Prologue from Ochrid - December 7 [December 20]
1. St Ambrose, Bishop of Mediolanum (Milan).
This great Father of the Orthodox Church was of eminent parentage. His father was the imperial governor of Gaul and Spain, and a pagan, while his mother was a Christian. While he was still in his cradle, a swarm of bees once settled on him, left some honey on his lips and flew off; and, while still a child, he thrust out his hand and said prophetically: 'Kiss it, for I shall be a bishop!' On the death of his father, the Emperor made him governor of Liguria, of which province Milan was the chief city. When the bishop of Milan died, there was great dissention between the Orthodox Christians and the heretical Arians about the choice of a new bishop. Ambrose went into the church to keep order, this being his responsibility. Thereupon, a child at its mother's breast cried out: 'Ambrose for bishop!' All the people took this to be the voice of God, and unanimously elected Ambrose as their bishop, although it was against his will. Ambrose was baptised, and passed through all the necessary ranks in one week, and was consecrated bishop. In this capacity, he strengthened the faith of the Orthodox, restrained heretics, adorned churches, spread the Faith among the pagans, wrote many instructive books and was an example of a true Christian and a true shepherd. He also composed the Te Deum, the great hymn of thanksgiving. This renowned hierarch, who was visited by people from distant lands for his wisdom and gracious words, was very austere in his personal life, being no stranger to toil and full of good works. He slept little, worked and prayed constantly and fasted every day except Saturday and Sunday. God therefore permitted him to witness many of His wonders, and to perform many himself He discovered the relics of Ss Protasius, Gervasius, Nazarius and Celsus (see Oct. 14th). Humble before lesser men, he was fearless before the great. He reproached the Empress Justina for heresy, cursed Maximus for tyranny and murder and forbade the Emperor Theodosius to enter a church until he had repented of his sin. He refused to meet the powerful Eugenius, the self-styled Emperor. God granted this man, who was so pleasing to Him, such grace that he could raise the dead, drive demons from men, heal the sick of every ailment and see into the future. He died peacefully at daybreak on Easter Day in the year 397.
2. Our Holy Father Gregory the Hesychast.
A Serb by birth, he was the founder of the monastery of St Nicolas on the Holy Mountain, which is known by the name of Grigoriou after him. He built himself a cell about four hours' joumey from the monastery, where he wept over his sins and prayed. In 1761, a serious fire broke out in the monastery, and at that time some of the monks took his relics to Serbia. This man of God entered into eternal rest in 1406.
3. Our Holy Father Nilus of Stolobnoye.
A worker on the land, born in Novgorod, he went off into a lonely place and survived on plants and gleanings. He was instructed by a voice from on high to move to the island of Stolobnoye (Table Island). Once, some robbers burst into his cell, and were immediately blinded. He dug his own grave close to his cell, and wept over it every day. He entered into eternal rest in the kingdom of Christ in 1554, and his wonderworking relics are preserved in the place where he led his life of fasting.
Brethren, God returns a loan a hundredfold, when it is lent to Him through the poor. At one time, there was a Christian woman married to a pagan, and they lived together in love and poverty. When the husband, with much difficulty, saved up fifty silver pieces, he told his wife that this money should be given to someone as a loan with interest. Otherwise, he stated, they would spend their savings coin by coin, and again they would be left with nothing. His wife replied: "If you want to loan it out, lend it to the Christian God." "And where is the Christian God?" the husband asked. His wife led him to the church and told him to distribute the money to the beggars in front of the church, saying to her husband: "The Christian God will accept this from them, since all of them are His." They distributed all fifty silver pieces to the poor and returned home. After a period of time, they were left without any bread in the house. Then the wife told her husband to go to the church, and he would receive the money that he loaned to God. The man went to the church and saw only beggars there, and in his perplexity as to who would give him money, he walked around the church. Suddenly he saw a silver coin in front of him. He took it, purchased a fish with it, and brought the fish home. He complained to his wife that he had not seen anyone and no one had given him anything, but that he accidentally had found a silver coin. His wife replied: "God is invisible and works in an unseen manner." When the wife cut open the fish, she found a glittering stone in it. She gave this stone to her husband and he took it to a merchant to see what he could get for it. The merchant offered him five silver pieces, and the man began to laugh, thinking that the merchant was joking by offering him such a high price. However, the merchant, thinking that the man was laughing because of the small price he had offered him, then offered him ten, then fifteen, then thirty, then fifty silver pieces. The man, realizing that it was a precious stone, began to hesitate. The merchant raised the price higher and higher until he reached the price of three hundred silver pieces. Then the man accepted the three hundred silver pieces and went home joyfully. "Do you see how good the Christian God is?" his wife said to him. The amazed husband was immediately baptized and, together with his wife, glorified God.
Contemplate the sinful fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3):
- How God drove Adam and Eve out of Paradise;
- How He placed the Cherubim with a flaming sword before the gate of Paradise;
- How Paradise remained closed to men until the advent of Christ the Lord on earth.
On how all that God created was very good
And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).
Brethren, when all the parts of a building are good, then the building in its entirety is very good. Every single brick is good, and every stone, the mortar and the lime, and the beams and the pillars-but man is moved to admiration only when he views the entire structure. Oftentimes, a certain detail in the building seems unintelligible and inappropriate to him, but he forgets about this in a moment when he turns his gaze upon the whole. And, indeed, there are many details in this world, as well as in things and in events, that are unintelligible and inappropriate to us. Only when the entire thing as a whole is revealed to us do we understand and are reassured. We consider many of the sufferings and deprivations in our lives as truly ugly and senseless at the time they occur. However, when days and years pass, those very sufferings and deprivations shine as precious stones in our memory, illumining the later path of our life. Therefore, if something in God's creation offends you, look at the whole; if something in life embitters you, wait patiently with faith and hope for new days and years. And if this entire life seems painful and sorrowful to you, raise your spiritual eyes to the other world, and you will have peace and joy. For this entire visible world is not a perfect whole-the other world also exists. For it is said: God created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Even an artist directs the viewer to look at his painting from a distance, so that he may see it in all its beauty.
O Lord, O Immortal Artist, how very good is everything that Thou hast created!
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK