Prologue from Ochrid - November 19 [December 2]
1. The Holy Prophet Obadiah.
Obadiah lived at the court of King Ahab, but, when the king tumed away from true worship and bowed down to idols, Obadiah did not follow the king's example, but continued to serve the one, true God. When the wicked Queen Jezebel, because of her feud with Elias, hunted down all the prophets of God, Obadiah took a hundred of them and hid them in two caves, feeding them till the persecution was over (I Kings 18:4). A contemporary of the great Prophet Elias, Obadiah revered him greatly and hearkened to him in all things, being a follower and pupil of his. He lived nine hundred years before Christ, and entered peacefully into rest.
2. The Holy Martyr Barlaam.
He was born in Antioch, and was harshly tortured by the dishonourable judge for his faith in Christ the Lord. The judge decided to use ridicule, and to put such pressure on him that he would offer sacrifice to idols. He accordingly took him to the temple and applied fire to his palm, putting incense on the fire with the thought that the martyr would be forced by the pain to throw the fire and incense from his hand in front of the idols, and thus involuntarily offer them incense. But this heroic soldier of Christ held the fire on his palm, and would not cast it before the idols, until his fingers were burned and fell off, and his palm was burned through and fell to the ground with the fire. 'He had a right hand stronger than fire', said St Basil the Great, 'for, though the flames consumed it, still the hand held the fire as ash.' Chrysostom writes: 'The angels looked from the heights; the archangels beheld, for the scene was majestic, surpassing in truth all human nature. Lo, who would not wish to see a man who made such an ascetic endeavour and did not feel that which it is common to man to feel; a man who was himself the altar of sacrifice, and the sacrifice, and the priest?' When his hand had burned off, his body fell dead to the ground and his soul went to the eternal rest of his Lord and Saviour. This glorious and heroic elder suffered in the year 304.
3. Our Holy Fathers Barlaam and Joasaph the Heir.
They were Indian ascetics. Joasaph was son and heir to King Abenner. By God's providence, he was visited by the elder Barlaam, who taught him the Christian faith and baptised him. After that, the elder went off into the mountains to live in asceticism, and Joasaph remained to wrestle with many temptations in the world and to overcome them by the grace of God. Joasaph finally succeeded in bringing his father to Christ. When he had been baptised, King Abenner lived a further four years in deep repentance (for he had committed grave sins in his persecution of Christians) and then finished his earthly course and went to the better life. The young Joasaph entrusted the kingdom to his friend Barachias, and himself went off into the desert to live in asceticism for the sake of Christ. His one desire on earth was to see his spiritual father, Barlaam, once more. God, in his mercy, fulfilled his desire, and, one day, Joasaph stood before Barlaam's cave, and called: 'Bless me, Father!' The elder Barlaam lived in asceticism in the desert for seventy years, living a hundred years in all. St Joasaph handed over his kingdom at the age of twenty-five and went into the desert, where he lived a further thirty-five years. They both had great love for the Lord Jesus, brought many to the true Faith and entered into the eternal joy of their Lord.
4. The Holy Martyr Heliodorus.
He was from the town of Magidus in Parnphylia, and was tortured for the Christian faith in the time of the Emperor Aurelian (270- 75). While undergoing harsh torture, he heard a voice from heaven: 'Fear not; I am with thee!' Thrown into a white- hot copper ox, he prayed fervently to God, and God saved him. The white- hot ox was suddenly cooled, and Heliodorus emerged alive. The judge cried to him that some sort of magic had done that, but to this the martyr replied: 'My magic is Christ!' He was then beheaded and went to the Lord.
A tale of the Elder Barlaam to Ioasaph: A man was fleeing from a terrifying unicorn. Fleeing thus, he fell into a pit, but grabbed hold of a tree. Just when he thought that he was out of danger, he looked down below the tree and saw two mice, one black and one white, gnawing alternately but continuously at the roots of the tree, so as to gnaw through and bring the tree crashing down. Looking down even further, he saw a huge, terrifying serpent which, with its jaws wide open, was waiting to devour the man when the tree would fall down. He then saw four smaller poisonous snakes around his feet. Looking upward, the man saw a little bit of honey on a branch, and forgetting all the danger that surrounded him, extended his hand to reach that little bit of sweetness in the tree. The interpretation is this: The unicorn represents death, which from Adam to now pursues every man to kill him; the pit filled with all sorts of dangers is this world; the tree is the path of our life; the white and black mice are days and nights, that continue one after the other to shorten our life; the huge and horrible snake is hell; the four poisonous snakes are the four elements from which the body of man is composed; the little bit of honey on the branch of the tree is the little sweetness that this life offers to man. Oh, if only men would not be captivated by that inconsequential sweetness, forgetting the terrible dangers that surround them and draw them down to eternal ruin!
Contemplate the wondrous creation of the world (Genesis 1):
- How on the sixth day God created the cattle and the small creatures and the wild beasts after their own kind;
- How God saw that it was good.
On glorifying God because of Christ the Lord
Unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen (Ephesians 3:21).
Glory be to God! Glory be to God in the Church! Glory be to Him because of Christ Jesus! Glory be to Him throughout all generations! Glory be to Him unto ages of ages! No one befits being glorified as does God, nor does anyone glorify God as does the Church of God. Christ is the revealer of God: hence, all the glory given to God must go through Christ the Lord. The Church will endure beyond all races and generations to the end of time; the Church is the most pure body of Christ, filled with might, wisdom and miracle-working; and hence the glory of God is proclaimed from the Church: from the holy place to the Holy One, from purity to the Pure One. Glorification from the Church is most pleasing to God also, because there are many souls and voices in the Church, but they are all of one accord and of one voice. Therefore, let no one separate himself from the common glorification of God, and let no one even think that his own glorification of God in isolation and separation is better than the glorification of God in the unity and fullness of all the faithful. It is not true that one member is lost in the multitude, that his voice is not heard before God. Does not the hand do its work only when it is inseparably bound to the body? And so it is with each member of the body, just as it is with each of the faithful. When he prays in and with the Church (and even if he is in the desert he can pray in and with the Church), not separating himself from the Church, he is better heard and seen by God. His soul finds a much repeated echo in the souls of the other faithful, and so he is greatly distinguished and recognized in his prayer within the unity of the body of the Church rather than outside of it.
O Lord Jesus, only from Thee, in Thee, and through Thee can we glorify God.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK