Prologue from Ochrid - November 24 [December 7]
1. The Holy and Great Martyr Katharine.
The daughter of King Constus, she lived with her mother in Alexandria after her father's death. Her mother was secretly a Christian and, through her spiritual father, brought Katharine to the Christian faith. In a vision, St Katharine received a ring from the Lord Jesus Himself as a sign of her betrothal to Him. This ring remains on her finger to this day. Katharine was greatly gifted by God, exceptionally well-educated in Greek philosophy, medicine, rhetoric and logic, and added great physical beauty to this. When the wicked Emperor Maxentius offered sacrifice to idols and ordered everyone to do the same, St Katharine came with daring before him and denounced his idolatrous errors. The Emperor, seeing that she surpassed him in wisdom and leaming, summoned fifty of the wisest men, to dispute with her about faith and put her to shame, but Katharine was wiser than they, and put them to shame. The furious Emperor commanded that all fifty wise men be burned. These wise men, at St Katharine's prayers, all confessed the name of Christ at the moment of death, and proclaimed themselves Christians. When the martyr was in prison, she brought Porphyrius the general, with two hundred of his soldiers, to the Faith, and also the Empress, Augusta-Vasilissa. They all suffered for Christ. At St Katharine's martyrdom, an angel of God appeared to her, stopping and breaking the wheel on which she was being tortured, and after that the Lord Christ Himself appeared to her, strengthening her. After many tortures, Katharine was beheaded with the sword at the age of eighteen, on November 24th, 310. Milk flowed from her body in place of blood. Her wonderworking relics are preserved on Sinai.
2. The Holy and Great Martyr Mercurius.
When the Emperor Decius was once making war on the barbarians, there was in the army the commander of an Armenian regiment called the Martesians. This commander was called Mercurius. In the battle, an angel of God appeared to Mercurius, put a sword in his hand and told him that he would overcome the enemy. Mercurius displayed a wonderful courage, mowing the enemy down like grass with his sword. After this glorious victory, the Emperor made him supreme commander of his army, but some jealous men denounced him to the Emperor as a Christian. Mercurius did not deny this before the Emperor, but openly acknowledged it. He was most terribly tortured: cut with knives in strips and burned in a furnace, but an angel of God appeared in the prison and healed him. Finally the Emperor pronounced the sentence that General Mercurius be beheaded with the sword in Cappadocia. When they beheaded him, his body became as white as snow, and from it there arose a wonderful, incense-like fragrance. Many of the sick were healed by his wonderworking relics. This glorious soldier of Christ suffered for the Faith some time between 251 and 259.
3. The Holy Maiden Mastridia.
She lived in Alexandria and led a solitary life of prayer and handwork. A young man became consumed with lustful passion towards her, and pestered her incessantly. Determined not to sin against God, and seeing that it would not be easy to shake off this dissolute youth, St Mastridia once asked him what it was in her that most attracted him. He replied: 'Your eyes!', and Mastridia took the needle with which she was sewing and put out her eyes. Thus she preserved her own peace and the young man's soul, who repented deeply and became a monk.
Author's note: This Mastridia is apparently not the same as the one who is commemorated on February 7th. The latter is from Jerusalem, while this one is from Alexandria. The latter fled from scandal to the desert, and this one put out her eyes.
A tale of Elder Barlaam to Ioasaph: The citizens in a certain town had a custom of choosing as king a stranger who did not know their laws and customs. After they had crowned him king, they clothed him in beautiful robes, fed him abundantly and surrounded him with every luxury. However, as soon as one year had elapsed, they deposed their king, stripped him of all his goods and his clothes, and drove him completely naked to a distant island, where he had neither bread nor roof nor companions, and where he would die in misery and humiliation. The citizens of this town would then choose another king, also a stranger and also for one year; then a third, then a fourth, then a fifth and so forth. But it once happened that they chose a very wise and cautious man. He learned from his servants what had happened to the kings of this town after their year. Therefore, over the course of the whole year he zealously gathered food and goods and daily sent them to that island. When the year had run out and when he was stripped of his clothing and cast onto the island, he found himself amidst an enormous quantity of food, silver, gold and precious stones, and continued to live there even better than he lived as king in that town. The interpretation is this: The town represents the world; the citizens represent the evil spirits; the kings are men, either foolish or wise. The foolish men think only of the pleasures of this life, as if it were eternal; but in the end, death cuts everything off and they, naked of all good works, go to hell. The wise, however, perform many good works, and send these good works ahead of them to the other world. At their repose, the wise kings-the good men-depart to that world where their accumulated riches await them, and where they reign in greater eternal glory and beauty than they reigned here on earth.
Contemplate the wondrous creation of the world (Genesis 2):
- How God brought all animals, birds and beasts before Adam, to see how he would name them;
- How Adam gave a name to every animal and every bird and every beast.
On Him Who descended and ascended
He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things (Ephesians 4:10).
In His love for man, the Lord Jesus Christ lowered Himself so low that He could go no lower; and then raised Himself so high that, in truth, He could go no higher. He descended into the lower parts of the earth (Ephesians 4:9): into hades itself, where He freed the forefathers, prophets and righteous ones, and led them into the Kingdom of Heaven. Completing His work both on earth and in hades, He ascended far above all heavens. The same One Who ascended is the very same One Who descended without any change, except that He descended without a body, and ascended with a body. Therefore, there are not both a Son of God and a Son of Man as heretics have said, but Christ is both the Son of God and the Son of Man-one and the same Person-one and the same God-man, our Savior Jesus Christ. As He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, so He is the same in the depths and in the heights: on earth, in hades, and in the heavens. He abased Himself lower than all men, and raised Himself above all the angelic powers, to show by example the truthfulness of His words: And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted (Matthew 23:12). If we are not humbled by virtues, then sin will humble us. Virtue leads to voluntary and temporary abasement, but sin leads to irreversible and eternal abasement.
O Lord Jesus, Who fills all by Thy power, fill us with the spirit of true humility.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK