Prologue from Ochrid - December 13 [December 26]
1. The Holy Martyrs Eustratius, Auxentius, Eugene, Mardarius and Orestes.
These five courageous men shone like five resplendent stars in the dark days of the anti-Christian Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. St Eustratius was a Roman general in the city of Satalios, Eugene was one of his comrades in arms and Orestes likewise a respected soldier. Auxentius was a priest and Mardarius a simple citizen who came, like Eustratius, from the town of Aravraca. The imperial governors, Lysias and Agricola, tortured Auxentius first as he was a priest. Beholding the innocent suffering of the Christians, Eustratius presented himself before Lycias and declared that he also was a Christian. While Eustratius was being tortured, Eugene stood up before the judge and cried out: 'I am a Christian too, Lycias!' When they were driving Eustratius and the other martyrs through the town, Mardarius saw them from the roof of his house, and he took leave of his wife and two frail daughters and hastened after them, shouting into the faces of their tormentors: 'I am a Christian too, like the Lord Eustratius!' Orestes was a young and handsome soldier, who stood head and shoulders above all the other soldiers. One day, when he was at target practice in Lycias's presence, the Cross he was wearing fell from his breast, and Lycias realised that he was a Christian. Orestes openly confessed his faith, and was martyred with the others. Auxentius was beheaded, Eugene and Mardarius died under torture, Orestes was exposed on a red-hot iron grid and Eustratius died in a flaming furnace. St Blaise (see Feb. 11th) gave Communion to St Eustratius in prison before his death. Their relics were later taken to Constantinople, and are preserved in the church dedicated to them -The Holy Five Companions. They were seen alive in that church, and St Orestes appeared to St Dimitri of Rostov (see Oct. 28th). A beautiful prayer by St Eustratius is extant, which is read at the Midnight Service on Saturdays: 'I glorify Thy majesty, O Lord for Thou hast regarded my lowliness and hast not shut me up in the hands of my enemies, but hast saved my soul from want...'
2. The Holy Martyr Lucy the Virgin.
With her mother, Lucy visited the grave of St Agatha in Catania, and the saint appeared to her. Her mother, who had an issue of blood, was miraculously cured in the church at that time. Lucy gave away all her goods to the poor, and this embittered her betrothed, who denounced her to Paschasius the judge as a Christian. The wicked judge ordered that she be taken to a brothel and defiled, but, by the power of God, she remained immovable, as if rooted to the earth, and not even a vast number of people was able to move her from the spot. An enraged pagan then ran her through the throat with a sword, and she commended her soul to God and entered into the Kingdom of eternity. She suffered in the year 304.
3. The Hieromartyr Gavrilo, Patriarch of Serbia.
In the fearful period of Turkish rule in Serbia, this great hierarch went to Russia, where he took part in the Moscow Synod of 1655. When he returned to Serbia, he was denounced as a traitor. Certain wicked Jews also brought against him the charge of having converted several Jews to the Christian faith. These Jews, in order to stir up the Turkish authorities, made a special point of the fact that he had worked for the baptism of Turks. He was tried, and sentenced to forcible conversion to Islam. Since Gavrilo would have none of this, he was, after a period of imprisonment, sentenced to death and hanged in Brussa in 1659, and so went to his beloved Christ, to receive at His hands the double wreath of hierarch and martyr.
To perform almsgiving from that which is necessary to man, that is true almsgiving. Not to sin when a man is most exposed to sinning, that has value before God. When St. Lucy saw her sick mother miraculously healed, she suggested to her that she use her possessions as alms for the needy. To this, her mother replied that she did not want to part from her possessions until her death, but agreed that after her death, her possessions be used for the good that Lucy wished. "First, cover my eyes with the earth," her mother said, "and then that which is pleasing to you, do whatever you wish with the possession." Lucy said: "It is not very pleasing to God for a person to give to Him that which he cannot take with him to the grave nor which he himself does not need, but if you want to do a god-pleasing deed give to Him that which you yourself need. After death, however, you need nothing and then you offer Him that which you cannot take with you. But, while you are still alive and healthy give to Christ of what you possess and allof that which you intended for me begin immediately to give to Him." The good mother of the wise daughter agreed to this. When the torturer Paschasius was forcing this holy virgin to carnal sin, Lucy did not, even in thought, agree to this. And when the torturer threatened that his men would defile her by force, saying with a smirk: "When you become defiled, the Holy Spirit will flee from you." Lucy full of grace, replied: "The body cannot be defiled without the consent of the mind," and St. Lucy went to her death having distributed all her goods beforehand and not defiling her young and pure body.
To contemplate the fulfillment of Noah's words upon his descendants (Genesis 9):
- How the sons of Japheth (the white race) spread throughout the whole world;
- How they settled in the tents of Shem, i.e., in the Church, in the spiritual tent of Christ, which began with the Semites, - the Jews;
- How the tribes of Ham remained, even today, in a subordinate position.
"And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said: 'I am the God of your father Abraham; fear not, for I am with you. I will bless you'" (Genesis 26:24).
Brethren, from time immemorial the path upon which the righteous walk is always difficult. From time immemorial, they have been hard pressed either by those who do not believe in God or by those who falsely believe. Abel was hard pressed by his brother Cain. Noah and Lot by a completely corrupt generation and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by the pagans. However, God does not forsake the righteous on the difficult path alone. This we also see with Isaac: "I am the God of your father Abraham; fear not." Isaac understood these very meaningful words. By these words, God encouraged and reminded him. He wanted to say: "Because of Abraham I will bless you also; and, as I protected Abraham among the pagans so, in a like manner, will I protect you," and more: "Be faithful to Me as was Abraham your father." Isaac followed the example of his father and did not turn away from God throughout his whole life. Isaac was a plowman and a cattle-breeder as was his father, he was righteous and meek, avoiding strife with men and doing good for people. We saw certainly that the Lord was with you (Genesis 26:28) as his haters and persecutors finally had to admit. And Isaac was made worthy that God be called His God, just as He was called the God of Abraham so later He was also called the God of Isaac.
O, Lord, wonderful in Your saints, remember our names also along with the names of Your righteous and saints in Your Kingdom.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK