Prologue from Ochrid - November 29 [December 12]
1. The Holy Martyr Paramon, and 370 others with him.
In Asian Bithynia, the governor, Aquilinus, was ferociously persecuting Christians. He once seized three hundred and seventy Christians and took them with him in bonds to some place where there was a temple to the god Poseidon. Here, the wicked governor tried to force them to offer sacrifice to idols. Although he threatened with death any who refused to obey his command, not a single one of the Christians submitted to it. At that time, there passed along the road running beside the temple a respected man called Paramon. He stopped beside the group of bound men and learned what was happening, then cried out: 'Oh, how many innocent and righteous men does this foul governor desire to slaughter because they will not bow down to his dumb and dead idols? Paramon then continued on his way, and the furious governor sent servants to kill him. They caught up with him and seized him, first piercing his tongue with a thorn and then stripping him and stabbing him all over. Holy Paramon, with prayer in his heart, gave his soul into God's hands. After that, these three hundred and seventy martyrs, great sons of God and innocent lambs, were beheaded with the sword and thus entered into the immortal Kingdom of Christ the Lord. They suffered in the year 250.
2. Our Holy Father Acacius of Sinai.
In his famous book, 'The Ladder', St John Climacus records the life of this saint. The young Acacius was a novice with an evil elder in the monastery on Sinai. The foul-tempered elder daily groused and grumbled at Acacius, and often beat him, tormenting and illtreating him in every possible way. Acacius did not complain, but bore it all patiently and with trust that it would work for his salvation. When anyone asked him how he survived, he replied : 'Well, as before the Lord God'. After nine years of obedience and ill-treatment, Acacius died. The elder buried him and then went off to lament to another elder, a holy man, saying: 'Acacius, my disciple, is dead. "I don't believe it' replied the holy elder , 'Acacius is not dead.' They then both went to the dead man's grave, and the holy elder called out: 'Brother Acacius, are you dead?' The obedient Acacius, obedient even in death, replied: 'I am not dead; the obedient cannot die.' Then the evil elder repented and shut himself in a cell near Acacius's grave, where he spent the rest of his life in repentance and prayer.
3. The Holy Martyr Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth.
A well-known pastor and teacher, he was beheaded for Christ the Lord in 182.
4. St Tiridates, King of Armenia.
He was a contemporary of Diocletian . He at first persecuted Christians with great ferocity, but God's punishment fell on him and he went mad and became like a beast, as happened aforetime to Nebuchadnezzar. St Gregory miraculously healed him of his madness (see Sept. 30th). From that time until his death, Tiridates spent his life in repentance and devotion. He died peacefully in the fourth century.
5. The Holy Martyr Apollonius.
He was a Roman senator. Denounced for his faith, he confessed it before the entire senate, for which he was beheaded in the year 186.
God's punishment often befalls sinners immediately after the sin, that the sinners may fear and the righteous be encouraged. However, sometimes it falls much later, suddenly and unexpectedly, that sinners may know that God forgets nothing. Dathan and Abiram were swallowed up by the earth immediately after their sin, but King Balthazzar saw the hand that wrote his death sentence when he felt most fortunate at a banquet among his friends and admirers.
A gravely ill soldier was brought to St. Stephen the New to be healed by him through prayer. Stephen told him to venerate the icons of Christ and the Holy Theotokos. The solider did this and was immediately restored to health, and this miracle was spoken of everywhere. Hearing of this, the iconoclastic Emperor Constantine Copronymus summoned this soldier and questioned him. When the soldier confessed that he received healing from the holy icons, the emperor reproached him with fury for venerating them. The frightened soldier repudiated the veneration of icons before the emperor and grew ashamed of his faith in them. When the soldier left the court and mounted his horse, the horse went wild under him, threw him off and trampled him with its hooves until he gave up his soul. Behold: a punishment immediately following sin.
King Tiridates, a persecutor of Christians, threw St. Gregory into a pit and killed thirty-seven holy nuns, but no punishment befell him. Later, when the king and his companions went hunting for pleasure, he and his entourage were seized by sudden madness. The reason for his madness and the means to restore him were revealed to his pious sister in a dream. St. Gregory was taken out of the pit, and by his prayers King Tiridates became healthy, repented and was baptized.
Punishment sometimes quickly follows sin as the day follows the night, yet sometimes slowly, as year follows year. But it never fails to come, except where repentance takes the place of punishment.
Contemplate God's wonderful Paradise (Genesis 2):
- How God adorned Paradise with every kind of tree pleasant to the sight and good for food;
- How God planted the Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise;
- How God only forbade Adam to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
On the Church's compact structure, similar to a body
From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part (Ephesians 4:16).
This word, brethren, is on the spiritual body, God's holy Church. From Him, that is, from Christ, the whole body is fitly joined together and compacted. The most wise Apostle cannot find a better comparison for the Church than the human body. What the head is to the human body, so is Christ the Lord to the body of the Church. From the head, the nerves spread through all parts of the body, and through the nerves, all the parts of the body perceive, feel and move; and their life lies in this perception, feeling and movement. It can be said that the head, through the brain and the nerves, is present in every part of the body. If the head is cut off, every part of the body becomes dead in an instant. Christ is present in every part of the Church, in every faithful member of it. Through Him, each of the faithful perceives the spiritual kingdom, feels love and moves aright toward God. From Him, every member receives strength according to the effectual working in the measure, that is, according to function and gift. The Lord gives this strength directly, by contact, by touch, by His personal presence. Love is a wonderful bond that binds Christ to the faithful, the faithful to Christ and the faithful to one another. Brethren, what happens to one part of the body when it is torn away from the nerves that link it to the head? It becomes inactive, insensitive and motionless: dead. This also happens with every member of the Church who leaves the structure of the Church, and thus severs his tie with the Head of the Church. Brethren, may God preserve us from this calamity!
O Lord Jesus, the Source of life and love, do not allow any dark power, within us or without us, to separate us from Thee and Thy Body, Thy Holy Church that Thou hast purchased with Thy precious blood.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK