Prologue from Ochrid - March 23 [April 5]
1. The Hieromartyr Nikon.
Born in Naples of a pagan father and a Christian mother, he was an officer in the Roman army in Naples. He was not baptised, although his mother, unbeknown to his father, had instructed him in the Christian faith. Once, when he was setting off with his company to war, his mother advised him, if he were in trouble, to make the sign of the Cross and call on Christ to help him. And so, when Nikon's company was surrounded during the battle and close to final extermination, Nikon made the sign of the Cross and began to call upon Christ. At that moment he was filled with exceptional strength and rushed upon his opponents, killing some and putting the others to flight. Returning home, Nikon could not stop exclaming in wonder: 'Great is the God of the Christians!' After he had brought joy to his mother with his report of the victory by the aid of Christ's Cross, he set sail in secret for Asia, where the Bishop of Cyzicus, Theodosius, baptised him. After his baptism, he shut himself up in a monastery and devoted himself to study and to asceticism. However, Bishop Theodosius had a vision before his death, in which he was told to consecrate Nikon as his successor. The aged Theodosius summoned Nikon immediately and ordained him deacon, and then priest and bishop. By divine providence Nikon came soon after this to Neapolis, where he found his mother still alive. On her death, he went to Sicily with nine disciples, one-time comrades in battle, and there devoted himself to preaching the Gospel. There was a terrible persecution of Christians at that time, and Prince Quintianus seized Nikon and his companions and gave them over to great torture. One hundred and ninety of his disciples and friends were slain. The torturer tied Nikon to the tails of horses, threw him from a high cliff into a ravine, beat him and flayed him, yet Nikon survived all these tortures. He was finally slain with the sword and his body was abandoned in a field for the birds to eat, but a shepherd boy, possessed by a raging evil spirit, fell on the dead body of Christ's martyr, took hold of it, and was immediately healed. He spread the news about Nikon's body, and Christians came and buried it. St Nikon suffered and went to the Lord in the reign of the Emperor Decius.
2. Our Holy Father Nikhon of the Kiev Caves.
Nikhon was a friend of St Antony of the Caves and the spiritual father of our holy father Theodosius. After the tonsuring of the Boyar Varlaam and the eunuch Ephraim he was threatened by Prince lz'aslav, but the princess turned the prince's anger to godly fear and holy Nikhon was left in peace. Desiring to beautify the Church with icons, Nikhon prayed for assistance, and through his prayers some Greek iconographers suddenly arrived in Kiev from Constantinople, St Antony and St Theodore having appeared to them in a vision and sent them to Nikhon in Kiev. He was glorified for his daring asceticism and his spiritual wisdom. He became abbot of the Monastery of the Caves against his will in old age, and went to the Lord in 1066. His incorrupt relics are preserved in the Kiev Caves.
Author's note: In the Greek Synaxarion and the Athonite Patrology the New Martyr Luke from Jedren is commemorated on this day. He was taken to Constantinople by the Turks as a child and circumcised. He was greatly troubled in his conscience because of this, regarding his circumcision as the devil's seal upon him, which he could destroy only by suffering martyrdom for Christ. He became a monk on the Holy Mountain and went with his staretz, Vissiarion, to Mitylene, being murdered there by the Turks on March 23rd, 1802. Hanging in the air, the martyr's body gave forth a fragrant myrrh.
St. Paphnutius prayed to God to reveal to him, who it is that he [Paphnutius] resembled. He heard a voice which spoke to him, "You are similar to a merchant who seeks good pearls; arise and do not be idle!" But why would not God say to everyone of us that we are similar to a merchant who seeks good pearls? Because many of us do not seek pearls, rather we gorge ourselves with heavy layers of cheap dust. Not everything which the net raises up from the bottom of the sea is a pearl; sometimes, it is only mud and sand. The ignorant vie for that mud and sand as though it were a pearl. Only the merchant who recognizes a true pearl casts the net into the sea untold number of times. He hauls it up, sifts it of mud and sand, until he finds one seed of pearl! Why does God compare Paphnutius to a merchant? Because Paphnutius gave away all of his possessions, invested all of his effort and all of his time, in order to find that one seed of the true pearl. That true pearl is the heart cleansed of all passions and of evil thoughts and warmed by the flame of love toward God. Arise also, you man, and do not be lazy! Your marketing day is approaching its twilight.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus crucified on the cross:
- How His compassionate love for mankind did not diminish because of His sufferings;
- How, with love, He offers comfort to His mother, commending John to her, as a son, in place of Himself;
- How, with love, He prays to the Father for mankind: " Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" (St. Luke 23:34).
About the weakness of man before the majesty of God
"When I caught sight of Him, I fell down at His feet as though dead" (Revelation 1:17).
It was St. John who fell as though dead when he saw the Lord Jesus in glory. St. John, the Beloved Disciple of Jesus, The Evangelist, The Chaste One, The one who loved the Lord, and a zealot for holiness - could not stand on his feet nor compose himself when he saw his Teacher in His heavenly glory and power! But, "fell, as though dead." How will they, therefore, endure the presence of the Lord and His eyes "a fiery flame," they who sin against Him, they who rise up against Him, they who ridicule His Name, they who despise His love and sacrifice, they who mock His cross, they who trample upon His commandments, they who persecute His Church, they who shame His priests, and they who kill His faithful? What will happen to them before the face of the Lord when St. John fell as dead when he caught sight of Him? What will happen to the literate who corrupt? What will happen to teachers who destroy the Faith in young souls? What will happen to skeptics who through their doubt poison the minds of men? What will happen to thieves and robbers and what will happen to the immoral and what will happen to the child-killers? What will happen to the enemies of Christ when the friend of Jesus falls, as though dead, before His indescribable, glistening glory? Such is the glory, power, authority, beauty, lordship, light and majesty of the Lord Jesus, resurrected and ascended, that His closest companions who for three years on earth gazed upon His face without fear, now fall as though dead when they see His face in the heavens following His passion, death and victory!
O Lord All-glorious and Almighty illuminate us and enliven us by Your power and glory.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK