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Prologue from Ochrid - February 4 [February 17]

Our Holy Father Isidore of Pelusium.

He was an Egyptian, the son of eminent parents and a kinsman of the Patriarchs of Alexandria Theophilus and Cyril. Completing his secular studies, he renounced his riches and worldly standing and gave himself wholly to the spiritual life for the love of Christ. He was a great and ardent interpreter and defender of the Orthodox faith. The historian Nicephorus states that St Isidore wrote more than 10,000 letters to various people, in which he reprimanded one, advised another, consoled a third, instructed a fourth. 'It is more important to be proficient in good works than in golden-tongued preaching', he writes in one letter. In another, he says: 'If a man wishes his virtues to appear great, let him regard them as small and then they will be truly shown to be great.' The first and fundamental rule for Isidore was: first do and then teach, after the example of the Lord Jesus. At a time when St John Chrysostom was undergoing persecution and the whole world was divided into two camps, one for and one against this great pillar of Orthodoxy, St Isidore stood on the side of Chrysostorn. He wrote to Patriarch Theophilus, saying what a great light Chrysostom was in the Church and begging that the hatred of him should cease. He lived long and laboured greatly, glorifying Christ the Lord in his life and his writings, and entered into the Kingdom of Christ in about 450.

Our Holy Father Nicolas the Confessor.

This saint was from the island of Crete. He went to Constantinople to visit his kinsman Theodore, abbot of the Studite monastery, and remained there to become a monk. As a monk, Nicolas followed all the ascetic practices that are prescribed for the soul's salvation. During a persecution of the Church on the part of Leo the Armenian, Theodore and Nicolas were harshly tortured, humiliated, beaten with bull-whips and finally thrown into prison, where they spent three years. After the death of St Theodore, Nicolas became abbot of the Studium. Even during his lifetirne, God blessed him with the power to work miracles. He healed Eudocia the wife of the Emperor Basil, and Helen the wife of the patrician Manuel. To Theophilus Melisenus, a distinguished nobleman who had lost several children, he prophesied, in blessing his new-born daughter, that she would live and be fruitful, a prophecy that was later fulfilled to the joy of her parents. On the very day of his death, he called the monks together and asked them what they lacked. 'Wheat', they replied. Then the dying man said: 'He who sustained Israel in the wilderness will send you abundant wheat in three days.' And indeed, a boat full of grain, sent by the Emperor Basil, arrived below the monastery on the third day. Nicolas entered into the heavenly Kingdom on February 4th, 868, at the age of 75.

The Holy New Martyr Joseph.

Born in Aleppo, he had pressure put upon him by the Turks to embrace Islam. Joseph not only refused, but began to denounce the falsehood of Islam and extol the Christian faith. For this he was tortured and beheaded in 1686.

Reflection

Impose upon yourself some form of penance [Epitimija] for the sins of others. If you have judged someone or punished someone, impose upon yourself a form of penance. You should also suffer voluntarily for the sins of sinners. This is pleasing to God. This mystery was known by the saints who condemned themselves for the sins of others. Even non-Christian peoples perceived this mystery. There exists this custom in China: when an executioner beheads a criminal who is sentenced to death, he then approaches the judge and informs him that the verdict was carried out. The judge then reimburses him with a silver coin because he killed the criminal and orders that the executioner be whipped forty lashes because he killed a man. Christian saints profoundly understood the mystery of sin and human injustice. For the saints, all human sin has as long a history, as there is distance from us to Adam.

Contemplation

To contemplate the Lord Jesus as Joy:

  1. As Joy which refreshes the whole spirit of man;
  2. As Joy which enlivens and strengthens in man all power toward good;
  3. Joy from His Name, Joy from His Words, Joy from His Works and Joy from His Spirit.

Homily

About the providence of Zacchaeus of little stature

"Today, salvation has come to this house" (St. Luke 19:9).

Thus it was spoken by the One Whose word is life and joy and restoration of the righteous. Just as the bleak forest clothes itself into greenery and flowers from the breath of spring, so does every man, regardless of how arid and darkened by sin, becomes fresh and youthful from the nearness of Christ. For the nearness of Christ is as the nearness of some life-giving and fragrant balsam which restores health, increases life, give fragrance to the soul, to the thoughts and to the words of man. In other words, distance from Christ means decay and death and His nearness means salvation and life.

"Today, salvation has come to this house" said the Lord upon entering the house of Zacchaeus the sinner. Christ was the salvation that came and Zacchaeus was the house into which He entered. Brethren, each one of us is a house in which sin dwells as long as Christ is distant and to which salvation comes when Christ approaches it. Nevertheless, will Christ approach my house and your house? That depends on us. Behold, He did not arbitrarily enter the house of the sinner Zacchaeus, rather He entered as a most desired guest. Zacchaeus of little stature climbed into a tree in order to see the Lord Jesus with his own eyes. Zacchaeus, therefore, sought him; Zacchaeus desired Him. We must also seek Him in order to find Him and desire Him in order that He would draw nearer to us and, with our spirit, to climb high in order to encounter His glance. Then He will visit our house as He visited the house of Zacchaeus and with Him salvation will come.

Draw near to us O Lord, draw near and bring to us Your eternal salvation.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK