Prologue from Ochrid - March 24 [April 6]
1. St Artemon, Bishop of Seleucia.
He was born and educated in Seleucia. When the Apostle Paul came to that city, he saw Artemon, confirmed him yet more strongly in the Christian faith and made him bishop of the city. Artemon guided Christ's flock with love and zeal as a physician to the souls and bodies of his people, and entered into eternity in great old age.
2. Our Holy Father James the Confessor.
He suffered for the sake of the holy icons under the Emperor Leo the Armenian (813-20). He was a monk and a brother of the Studite monastery. When the great Theodore of the Studion was sent into exile, James was given over to great tortures to force him to renounce the veneration of icons. But he remained steadfast and faithful to Orthodoxy to the end. They returned him to his monastery beaten and tortured when the evil Emperor Leo had made a bad end. He died of his grievous injuries there in the monastery, and entered into the company of the citizens of heaven.
3. The Hieromartyr Parthenius, Patriarch of Constantinople.
Born on the island of Mitylene, he was Bishop of Chios for a long time, and was later chosen as Patriarch. But, because of false allegations that he was working against the state, the Turks at first tried to force him to embrace Islam and, when he refused decisively, hanged him in 1657.
4. Commemoration of the Miracle at the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev.
Two friends, John and Sergius, swore brotherhood before the icon of the holy Mother of God in this monastery. John was a rich man, with a five-year-old son, Zachariah. John fell ill, and at his death commended his son to the care of Sergius, and left in Sergius's keeping a large sum of silver and gold for him to hand over to Zachariah when he had grown up. When Zachariah came of age, however, Sergius denied receiving anything from the deceased John. Then Zachariah said: 'Let him swear before the same icon of the most holy Mother of God, in front of which he accepted brotherhood with my late father, that he received nothing from John, and then I will seek nothing more from him.' Sergius agreed, but when he had sworn this and went up to kiss the icon, some force held him back and would not allow him to come near. Then, tormented all at once by a demon, he began to cry out: 'Holy fathers Antony and Theodosius, do not let this merciless angel destroy me!' The demon had attacked him by God's permission. He then told them of all the money which John had left. But when they opened the box, they found double the amount. Taking it, Zachariah gave it to the monastery and was himself tonsured as a monk. He lived a long time and was worthy of God's great gifts, entering peacefully into eternity.
5. Our Holy Father Zacharias.
He was the son of Carion the Egyptian, who left wife and children to become a monk. The father took Zacharias with him, since his mother was unable to provide for him. Although younger than many of the elders in Scetis, he received greater gifts of grace than many of them. He felt as if his whole interior was aflame with the grace of God. Zacharias replied to the question of St Macarius, 'Who is a true monk?' saying: 'He who constantly restrains himself in the fulfilment of God's commandments.' And to the question of Abba Moses: 'What does it mean to be a monk?', Zacharias took off his hat and trod it underfoot, saying: 'If a man be not so broken, he cannot be a monk.' He was a great light among the monks in the desert, and went to his peace in the Lord at an early age.
Abba Daniel and Abba Ammoe were traveling. Abba Ammoe said, "Father, when will we arrive at the cell?" (that is, so that they could to pray to God). Abba Daniel replied, "And who is taking God away from us now?" The same God is in the cell and outside the cell.. By this we are taught uninterruptedness of prayer, thoughts about God, and contemplation of God's works in us and around us. The Church facilitates prayer and intensifies it. So it is the same with solitude and confinement; each in its own way facilitates and intensifies it. He who does not want to pray will not be bound either by a church or a cell. Neither will he who has felt the pleasure of prayer be able to separate his nature or journeying from prayer.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus on the cross crucified:
- Counting the drops of His All-Holy Blood and counting my sins;
- Counting His painful sighs and counting the stupid days of my laughter.
About faithfulness in suffering and the crown of life
"Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).
By His suffering our Lord eased our suffering. He endured the greatest of pain and emerged as the Victor. That is why He can encourage us in our lesser sufferings. He suffered and endured in righteousness while we suffer and endure in expiating our own sins. This is why He can doubly remind us to endure to the end as He, the Sinless One, endured. Not one of us has helped nor alleviated His pains and endurance, yet He stands along side each one of us when we suffer and alleviates our pains and misfortunes. That is why He has the right to tell each one who suffers for His Name's sake: "Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer," says Christ, for I alone have endured all suffering and am familiar with them. I was not frightened at not a single suffering. I received them upon Myself and, in the end, overcame them all. I did not overcome them by dismissing them or fleeing from them but receiving them all upon Myself voluntarily and enduring them all to the end. And so you also should accept voluntary suffering, for I see and know how much and for how long you can endure.
If your suffering should continue to death itself and if it is the cause of your death, nevertheless, do not be afraid; "I will give you the crown of life." I will crown you with immortal life in which I reign eternally with the Father and the Life-Giving Spirit. God did not send you to earth to live comfortably, rather to prepare for eternal life. It would be a great tragedy if your Creator were unable to give you a better, longer, and brighter life than that which is on earth which reeks of decay and death and is shorter than the life of a raven.
O my brethren, let us listen to the words of the Lord and all of our sufferings will be alleviated. If the blows of the world seem as hard as stones, they will become as the foam of the sea when we obey the Lord.
O Victorious Lord, teach us more about Your long-suffering; and when we become exhausted, extend Your hand and sustain us.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK