region of Aquileia. When the Emperor Diocletian was staying in Aquileia, he ordered that the famous spiritual guide, Chrysogonus, be executed. An old priest named Zoilus received a vision in which he was shown where the body of Chrysogonus lay unburied. The old man hurried off, found the body of the martyr, placed it in a coffin and carried it to his home. On the thirtieth day after that, St Chrysogonus appeared to him and told him that the three maidens would be martyred in the next nine days, and that he, Zoilus, would himself enter into rest during that time. Anastasia the Seer also received the same tidings in a vision sent by Chrysogonus, who had been her teacher. The elder Zoilus did indeed find his rest after nine days, and the three sisters were brought to trial before the Emperor. The Emperor urged the holy maidens to worship idols, but they all refused, confessing their firm faith in Christ. Irene told the Emperor that it was ridiculous to bow down to things made of wood and stone, made to order at an agreed price by the hands of a mortal man. The furious Emperor flung them into prison. Now, when the Emperor travelled to Macedonia, he took all his slaves and servants with him, including the three sisters. He gave them to Dulcitius, a general, for torture. Inflamed with a dark passion, he desired to defile the maidens, but, when he tried to go into the prison, he lost his mind and fell upon the pots and cauldrons in front of the gate, embracing and kissing them, and was completely blackened with soot. When the Emperor heard of this happening, he ordered another general to undertake the trial of the sisters. After terrible torture, the judge condemned the first two sisters to death by fire, but kept Irene for a time, hoping to defile her. But, when he sent Irene to the brothel along with some soldiers, an angel of God turned the soldiers back and led her out onto a high hill. The next day the general went out to the hill with his soldiers and, being unable to climb it, ordered that Irene be shot at with arrows. St Anastasia gathered all three bodies together in one place and gave them burial. They suffered for Christ their King and Lord in about 304.
2. The Holy Martyr Leonidas and those with him: Chariessa. Nice, Galina, Callis, Nunechia, Vasilissa and Theodora.
They were thrown into the sea, but it refused to receive them. They walked upon the sea as if it were dry land and sang praises to God: 'I have won one battle, O Lord, and the soldiers have persecuted me, O Lord, and I have not denied Thee, O Lord; save Thou my soul!' The pagans were at first astounded to behold this, but they then tied stones around their necks and again threw them into the deep, where they were drowned. They all suffered with honour for Christ our King and Lord in 281.
A story of the Elder Barlaam. A certain man had three friends. Two of them he loved sincerely, but with tedium, he avoided the third. It so happened that the king summoned this man before him to render account and to repay his debt. He turned for help to his first friend who rejected him and departed. He then turned to his second friend but even he did not help him. With shame, he then turned to the third friend and he joyfully accompanied him before the king. The interpretation is this: the first friend is wealth; the second friend is a relative; the third friend is the good works of men in this world ; The king is God. Who, through death, sends summons and seeks payment of debt. A dying man seeks help in his wealth, but it turns away and passes on immediately into the hands of another owner. He then turns to his relatives, but his relatives send him off alone and they remain. Then, he reminds himself of his good works, which he carried out with tedium and these immediately accompany him on the path in the presence of the King and Judge. He, who has ears to hear, let him hear. The only companions of the soul to the other world are the works of man, be they good or be they bad. All of that which was dear and precious to man, leaves him and turns from him. Only his works, to the very last one, accompany him. He, who has a mind to understand, let him understand.
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How according to the testimony of St. Paul He appeared alive to five hundred people at once; "After that, He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep " (1 Corinthians 15:6);
- How He appeared to the Apostle James and, again, according to the testimony of the Apostle Paul: "After that, He appeared to James, then to all the apostles" (1 Corinthians 15:7);
- How at the time of the Apostle Paul, there were still living many outside the circle of the apostles, who had seen Him.
About sobering up from sin
"Become sober as you ought and stop sinning" (1 Corinthians 15:34).
The Apostle Paul gives this commandment in relation to the resurrection of Christ. Since he had enumerated many proofs of the resurrection of the Lord, he decisively commands the faithful to sober up as is needed and not to sin anymore.
Why does the apostle place our sobriety on the dependence of the resurrection of the Lord? Because the resurrection of Christ from the dead is the main rebuttal to sinning. And, because nothing else in this world can turn us away from sinning as the knowledge that the Lord resurrected from the grave and now, sits alive on the Throne of Glory and is awaiting us on His judgment. Sinning, after that knowledge, is completely absurd. Sobering up from sinning, after that knowledge, is perfectly natural and reasonable.
"Become sober as your ought!" Not half-heartedly, but completely. Dismiss from your minds even the remembrance of sin. For sin is like a plant which can grow even in the most parched places. One drop of moisture and, seemingly, a withered plant becomes green. One remembrance of a seemingly long forgotten dead sin makes it come alive and causes it to become stronger.
The heathens and sinners, who did not have the example of the resurrection of the dead and are sinning, will have some kind of justification at the Judgment. They will say: "There was nothing so powerful that could have sobered us up from sinning. We believed that the grave was the last delta of the river of human life, for we did not have any proof of life after death." Thus, will the heathens speak? But, how will you Christians justify yourselves, you who learned of the resurrection of Christ and have not sobered up; you who have heard so many testimonies of the resurrection and the judgment and yet you continue to sin? How are you going to justify yourselves?
My brethren, sober up for once as you should and do not sin for Christ is risen from the grave. O resurrected and living Lord, help us to sober up from sin once and for all.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK