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Prologue from Ochrid - April 17 [April 30]

1. The Hieromartyr Simeon, Bishop in Persia.

In the time of the wicked King Savori, or Sapor, Simeon was tortured for Christ together with two of his priests, Audel and Ananias. The King's eunuch, Ustazan, who had first denied Christ but then, moved by the reprimand of St Simeon, again confessed the true Faith before the King, was executed before they were. A thousand other Christians were also led to execution with St Simeon, who purposely stood a little back so that he should be the last to die, and so be able to encourage the other Christians right to the end and keep them from wavering through fear of death. When the priest Ananias laid his head on the block, he was trembling all over. But the King's clerk, Fusik, who was himself secretly a Christian, began to encourage him, saying: 'Don't be frightened, old man. Shut your eyes and be a man, and you'll see the divine light.' As soon as he had said this, it was seen that he was a Christian and he was denounced to the King. The King wore him down with harsh tortures, and also his daughter, the maiden Askitria. St Simeon was eventually beheaded, after having seen his flock into the other world. The following year, on Great Friday, the King's beloved eunuch, Azat, was slain for Christ, along with another thousand of the faithful. Then the King grieved for his eunuch and gave up killing any more Christians. They all suffered with honour for Christ their King and Lord in about 341.

2. St Acacius, Bishop of Melitene.

He lived in asceticism in his birthplace, the city of Melitene in Armenia. Blessed Otreius, the bishop of that city, who took part in the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, ordained him to the priesthood. After Otreius' death, Acacius was chosen as bishop. He participated in the Third Ecumenical Council in 431, which condemned the Nestorian blasphemy concerning the Mother of God. There he, together with St Cyril of Alexandria, showed great zeal for the purity of the Orthodox faith. St Acacius was endowed with great grace by God, and worked many miracles. After long and zealous service of God, he died peacefully in 435.

3. St Agapetus, Pope of Rome.

He was sent by Theodotus, King of the Goths, to the Emperor Justinian in Constantinople, to dissuade the latter from his campaign against the Goths. On the way, he healed a dumb and blind man. In Constantinople, he helped to uphold Orthodoxy, and died in 536.

4. Our Holy Fathers Sabbatius and Zossima.

These two were the founders of an ascetic community on the island of Solovetz in the White Sea. Many great saints were glorified in this community. St Sabbatius entered into rest in 1435, and St Zossima in 1478.

Reflection

After the Fourth Ecumenical Council [Chalcedon, 451 A.D.] the heretical Emperor Anastasius banished the Orthodox Patriarchs, Elias of Jerusalem and Flavian of Antioch, into exile. One day simultaneously, both of the saints, discerned the death of the heretical emperor and sent each other the news about this saying: "Anastasius is dead! Let us also go to stand judgment with him before God." The emperor died and two days later both patriarchs died. What zeal for the True Faith! What a humble hope before God's judgment. For these saints, it was not a matter of living longer on earth but the matter of God's truth. Neither did they say: "We judged him," rather "may God judge him!" Our stay on earth is not for the sake of sojourning but for personal choice for good or for evil; for truth or for falsehood. Blessed are we if we, in everything, trust God's will and hope in God's judgment. For in all, one must have a strong faith. These Orthodox archpastors had a strong faith. St. Acacius also had a strong faith. Once, during a great drought when the people were despairing, this wonderful Acacius led a procession of the people throughout the town and outside the town. He ordered that the Divine Liturgy be celebrated outside the town before the Church of St. Eustace. After consecrating the Holy Gifts, Acacius did not want to pour water into the wine but prayed to God that He, the Most-High, lower water into the chalice from the clouds. God heard the prayer of His faithful servant and sent abundant rain in the dry fields as well as into the honorable chalice.

Contemplation

To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:

  1. How forty days after the resurrection He still remains on earth showing Himself to the faithful and strengthening them in the Faith;
  2. How by His forty day manifestation, He demonstrates that He did not resurrect for His sake but for the sake of mankind.

Homily

About the wonderful promise of Christ

"I will give the victor the right to sit with Me on My throne" (Revelation 3:21).

This, brethren, is the promise of Christ, the Victor over the devil, sin and death.

But the devil, sin and death are stronger than man. Who can overcome them? No one, except Christ and those who stand firm with Christ and with His weapons enter into battle.

The devil is as old as the world and even older than the world. How can man, whose life-span is measured with a pendulum, defeat him who, for many thousands of years, learns to wage battle against man? How can a mortal overpower all the temptation of the devil, whose number equals the number of sins on earth? By no means, if he does not know that the Lord Jesus conquered the three main types of diabolical temptations on the high mountain. By no means, if a man does not remain firm and steadfast along side Christ Who is older than time and mightier than all the angels, both evil and good.

Sin is as old as the devil. How can man, whose life-span is measured by a pendulum, avoid sin which, as a contagious disease and evil odor, is passed from generation to generation, from man to man since man exists on such an earth? By no means, if he does not know that there existed one Man, the One and Only, Who did not commit sin, neither in birth nor after birth; the God-Man Jesus Christ Who, through the humbleness of His humanity and the fire of His Divinity, crushed sin on the Cross. By no means, if a man does not stand firm with Christ Who is older than sin and Who is mightier than all of the sowers and carriers of sin.

Death is as old as man expelled from Paradise. How can a man, whose life span is measured by a pendulum, conquer death in this worldly grave? By no means, if he does not acknowledge the power of the Cross and the suffering of Christ and the truth of His resurrection from the grave. By no means, if he does not stand firm with Christ, the Almighty Victor over death.

O what a glorious reward for those who achieve victory! They will be seated, crowned with wreaths of glory, on the throne of the greatest Victor on earth and in heaven!

To Him be glory and thanks always. Amen.

From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK