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Prologue from Ochrid - August 16 [August 29]

1. The Icon of our Lord Jesus Christ Not-made-with-hands.

In the time that our Lord was preaching the Gospel and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people, there was in the city of Edessa, on the banks of the Euphrates, a certain Prince Avgar, who was riddled with leprosy. He heard of Christ, the Healer of every pain and sickness, and sent a portrait-painter, Ananias, to Palestine with a letter to Christ, in which he begged the Lord to come to Edessa and heal him of his leprosy. In the event of the Lord's not being able to come, the prince commanded Ananias to paint His likeness and bring it, believing that the portrait would heal him. The Lord replied that he could not come, as the time of His Passion was at hand, and He took a napkin and wiped His face, leaving a perfect reproduction of His most pure face on the napkin. The Lord gave this napkin to Ananias, with a message to say that the prince would be healed by it, but not entirely, and He would therefore send him later an envoy who would rid him of the remainder of the disease. Receiving the napkin, Avgar kissed it and the leprosy fell from his body, with just a little remaining on his face. Later, the Apostle Thaddaeus, preaching the Gospel, came to Avgar, healed him secretly and baptised him. Then the prince smashed the idols that stood at the city's gateway and placed the napkin with the face of Christ above the entrance, stuck onto wood, surrounded with a gold frame and ornamented with pearls. The prince also wrote above the icon on the gateway: 'O Christ our God, no-one who hopes in Thee will be put to shame'. Later, one of Avgar's great-grandsons restored idolatry, and the Bishop of Edessa came by night and walled-in the icon above the gateway. Centuries passed. In the time of the Emperor Justinian, the Persian King, Chozroes, attacked Edessa, and the city was in great affliction. The Bishop of Edessa, Eulabius, had a vision of the most holy Mother of God, who revealed to him the secret of the icon, walledin and forgotten. The icon was found, and by its power the Persian army was defeated.

2. The Holy Martyr Diomedes.

A doctor from Tarsus of eminent parents, he taught the people the Christian faith as he healed them. The Emperor Diocletian ordered that he be beheaded in Nicaea in 298. Those who beheaded him and took his head to the Emperor were blinded, and when they restored the head to his body, with prayer, they were healed.

3. Our Holy Father Joachim of Osogovsk.

He lived the ascetic life in the second half of the eleventh century on the mountain of Osogovsk, in a cave in a place called Sarandopor. In that place another ascetic, Theodore of the Sheepfield, to whom St Joachim appeared in a dream, built a church. Many miracles have been performed throughout the centuries over the relics of St Joachim, and are to this day.

4. The Holy Martyr Stamatius.

He was a villager, born in Volos in Thessaly. When some inhuman Aga collected the imperial tax from the people and left them in a terrible plight, Stamatius went to Constantinople with several companions, to complain to the Vizier. The Sultan's nobles bore Stamatius a grudge for his stern accusation, and they arrested him. They first tried to convert him to Islam by flattery, promising him riches, glory and honour. Then the Turks tortured him and finally beheaded him in front of St Sophia's, in 1680. Thus this soldier of Christ was crowned with the wreath of martyrdom.

Reflection

The Orthodox Church surpasses all other Christian groups in the richness of her Tradition. The Protestants want only to adhere to Holy Scripture. But, not even Holy Scripture can be interpreted without Tradition. The Apostle Paul himself commands: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or our epistle" (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The tradition of Prince Abgar, without doubt, is of Apostolic Tradition even though the apostles do not mention him in their writings. The Apostle Thaddaeus, did not write anything at all and, according to Protestant thinking, did not say anything and neither did he teach the faithful. According to what then was he an apostle of Christ? St. John Damascene [Damaskin] mentions the tradition of Prince Abgar in his defense of the veneration of icons. How wonderful and touching is the letter of Abgar to Christ. And since he previously wrote that he heard of His miraculous power, that He cures the sick and since he implored Him to come and to heal him, Abgar further writes: "I also hear that the Jews hate You and that they are preparing some evil against You. I have a city, not large, but beautiful and bountiful in every good: come to me and live with me in my city, which is sufficient for the both of us for every need." Thus wrote a heathen prince while the princes of Jerusalem were preparing death for the Lord, the Lover of

Contemplation

To contemplate God's wondrous help to Jonathan, the son of Saul (1 Samuel 13-14 1 Kings 13-14):

  1. How the Philistines rose up against the Jews and the army of the Philistines was: "as the sand which is on the sea shore" (1 Samuel 13:5 - 1 Kings 13:5);
  2. How Jonathan with his young man that bore his armor [armorbearer], attacked the Philistines, trusting in God and how he confused and defeated them;
  3. How even we should know the truthfulness of Jonathan's words: "It may be the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few" (1 Samuel 14:6 1 Kings 14:6).

Homily

About the divine branch from the root of Jesse

"And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a Branch shall grow out of his roots" (Isaiah 11:1).

With such clear prophesies about Christ the Lord, why did not the Jews believe in Him as the Messiah? Because of their insane pride and because of their insane crimes against holy and righteous men. Who is that rod from the stem of Jesse other than the Lord Christ? Jesse was the father of King David and the Messiah was expected from the lineage of David. He appeared from the lineage of David and from Bethlehem, the city of David. The "rod out of the stem of Jesse" signifies the physical descent of the Lord through the Virgin Mary, a descendant of Jesse and David, and the "branch out of his roots" Jesse's roots signifies the revealed righteousness in Him which was trampled down by the many kings from the house of David. Trampled down righteousness is like a dry tree stump. But from the root of such a tree stump, a green branch sometimes sprouts. The Lord Jesus will be such a self-sprouting branch. From His mother, He will be of the lineage of David, by righteousness from the lineage of David but by His Divine Conception, He will be of the Holy Spirit. In eternity from the Father without a mother, in time from a mother without a father. In eternity, the concept of becoming man [incarnation] remained hidden under the covering of Divinity; in time, His Divinity therefore remained hidden under the covering of humanity. Pilate gazed in vain at this "rod from the stem of Jesse" and cried out: "Behold the Man!" (St. John 19:5), the same as when one looks at a wire conveying electrical current among many ordinary wires and cries out: "Behold the wire!" Neither does he recognize electrical current in a wire nor did that one [Pilate] recognize God in man.

O Lord Jesus, Mankind loving God-man, make us to love God and save us.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK