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Prologue from Ochrid - December 3 [December 16]

1. The Holy Prophet Zephaniah.

Born on the mountain of Savarat and of the tribe of Simeon, he lived and prophesied in the seventh century before Christ, in the time of Josiah the pious King of Judah, and was a contemporary of the Prophet Jeremiah. With his great humility, pure mind and constant striving after God, he was found worthy of seeing into the future. He foretold the day of the wrath of God and the punishment of Gaza, Ashkalon, Ashdod, Ekron, Nineveh, Jerusalem and Egypt. He looked upon Jerusalem as'a filthy, polluted and oppressing city ... her princes within her are like roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves ... her prophets are light and treacherous persons; her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the Law (Zeph. 3:1-4).Foreseeing the coming of the Messiah, he cried out with rapture: 'Sing, O daughter of Sion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all thy heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!' (3:14). This seer of secrets and mysteries went to his rest in the place where he was born, there to await the general Resurrection and his reward from God.

2. St John the Silent (the Hesychast).

Born in Nicopolis in Armenia, he was the son of Encratius and Euphemia. He became a monk at the age of eighteen and gave himself to asceticism, thoroughly cleansing his heart with tears, prayer and fasting. After ten years, he was made Bishop of Colonia. The example of his life drew his brother, Pergamius, and his uncle, Theodore, both noted members of the court of the Emperors Zeno and Justinian, to lead lives pleasing to God. Seeing the evil and intrigues of the world and his inability to put matters right, he abandoned the episcopal throne and went to the monastery of St Sava near Jerusalem, disguised as a simple monk. He remained there a number of years quite unknown, conscientiously and capably performing whatever service the abbot gave him. Thereupon St Sava suggested to the Patriarch that he be ordained priest. When the Patriarch came to do this, John confessed that he already bore the rank of bishop. Then St John shut himself into his cell and spent year after year in silence and prayer. Afterwards, he spent nine years in the desert, sustaining himself with wild herbs, and then he returned to the monastery. He wrested the faithful away from the heresy of Origen, and made a great contribution to the struggle against that heresy and its condemnation. He was able to perceive the spiritual realm with clarity, and heal the sick. He could easily subdue demons, having already conquered himself. He entered peacefully into rest in 558 at the age of a hundred and four, being great in humility, power and godly wisdom.

3. The Hieromartyr Theodore, Archbishop of Alexandria.

After serving as Patriarch for two years, he was tortured by the pagans. They put a crown of thorns on his head, and finally beheaded him for the Faith in 606.

4. Our Holy Father Theodulus.

A noted patrician at the court of Theodosius the Great, he abandoned the vanity of this world after the death of his wife, and left Constantinople for a pillar near Ephesus, on which he spent a good thirty years in asceticism.

5. Our Holy Father Sava of Storozhev.

He was a disciple of St Sergius of Radonezh and a great wonderworker. After his death, he appeared to many people, sometimes to instruct, sometimes to warm and sometimes to heal. He went from this life to the better one in 1406.

Reflection

God hears the prayers of the righteous and fulfills them, sometimes immediately and completely, and at other times only later, at the appropriate time and according to the needs of the Church. In other words, in fulfilling the prayers of the righteous man, God has in mind either the man's salvation or the good of the whole Church. St. John the Silent prayed to God to reveal to him how the soul separates from the body at death. While still at prayer, he was taken outside himself and had the following vision: A good man died in front of a church in Bethlehem, and angels took his soul from his body and carried it to heaven with sweet singing. Coming to himself out of his ecstasy, John immediately set out on the road from the Monastery of St. Sava the Sanctified to Bethlehem. When he reached Bethlehem, he saw the dead body of the man exactly as he had seen it in his vision.

When the great St. Sava the Sanctified died, John grieved and wept. Sava appeared to him in a vision and said: "Do not grieve, Father John, for even though I am separated from you in the body, nevertheless I am with you in the spirit." Then John begged him: "Father, pray to the Lord to take me with you." To this Sava replied: "For now, this cannot be. A great trial has yet to befall the Lavra, and God wants you to remain in the body to comfort and strengthen the faithful against the heretics." At first, John did not know what kind of heretics the holy father had spoken of, but he found out later, when the heresy of Origen began to shake the Church of God.

Contemplation

Contemplate the sinful fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3):

  1. How, seeing themselves naked, they covered their nakedness with fig leaves;
  2. How, even now, all unrepentant sinners, when they lose a virtue, feel naked and cover their nakedness with some sort of lie or fantasy.

Homily

On the two worlds

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

Brethren, whatever God desires to reveal to men is revealed, and whatever He does not desire to reveal remains concealed. Moses, the one who beheld God, could say nothing more about heaven than that in the beginning God created it. Having said that, he continued to describe in detail the creation of the earth. Why does Moses not speak in detail about the creation of heaven? Because God did not want to reveal any more to him, since the men of his time were neither mature enough nor capable of understanding heavenly matters beyond their senses. Only when many centuries had passed and God's New Testament had come to men, did God reveal much more of the heavenly world to His faithful and chosen ones. Only Christians began to see the heavens opened. St. John the Theologian bears witness to this: After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven (Revelation 4:1). St. Stephen the Protomartyr witnesses: Behold, I see the heavens opened (Acts 7:56). The Apostle Paul, who was caught up to the third heaven… and heard unspeakable words (II Corinthians 12:2, 4), speaks of the angelic choirs, about the thrones, dominions, principalities and powers, and says: All things were created by Him, and for Him (Colossians 1:16). His disciple, St. Dionysius, describes the celestial hierarchy in as great a detail as Moses describes the earthly world at its creation. This is how the unfathomable wisdom of God wanted it; that which God did not wish to reveal to Moses, He revealed to the apostles and their followers. What could not be told to children is told to mature men. The revelation of mysteries came through spiritual maturity.

Here is a beautiful lesson for us all. Let us be diligent in seeking the truth, still more diligent in purifying our hearts, patient in waiting, and unwavering in faith that God will give us everything in due time, in the way and to the measure necessary for our salvation.

O Lord most-wise and man-loving, Who teaches us and leads us to salvation without rushing and without delay, to Thee, O Gracious One, be glory and praise.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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