Prologue from Ochrid - August 2 [August 15]
1. The Finding and Translation of the Relics of St Stephen, the Archdeacon and Protomartyr.
When the wicked Jews stoned St Stephen to death, they left his body for the dogs to eat. But God's providence disposed otherwise. The martyr's body lay in an open place outside the town a night and two days, then, on the second night, Gamaliel, Paul's teacher and a secret follower of Christ, came and took his body to Caphargamala, and there buried it in a cave on his own land. Gamaliel buried his friend Nicodemus, who died lamenting over Stephen's grave, in the same cave. He also buried his godson Abibus there and, in accordance with his wishes, was buried there himself. Centuries passed, and no-one living knew the whereabouts of Stephen's grave. But in 415, in the time of Patriarch John of Jerusalem, Gamaliel appeared three times in a dream to a priest, Lucian, in Caphargamala, and told him in minute detail about the burial of all the above mentioned, indicating precisely the forgotten place of their burial. Moved by this dream, Lucian informed the Patriarch and, with his blessing, went with a group of men and dug up the four graves, Gamaliel having already told him in the dream which grave was which. A strong and fragrant odour from the relics of these saints filled the cave. St Stephen's relics were solemnly translated to Sion and there buried with ceremony, and the relics of the others were taken to a hill above the cave and laid to rest in a church there. Many hearings of the sick were performed in those days over the relics of St Stephen. Later, they were taken to Constantinople. Thus the Lord crowned with great glory him who first shed his blood for His name.
2. The Hieromartyr Stephen, Pope of Rome and others with him.
He was Pope in Rome from 254 to 257, and fought against the heretic Novatius. Healing Lucilla, the 'daughter of the tribune Nemesius, he baptised them both. He suffered in the time of Valerian with twelve of his priests, being beheaded during a celebration of the Liturgy.
3. Blessed Basil, the Fool for Christ of Moscow.
His father was called Jacob and his mother Anna. At the age of sixteen, he gave himself to the ascesis of folly for Christ, and persevered in that hard asceticism for seventy-two years, living to the age of eighty-eight. He went barefoot, bareheaded and in tatters, and had no settled shelter. He set sinners on the right way, reprimanded the nobles and had true insight into distant events. Suffering greatly from hunger, from cold and from the insults of men, Blessed Basil gave his holy soul to God. Tsar Ivan was at his funeral, with the Metropolitan. He was buried in the Moscow church of the Most Holy Mother of God, later re-named for him.
We must be patient and merciful toward the sinner if we wish that a long-suffering [patient] God be merciful to us. The great compassion of Blessed Alexander, the Patriarch of Antioch, had become proverbial. One of his scribes stole several gold pieces and fled to Thebaid. However, some robbers captured him in the wilderness and they took him with them. Learning of this, Alexander sent the robbers eighty-five gold pieces as a ransom. That is why it was said: "The mercy of Alexander cannot be overcome by any sin." St. John the Merciful One writes: "The long-suffering [patience] of God is unchangeable and His mercy is kind How many criminals are there who go out to kill and rob that He conceals in order that they may not be captured and placed under tortures? Pirates sail the sea and God does not order the sea to drown them. How many falsely swear by Holy Communion and He tolerates not repaying them for that with evil? Robbers steal on the road and He does not give them over to the beasts to tear them to pieces Libertines go off with prostitutes and He tolerates them. Why all of this? Because He waits for repentance and conversion. Truly, God does not want the destruction of a sinner That is why, brethren, let us be ashamed before the most lenient Lord God."
To contemplate God's miraculous assistance to the repentant Israelites (Judges 11):
- How the penitents cry out to God: do with us whatsoever You please, only deliver us now (Judges 10);
- How the Spirit of the Lord descended upon Jepthah and he destroyed the Ammonites and liberated Israel;
- How, even today, repentance of men brings peace with God and brings down the help of God in danger.
About God's grievance against the unfaithful people
"Hear, O heavens and listen, O earth, for the Lord speaks: sons have I raised and reared but they have disowned me!" (Isaiah 1:2).
The wrath, wrath of God! God turns from the chosen people in wrath and grieves to His other creations; He grieves to the heavens and the earth. Harken my holy and rational angels and harken all you irrational earthly creatures! I wanted to make this people holy and rational and they have lowered themselves beneath irrational creatures with their impurity and ungratefulness. I have called them my sons and exalted them and they turned their backs on me and went after foul idols. Wrath, wrath of God, the wrath of Love, that even a thousand times does good to a leper and that even a thousand times was spat upon by the leper. When and if all the elements could speak, they could, with all the living things, witness all the great miracles which the One Living God performed for the people of Israel in Egypt and in the wilderness, only that they turn away from idolatry and believe in the One Living and Almighty God. This could be attested by water and blood, by stone and wood, by darkness and fire, by frogs and flies, by birds and serpents, by sickness and death and clouds and smoke, by winds and manna, and copper and iron together with pharaoh and the countless numbers of peoples miraculously defeated by the hand of God and removed from the path of the people of Israel. But still, they turned from God and went after idols.
This is the dreadful vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos, the prophet of God. O, my brethren, just imagine what kind of vision the Prophet Isaiah would have concerning us if he would appear today among our people!
O Lord, the only living, the only Omnipotent, affix our mind and our heart to You the true God and safeguard us; safeguard us from apostatizing from You.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK