Prologue from Ochrid - July 22 [August 4]
1. St Mary Magdalene.
One of the myrrh-bearing women, and equal to the apostles, she was born in Magdala by the Lake of Gennesaret, of the tribe of Issachar. She was tormented by seven evil spirits, of which she was freed and healed by the Lord Jesus. She was a faithful follower and servant of the Lord during His earthly life, and also stood beneath the Cross on Golgotha and lamented bitterly with the most holy Mother of God. After the Lord's death, she visited His tomb three times; and when He rose again, she saw Him twice, once alone and the other time with the other myrrh-bearing women. She travelled to Rome, went before Tiberias Caesar and presented him with a red egg, greeting him with the words: 'Christ is risen!' At the same time, she denounced Pilate to Caesar for his unjust condemnation of the Lord Jesus. Caesar listened to her, and moved Pilate from Jerusalem to Gaul, where this unjust judge died under imperial displeasure after a terrible illness. After that, she returned from Rome to Ephesus, to St John the Theologian, whom she helped in his task of preaching the Gospel. With great love for the risen Lord and with great zeal, she proclaimed the holy Gospel as a true apostle of Christ. She died peacefully in Ephesus and was buried, according to tradition, in the same cave in which the seven young men (see August 4th) had been in a charmed sleep for a hundred years. They came to life, and then died. St Magdalene's relics were then taken to Constantinople. Near the Garden of Gethsemane, there is a beautiful Russian church dedicated to St Mary Magdalene.
2. The Hieromartyr Phocas.
Today we commemorate the translation of his relics from Pontus to Constantinople in about 404. The chief commemoration of this saint is on September 22nd, where an account of his life and sufferings is set down. Today, a particular miracle by this saint is also commemorated. A man, Pontinus, was taken by Arabs, who fettered him, tied his hand behind his back and left him to die. Lying on his face on the ground and being incapable of movement, Pontinus cried out: 'Holy Martyr Phocas, have mercy on me and save me!' Thus saying, he fell asleep, and saw Phocas in a dream, coming to him, taking him by the hand and saying: 'The Lord Jesus Christ forgives thee!' When the man awoke, he found himself free from all his bonds. He got up and went home, and took St Phocas as his family patron.
3. Our Holy Father Cornelius of Pereyaslavl.
Made a monk at the age of fifteen by an elder called Paul, he later withdrew to the desert in quest of silence. He spent thirty years in silence, never speaking a word to anyone, so that many thought that he was dumb. He was so emaciated from fasting that he looked like a skeleton. He received the Great Habit just before his death, and entered into rest on July 22nd, 1693.
4. The Holy Martyr Marcella.
This saint is greatly venerated on the island of Chios. In her church, miracles are performed throughout the years, but her life is not known. According to tradition, Marcella was a young girl who was left motherless very young. Her pagan and bestial father desired to live with his daughter as though she were his wife. Marcella fled from her father, but he, infuriated like a wild beast, found her and cut her to pieces. Near her church there are several rocks which now and then become saturated with blood. The people take these rocks to the church, pray to St Marcella and then touch the sick with them, and they are healed.
"Blessed are they that mourn" (Matthew 5:4), said the Lord. Blessed are they who mourn asking for the Kingdom of God. Blessed are they who mourn suffering for the Faith in Christ. Blessed are they that mourn repenting of their sins. There can be no true repentance without tears. With what shall we wash away our sins if not through tears or through blood, the blood of martyrdom? The monks of Nitria sent a petition to St. Macarius the Great asking if he would come to them rather that they all come to him. Macarius obeyed and came to them. All the monks gathered around St. Macarius and begged him for a word of instruction. Macarius began to weep and through his tears said: "Brethren, let tears flow from your eyes before you go over there where our tears will fry our bodies." Then all the brethren began to weep.
To contemplate the miraculous appearance of the archangel to Joshua, the son of Nun, when he set out to conquer Jericho (Joshua 5):
- How the Captain [Commander] of the heavenly hosts appears to Joshua with a drawn [naked] sword in his hand;
- How the "Captain of the Lord's host" told him to remove his shoes (Joshua 5:15);
- How even we, in the battle of life, should not rely on our own feet, and in our own equipment, but only in Him who battles for us.
About the inexorable justice of God
"For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; and spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an example unto those that after should live ungodly" (2 Peter 2: 4-6).
O how will the sinful man be spared? "And spared not the old world but saved Noah, the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes, condemned them with an overthrow". Therefore O sinful man, how then can you be spared? Are you dearer and more precious to Him than millions of angels, from so many people drowned by the Flood [Deluge]and from densely populated cities? When the angels are cast into the darkness of Hades, people are drowned by the flood and cities are burned to ashes in what do you hope, sinning, continually sinning and not turning away from sin? You say, in the mercy of God! But, is God more merciful now that He was then? Does God change as man does? Do not hope without measure [limit] but according to the measure [limit] of your efforts as regards the improvement of your life, let that be your hope. Truly, great is the mercy of God, long is the patience of God and infinite is the love of God. Behold, God loves you more and is more merciful to you than you are to yourself and He continually wishes you salvation even more than you yourself do. But he, who to the end mocks the mercy of God and he, who to the very end laughs at the patience of God and he, who to the end opposes the love of God, will God then take him by force into His kingdom and make him a fellow citizen with the angels and saints?
How terrible is the darkness of Hades, the clanging sound of chains and the gnashing of teeth? Those who ridiculed the mercy of God and opposed the love of God dwell there [Hades]. Will you want to go there, O prodigal soul? God does not desire that you go there; the angels mourn because you are headed there; the saints are praying that you return; Holy Church offers sacrifices for you that you would come to your senses. If you despise all of that O why would you despise it all! Then what kind of mercy do you expect from God?
O righteous Lord, help us that we may, in due time turn away from the path which leads to the darkness of Hades, make us to understand and strengthen us in goodness, before You send Your angel to take away our soul.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK