Prologue from Ochrid - March 26 [April 8]
1. The Holy Archangel Gabriel.
The herald of the incarnation of the Son of God, he is one of the seven great angels who stand before the throne of God. He revealed to Zacharias the birth of the Forerunner, and said of himself: 'I am Gabriel that stand in the presence of God' (Lk. 1:19). His name, Gabriel, signifies 'man of God'. Speaking about the Annunciation, the holy Fathers comment that an angel with such a name was sent to signify who He was, and of what nature He was, who would be born of the most pure Virgin. He would be the Man of God, the Man-God, the strong and mighty God. Others have found that it was this same Gabriel who announced the conception of the Virgin Mary to Joachim and Anna, and that it was he who taught Moses in the wilderness to write the Book of Genesis. The holy Fathers considered that Gabriel belongs to the foremost and highest order of the heavenly powers, the seraphim, since the seraphim stand closest to God. And so he is one of the seven seraphim closest to God. The names of these seven are: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Selathiel, Jegudiel and Barachiel. Some would add Jeremiel to this number. Each has his own particular service, but all are equal in honour. Why did God not send Michael? For the reason that Michael's service is the suppression of the enemies of God's truth, while Gabriel's is the annunciation of the salvation of the human race.
2. The Hieromartyr Irenaeus, Bishop of Sirmium (Srem).
It is thought that he was a Slav, and was married and had children before becoming a bishop. He suffered for Christ in the time of Maximian, under Probus, the governor. His kinsmen stood around him during his frightful sufferings, beseeching him with tears to spare himself and them; in other words, to renounce Christ. But this glorious hieromartyr preferred the wounds he received for Christ to all the good things of this world. A certain gardener in Sirmium, Seven, also suffered at this time under Probus, also one Afrius in Regia. Since Irenaeus would not renounce his faith, Probus commanded that he be thrown from a bridge into the river Sava, where this pastor of Christ's flock died and took his place among the citizens of heaven. He suffered with honour in 304.
3. Our Holy Father Malchus.
Malchus was an agricultural worker in the neighbourhood of Antioch, and from his youth his whole spirit was directed towards God. The Arabs took him for a slave, and while he was in slavery they forced him to take a negress to wife. However, he brought her to the Christian faith and lived with her as a brother with his sister. They conspired together and escaped from slavery, but the Arabs nearly recaptured them. They hid in a cave in which they saw a lioness with her cubs, and were very greatly afraid. But God preserved them; the lioness did not harm them but killed an Arab who tried to enter the cave and seize the runaways. Reaching his home country, Malchus gave his wife to a women's monastery and went himself to a men's monastery. He lived for many years, exercising himself in asceticism, and took his place among the inhabitants of heaven in the fourth century.
4. Our Holy Father Basil the New.
He lived at first in a wood with neither shelter nor warmth. When he was arrested and questioned as to who he was, he replied: 'One of those living on earth.' They suspected that he might be a spy, and therefore tortured him very harshly. In the end he lived in freedom in Constantinople for many years. He could perceive everybody's secret thoughts, foretell the future and perform great miracles. The elder Theodora was his novice, the same Theodora who appeared after her death to Gregory, another of Basil's novices, and described to him the twenty toll-houses through which every soul must pass. St. Basil died peacefully on March 25th, 944, and took his place in the wondrous heavenly company. After his death he was seen by a citizen of Constantinople, shining with great glory in heaven.
When a miracle occurs, do not be confused by it, rather, rejoice. God has placed His finger there, either to reward or to punish or to encourage His faithful or to lead the sinners on the path of salvation. People frequently compare this world to a fiery chariot. When you see a locomotive or another steam engine, you know that an engineer is hidden from view. That does not surprise you, does it? If the engineer puts his head out of the cab, waves his hand, extends a rod, waves a handkerchief, or tosses out a letter, or makes some other sign, you know that this does not interfere with the travel of the locomotive and does not damage one pin in it. Why, then, do the faithless say that God with His miracles interferes with the movement of these earthly chariots? Why? Because the faithless are unreasonable. The faithful rejoice at God's signs. A child is frightened before a fiery chariot but rejoices when a man, resembling himself, appears from the chariot. O, how dear it is to us when, from this mute universe which hurls around us, someone appears resembling us and that someone is one who recognizes and loves us! When a miracle occurs, know that He Who resembles us greets us and says, "Do not be afraid, I am beyond all of this." St. Basil the New worked many miracles. Through prayer he healed the sick and discerned the fate of people like an open book. Through His chosen ones, God, as always, demonstrated His love and power to men in order to firmly establish the faithful in the Faith and to shame the unfaithful and to return them to the Faith.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus crucified on the cross:
- How He used the last breath of life and saves a thief on the cross;
- How He commends His soul into the hands of the Father "Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit" (St. Luke 23:46).
About the impending advent of the Lord
"Behold, I am coming soon" (Revelation 22:7).
The unfaithful and the slayers of the spirit will say, "Nearly two thousand years ago He promised that He will come and He has not come yet!" This is how they, who ridiculed Him, will lament in eternal torment. But we who are prepared for happiness in His Kingdom know that He will come in power and glory just as He promised. We know that He has already come countless times and showed Himself to His faithful ones. Did He not come to John the Divine [the one who saw God] to whom He spoke these words, "Behold, I am coming soon?" John saw Him in power and glory and felt His hand on him when he was frightened and fell before His feet as dead, "And He touched me with His right hand" (Revelation 1:17). Did He not come to Saul when in the beginning he breathed hatred against the Christians and when on the road to Damascus fell on the ground, seeing the Lord and hearing His voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" (Acts of the Apostles 9:4). And again, did He not enter into the heart of the Apostle Paul when he recognized that "Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me!" (Galatians 2:20). Did He not come to the countless martyrs, both male and female, who suffered for His Name, to encourage them, to heal them, and to have mercy on them? Did He not come to Anthony the Great, Theodore Stratelates, St. Haralambos, St. Marina, St. Sylvester and many, many more? What are we saying? Did He not return from the Kingdom of Death on the third day and appeared before the apostles? Did He not come to the aid of the Church many, many times and, as out of the dead, resurrected it whenever her enemies rejoiced, thinking that they had given His Church over to death forever? Did He not appear in His power in the Church at the time of Nero as well as at the time of Constantine; at the time of Julian, as well as at the time of Justinian; at the time of Arab tyranny, as well as at the time of the Turkish and Mongolian oppression over Christians?
O, my faithful brethren, do not submit to deception. He came countless times and comes even today. He comes to every soul to whom He can, regardless of impurity. However, we are all waiting for Him to come for the last time in power and glory. We know that His coming is certain. O Lord Most Gracious, before You come, make us worthy to recognize Your face and to be ashamed of our faces, darkened by sin.
To You glory and thanks always. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK