Prologue from Ochrid - December 6 [December 19]
1. St Nicolas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia.
This saint, famed throughout the entire world today, was the only son of his eminent and wealthy parents, Theophanes and Nona, citizens of Patara in Lycia. They dedicated to God the only son He gave them. St Nicolas was instructed in the spiritual life by his uncle Nicolas, Bishop of Patara (see below), and became a monk at 'New Sion', a monastery founded by his uncle. On the death of his parents, Nicolas distributed all the property he inherited to the poor and kept nothing back for himself. As a priest in Patara, he was known for his charitable works, fulfilling the Lord's words: 'Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth' (Matt. 6:3). When he embraced a life of solitude and silence, thinking to live in that way until his death, a voice from on high came to him: 'Nicolas, set about your work among the people if you desire to receive a crown from Me.' Immediately after that, by God's wondrous providence, he was chosen as archbishop of the city of Myra in Lycia. Merciful, wise and fearless, Nicolas was a true shepherd to his flock. He was cast into prison during the persecutions of Diocletian and Maximian, but even there continued to instruct the people in the Law of God. He was present at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325, and, in his zeal, struck Arius with his hand. For this act, he was removed from the Council and from his episcopal duties, until some of the chief hierarchs had a vision of our Lord Christ and His most holy Mother showing their sympathy with Nicolas.
This wonderful saint was a defender of the truth of God, and was ever a spirited champion of justice among the people. On two occasions, he saved three men from undeserved sentences of death. Merciful, trustworthy and loving right, he walked among the people like an angel of God. People considered him a saint even during his lifetime, and invoked his aid when in torment or distress. He would appear both in dreams and in reality to those who called upon him for help, responding speedily to them, whether close at hand or far away. His face would shine with light as Moses' did aforetime, and his mere presence among people would bring solace, peace and goodwill. In old age, he sickened of a slight illness, and went to his rest in the Lord after a life full of labour and fruitful toil. He now enjoys eternal happiness in the Kingdom of heaven, continuing to help the faithful on earth by his miracles, and to spread the glory of God. He entered into rest on December 6th, 343.
2. St Nicolas, Bishop of Patara.
The uncle of the great St Nicolas, he set his nephew on the spiritual path and ordained him priest.
3. The Holy Martyr Nicolas of Karamanos.
He was harshly tortured by the Turks, and was hanged in Smyrna in 1657.
4. St Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch.
A man well-versed in Hellenistic philosophy, he became a Christian through reading the Holy Scriptures and became a great champion of the Christian faith. His work 'On the Faith' is extant today. He governed the Church in Antioch for thirteen years, and went to his rest in the year 181.
A man may be great in some skill, as a statesman or a military leader, but no one among men is greater than a man who is great in faith, hope and love. How great St. Sava the Sanctified was in faith and hope in God is best shown by the following incident: One day, the steward of the monastery came to Sava and informed him that the following Saturday and Sunday he would be unable to strike the semantron, according to tradition, to summon the brethren to the communal service and meal because there was not a trace of flour in the monastery nor anything at all to eat or drink. For this same reason, even the Divine Liturgy was not possible. The saint replied without hesitation: "I shall not cancel the Divine Liturgy because of the lack of flour; faithful is He Who commanded us not to be concerned about bodily things, and mighty is He to feed us in time of hunger." And he placed all his hope in God. In this extremity, he was prepared to send some of the ecclesiastical vessels or vestments to be sold in the city so that neither the divine services nor the brother's customary meal would be omitted. However, before Saturday some men, moved by divine providence, brought thirty mules laden with wheat, wine and oil to the monastery. "What do you say now, Brother?" Sava asked the steward. "Shall we not strike the semantron and assemble the fathers?" The steward was ashamed because of his lack of faith and begged the abbot for forgiveness. Sava's biographer describes this saint as "severe with demons but mild toward men." Once, some monks rebelled against St. Sava, and for this they were driven from the monastery by order of Patriarch Elias. They built themselves huts by the river Thekoa, where they endured privation in all things. Hearing that they were starving, St. Sava loaded mules with flour and brought it to them personally. Seeing that they had no church, he built one for them. At first, the monks received him with hatred, but afterward they responded to his love with love and repented of their former misdeeds toward him.
Contemplate the sinful fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3):
- How the All-gracious God called out to sinful Adam, Where art thou?
- How God showed Himself to be the Good Shepherd, Who, even in Paradise, called out for His lost sheep;
- How, even now, God calls out to every sinner, Where art thou? (desiring by these words to reproach him and to warn him).
On the absence of evil in God's works
And God saw that it was good (Genesis 1).
Brethren, the first revelation about this world that Holy Scripture communicates to us is that the world proceeded from good and not from evil, from God and not from some power contrary to God and not from some imagined primordial mixture of good and evil. The second revelation, brethren, about this world is that everything that the good God created is good. The light is good; the firmament of heaven is good; the land is good; the sea is good; the grass, the vegetation and the fruitful trees are good; the heavenly lights- the sun, moon and stars-are good; the living creatures in the water and the birds in the air are good; all living beings according to their kind are good; the cattle, the small animals and the beasts of the earth are good. Finally, man-the master, under the lordship of God, over all created things-is also good. And God saw that it was good. The appraiser of the value of this world is not and cannot be someone who views this world superficially and partially, but can only be He who views all of creation together and each part individually, He who knows their number, name, composition and essence incomparably better than all men on earth. And God saw that it was very good (Genesis 1:31). But, nevertheless, there have been men who have slandered the work of God, saying that this world is evil in its essence, that each individual creation is evil, and that matter, from which all earthly beings are formed, is evil. However, evil is found in sin, and sin is from the evil spirit; therefore, evil dwells in the spirit of evil and not in matter. This spirit, fallen from God, is the sower of evil in the world, from whence come the tares in God's wheat. The spirit of evil strives to use both the human spirit and material things in general as his weapons of evil. He is also the one who instills in the human mind the thought that the whole created world is evil and that matter, from which creation was formed, is fundamentally evil. He slanders God's works in order to conceal his own works; he accuses God in order not to be accused. O my brethren, let us guard ourselves from the cunning of the evil spirit. Let us guard ourselves in particular from the evil thoughts that he sows in our minds.
O Lord Jesus Christ, our true Enlightener and Savior, into Thy hands we give over our minds and our hearts. Do Thou illumine us with Thy true light.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK