Prologue from Ochrid - December 18 [December 31]
1. The Holy Martyr Sebastian and those with him.
This glorious martyr of Christ was bom in Italy and brought up in the city of Milan. He was destined in his youth to be a soldier, and, as an educated, handsome and courageous man, commended himself to the Emperor Diocletian, who made him captdin of the imperial guard. He secretly confessed the Christian faith, and prayed to the living God. An honourable, upright and merciful man, Sebastian was greatly loved by his soldiers. Whenever possible, he saved Christians from torture and death and, when this was not possible, gave them courage to die for Christ the living God without turning back. Two brothers, Marcus and Marcellinus, who were in prison for Christ and already on the verge of denying Him and worshipping idols, were confirmed in their faith and strengthened in their martyrdom by Sebastian. As he spoke with them, exhorting them not to fear death for Christ, his face was illumined like that of an angel of God. Sebastian supported his words by marvels: he healed Zoë, the wife of Nicostratus the gaoler, who had been dumb for six years, and brought Nicostratus and his whole household to baptism; he healed the two sick sons of Claudius the commander, and brought him and his whole household also to baptism; he healed Tranquillianus, the father of Marcus and Marcellinus, of gout and pains in his Iegs which had troubled him for eleven years, and brought him to baptism together with his whole household; he healed the Roman Eparch, Chromatius, of the same infirmity and brought him and his son Tiburtius to baptism. Of these, Zoë was the first to suffer, being seized while at prayer beside the tomb of the Apostle Peter. After torture, she was thrown into the river Tiber. Then Tiburtius was seized, and the judge placed live coals before him, challenging him to choose life or death: to cast incense on the coals and cense the idols, or to stand himself barefoot on the coals. St Tibertius made the sign of the Cross and stood barefoot on the coals, and remained unharmed. He was then beheaded with the sword. Nicostratus was killed with a stake, Tranquillianus was drowned and Marcus and MarceiIinus were run through by spears. Then Sebastian was taken before the Emperor Diocletian. The Emperor rebuked him for his betrayal, but he said: 'I always pray to my Christ for your health, and for the peace of the Roman Empire.' The Emperor ordered that he be stripped and shot at with arrows. The soldiers then shot at him, until the martyr's whole body was so covered with arrows that it was invisible beneath them. When they thought that he was dead, he showed himself alive and healed of all his wounds. Then the pagans beat him to death with staves. He suffered gloriously for Christ his Lord and entered into the heavenly Kingdom in 287, when Gaius was Bishop of Rome.
2. St Florus, Bishop of Aminsus.
He lived in the time of the Emperors Justin 11 (565-76) and Maurice (582-602), being the son of a nobleman. He forsook the bustle and vanity of the world and withdrew to a monastery, to live in asceticism for the salvation of his soul. He was then chosen as bishop of the town of Aminsus in Cappadocia. As an ascetic and a hierarch, he was pleasing to God and entered peacefully into His Kingdom.
3. St Modestus, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
He was only five months old when his parents died, but, by God's providence, he was brought up in a Christian spirit. When he was grown up, he was sold as a slave to a pagan in Egypt, but he succeeded in bringing his owner to the Christian faith, and he freed him. He withdrew to Mount Sinai, where he lived in asceticism. He was then chosen as Patriarch of Jerusalem, and governed Christ's flock like a true shepard, entering peacefuly into rest in 634.
In this life, man is given a choice: either the earthly kingdom or the Kingdom of Heaven. God imposes no pressure on this choice, but each one freely decides. When the brothers Marcus and Marcellinus were condemned to death, the pagan judge allowed them a month to contemplate either renouncing Christ and His Kingdom or being put to death. Then their kinsmen came to the prison with one kind of advice, and St. Sebastian with another. The kinsmen wept and implored them to do as the judge willed and to spare their youth. Their tearful father showed them his gray hairs and his infirmity; their mother swore by the food of her breasts by which she nourished them; their children wept around them. In essence, all of them proposed that they should renounce the Heavenly Kingdom for the sake of the earthly kingdom, but St. Sebastian counseled them to the contrary, saying: "O courageous soldiers of Christ, do you want to lose the eternal wreath for the sake of the flattery of your kinsmen? Do you want to relinquish the victorious banner for the sake of women's tears? This life is transient; it is so unstable and unfaithful that it can never save even those who love it. What is this life worth even if one lives for a hundred years? When the last day arrives, do not all our past years and all earthly delights seem as though they had never existed? It is indeed unreasonable to fear to lose this quickly passing life, when one will receive that eternal life in which delights, riches and rejoicing begin and never end, remaining eternal to the ages of ages. Remember the Lord's words: A man's foes shall be they of his own household." With these and many other words, St. Sebastian prevailed. The holy martyrs loved the Kingdom of Heaven more than the earthly kingdom, and they joyfully went to their deaths for Christ.
Contemplate Joseph's chastity (Genesis 39):
- How Potiphar's lustful wife urged Joseph to sin;
- How Joseph rejected her out of fear of God and respect for his master;
- How the woman grabbed his garment, but he left the garment and fled naked with his holy soul.
Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God … naught but death shall part thee and me (Ruth 1:16,17).
These are wonderful words, whether they are spoken by a son to a father, a daughter to a mother, or a wife to a husband. But they are three times more wonderful when a daughter-in-law says them to her mother-in-law. Blessed Ruth spoke these words to Naomi, her sorrowful mother-in-law. When both of Naomi's sons died in the land of Moab, where they lived as immigrants, the aged mother wanted to return to Bethlehem, her native land, and there to lay her bones to rest. And Naomi, noble in her grief, counseled her young daughters-in-law to remain in their own land and to remarry. Orpah remained, but Ruth said: Naught but death shall part thee and me. Behold a most beautiful example of how a mother-in-law can tenderly love her daughters-in-law, and again how a daughter-in-law can be wholeheartedly devoted to her mother-in-law. But in Bethlehem someone had to feed these two souls. Who would feed them? God and the diligent hands of Ruth. Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn (Ruth 2:2), said the daughter-in-law to the mother-in-law. And Naomi replied: Go, my daughter (Ruth 2:3). In a strange field, with strange reapers, she had to glean the ears of grain. That was not only toil but also shame. However, Ruth took upon herself both toil and shame out of love for her aged mother-in-law. The All-seeing God saw these two sweet souls and rejoiced. Their Creator rejoiced and rewarded and glorified them, as only He knows how to reward and glorify those who fear Him. And God, in His providence, provided that Ruth should enter the field of the wealthy Boaz to gather the gleaned ears of grain, and Boaz saw Ruth and asked Naomi for her hand in marriage. Of this marriage was born Obed, the father of Jesse and grandfather of David the King. So it was that Ruth had humbled herself to being a beggar but God made her the ancestress of the great king (David), from whom came many kings and finally the King of kings, our Lord Jesus Christ.
O All-seeing and Gracious Lord, how wonderful art Thou in Thy providence toward the righteous and the merciful. Do Thou guide us also and have mercy on us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK