Prologue from Ochrid - August 4 [August 17]
1. The Seven Holy Youths of Ephesus.
There was a great persecution of Christians tinder the Emperor Decius. The Emperor himself went to Ephesus, and there prepared a riotous festival in honour of dead idols and also a vicious slaughter of Christians. Seven youths, all of them soldiers, held themselves apart from the foul offering of sacrifice, and wholeheartedly begged the one God to save the Christian people. They were the sons of the most eminent administrator in Ephesus, and their names were: Maximilian, Iamblichus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus and Antoninus. When they were accused before the Emperor, they hid on a hill called Ochlon outside Ephesus, concealing themselves in a cave. When the Emperor discovered this, he commanded that the cave be walled-in. God then, in His far-seeing providence, let a miraculous and long-lasting sleep fall on the young men. The imperial courtiers Theodore and Rufinus, secret Christians, caused a copper catafalque with leaden plaques to be made, on which were written the names of these young men and their death by martyrdom under the Emperor Decius. More than two hundred years then passed. In the time of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450), there arose a great dispute about the resurrection of the dead, for there were some who doubted the resurrection. Emperor Theodosius was greatly grieved at this dispute among the faithful, and prayed God that He would in some way reveal the truth to the people. At that time of altercation in the Church, some shepherds of a certain Adolius, who owned Ochlon, began building pens for their sheep and took stone after stone from this cave. Then the youths awoke from their sleep, young and in full health as they had fallen asleep. This marvel was noised abroad on all sides, and Theodosius himself came with a great retinue and spoke apart with the young men. After a week, they again entered into sleep, the sleep of death, to await the General Resurrection. The Emperor wanted to place their bodies in golden coffins, but they appeared to him in a dream and told him to leave them in the earth, as they had been.
2. The Hieromartyr Cosmas, Equal to the Apostles.
Born in Aitolia, in the village of Megadendron (Great Tree), he went off to the Holy Mountain as a young man and there, in the monastery of Philotheou, was tonsured as a monk. But, urged by a constant desire to preach the Gospel to the people, he went to Constantinople, where he asked the blessing of Patriarch Seraphim 11 for this. He visited all the Danube area, preaching the Gospel, working especially in Albania, where he suffered at the hands of a certain Kurt Pasha, who was stirred up by the Jews against Cosmas. Cosmas was strangled by the Turks and then cast into a river, in 1779. His wonderworking relics are preserved in the village of Kalikontasi, in the church of the holy Mother of God, not far from the town of Berati. He suffered for his Lord at the age of sixty-five.
"Ask and it shall be given to you," said the Lord (St. Matthew 7:7). As parents give to their children all that the children ask and all that is for their benefit, so does God, the Lover of Mankind, give to men all that men ask of God and what serves to their salvation. As a monk on Mt. Athos, Cosmas asked two things of God: to preach the Gospel to the people and to suffer as a martyr for the Faith. For an Athonite monk, who is bound by vows to his monastery, these two desires seem unattainable and unrealistic. But to God, everything is possible. God perfectly fulfilled both desires of Cosmas. The joy of Cosmas was indescribable when he received the blessing of the patriarch that he could leave Mt. Athos and go among the people to preach the Good News. Cosmas had one more similar moment of joy and, that was when the servants of the Turkish Pasha informed him that, according to the command of the Pasha, he must die.
Full of joy, the saint sank to his knees, gave thanks to God that He fulfilled even this desire and gave up his body to death and his soul to the Living God.
To contemplate the miraculous announcement of the birth of Samson (Judges 13):
- How an angel of God appeared to Manoah and his barren wife and announced that his wife will give birth to a son, who will deliver the people from slavery;
- How for this, Manoah offered a sacrifice to God and an angel, in the flame of the sacrifice, ascended to heaven;
- How even a barren woman can give birth when God wills it.
About the sickness of apostasy
"The whole head is sick and the whole heart faint" (Isaiah1:5).
Brethren, God, the God of Sabaoth, is the source of health. Go out to the heights of God, you whose heads are troubled by superfluous works and still more by superfluous concerns and be imbued with health which comes from God, only from God. A sick head those are the leaders and the elders of the people and a faint heart- those are the people. The prophet presents an entire people as one body and shows how even with the body of a people, the same thing happens as with body of a man, i.e., when one organ of the body is sick, then only that organ is sick, but from the sickness of this one organ, the entire body feels faint. So it was with the people of Israel: the head was sick and from a sick head, the heart is faint. The leaders and the elders of Israel abandoned the law of God and followed their senses as their guides. Their sensual mind, tarnished, overly tarnished from the various worldly influences, they took as their direction for a correct life instead of the law of God. They fell into the hopeless darkness of idolatrous errors. And from the insanity of the head, the heart was faint. It is more difficult for the heart to separate from God than it is for the head, it is more difficult for a people to separate from God than their elders, but when the head remains sick for a long time, than the heart is faint and yields. From corrupt leaders, even a people finally stray from the path.
This is the vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos, the true prophet. Indeed, a true vision, both for then and for now, for the people of Israel and for the people of today. Brethren, look at the people whom you know best and you alone judge, is the head sick and is the heart faint? O Lord, true and just, enlighten the head of every people with Your light and strengthen with Your might the heart of every people, so that our enemies will not rejoice and say that You have abandoned us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK