Prologue from Ochrid - March 27 [April 9]
1. The Holy Martyr Matrona.
She was an orphan, and a servant in the house of a certain Jew in Salonica. The wife of this Jew constantly derided Matrona for her faith in Christ, and urged her to cast Christ aside and go to the synagogue. But the humble Matrona went about her work conscientiously, not replying to, her mistress and secretly praying to Christ our God. On one occasion the Jewess discovered that Matrona had gone to church unbeknown to her, and demande , in a great rage, to know why she had gone to the church and not the synagogue. 'Because God is alive in the Christian Church, but He has departed from the synagogues of the Jews', replied Matrona. Enraged by such a courageous answer, the Jewess thrashed her and locked her in a dark chamber, and in addition to that had her bound. But the next day she found her unbound by the power of God and kneeling in prayer, praising God. Then she locked her up again for the second time until she died of hunger. Then that wicked woman took the body of the holy maiden and threw it to the ground from the top of her house. Christians took the body of the martyr and buried it, and the bishop, Alexander, when he had learned of the many miracles worked by the holy martyr, built a church over her grave. As for the evil Jewess, she soon received her just reward, when, standing on the same spot from which she had thrown Matrona's body, she slipped and fell onto the cobbled pavement and was smashed to pieces.
2. Our Holy Father John the Seer.
He as a carpenter until the age of twenty-five, when, urged on by an unquenchable desire for constant prayer, he took himself off into the desert, where he lived until his death, that is, until the age of ninety. He lived in the body as one without a body. He could look into the heart of every person who came near him and could discover his name, and his thoughts and desires. He foretold the outcome of the Emperor Theodosius's battles to him; prophesied to nobles, to monks, to anyone at all who was in need, to uncover what was hidden from them in the darkness of future days. A certain prince asked him to receive his wife, who wished to see him. The holy man was not willing to satisfy empty curiosity, so he appeared in a dream to the prince's wife, and she saw him just as he was. And when the woman described her dream to her husband, he affirmed that such was the appearance of the holy man. He taught every visitor about humility, which is the basic virtue, and always drew his examples from life. He taught how pride makes war against a man of exalted character and brings him to dust and to terrible sins. He endured great assaults from evil spirits. Once Satan appeared to him with a great crowd of demons in the form of shining angels. They pressed him to bow down before Satan, lying to him and telling him that it was Christ. But he answered with great wisdom: 'Every day I bow down to Jesus Christ my King; if it were He, it would not be necessary for me to bow down to Him at this particular moment.' After these words, the evil forces disappeared like smoke. He died peacefully, kneeling in prayer, at the age of ninety.
3. Our Holy Father Paphnutius.
He was a disciple of St Antony the Great. The holiness of his life brought many sinners (for example, St Thais, Oct 8th) back to the path of repentance, for he was more like a bodiless angel than a carnal man. He entered into rest towards the end of the fourth century.
"There is no cleanness in him who thinks evil," says St. Simeon the New Theologian; and he further adds, "How can there be a pure heart in him, who soils it with impure thoughts as a mirror is darkened by dust?" Do you see then, the inexcessible height of which the religion of Christ stands above all other faiths and worldly sophistries? He who only thinks about evil, even though he does not commit any evil, is at fault before God and before his own soul. For he offends God and loses his soul. To be a Christian, in the proper sense, means to invest enormous effort on cleansing evil thoughts from one's heart and mind. What kind of effort is that? There exists a complete study about this, which in our days became completely locked away even for us Christians, and the one enormous actual experience of holy men and women who justified that study. To cleanse oneself from these wicked and impure thoughts, the root of all evil, was the goal of all the great ascetics, hermits and silentaries.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:
- How He Who resurrected from the dead, hangs on the cross, a lifeless body;
- How He died for our sake so that we would have more abundant life and more abundant truth about immortal life.
About Christian as kings and priests
"You made them a kingdom and priests for God" (Revelation 5:10).
The Lord Jesus wants to make all men similar to Himself. As the Son of God, He wants all men to become the adopted sons of God. As a King, He wants them to be co-kings with Him. As a Priest, to be co-priests with Him. As Almighty, to share in His strength. As Eternal, to share in His immortality. As Holy, to share in His holiness. As the Resurrected One, to all be the children of the resurrection. This, the Lord desired and that is why He descended to earth: to separate us from the animals and to elevate us above the life of the animals and to give us dignity over His visible creation, a dignity which Adam had in Paradise before the Fall. Because of this, His love for mankind and His salvatory plan for all people, the Lord was crucified on the cross by the Jewish elders. And even from us Christians today, He reaped the thorns of ingratitude and misunderstanding countless times. We show ourselves to be ungrateful and unreasonable whenever we undermine and trample His commandments. By his sins every sinner plaits a new wreath of thorns and places it on His Sacred Head. When did He ever offend us, that we did this to Him? When did He ever think evil about anyone of us, that we return Him evil? He lowered Himself into our fetid pit where we have become accustomed to live with snakes and scorpions and pulled us higher to the heights, to light and purity in the kingdom. He wants to make us kings and priests, and we drive away His saving hand and return to the pit with snakes and scorpions.
O brethren, enough and more than enough of this humiliation of Him and destruction of ourselves. Let us firmly grab the hand of our Savior and follow Him. He desires good for us. He does good for us. For our good, He suffered. He is our One and Only Friend Who does not change.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK