Prologue from Ochrid - December 19 [January 1]
1. The Holy Martyr Boniface.
Martyrdom for Christ makes sinners into saints. This is shown by the example of St Boniface. He was at first servant to a wealthy and dissolute woman, Aglaïs, in Rome, and had unclean and unlawful relations with her. They were both pagans. Aglaïs evinced the desire to have the relics of some martyr in her house as an amulet against evil, so she sent her servant to Asia to find and buy for her what she desired. Boniface took some slaves with him and a fair amount of money and, at the moment of parting, said to Aglaïs: 'If I can't find any martyrs and if they bring you back my body, martyred for Christ, will you receive it with honour? Aglaïs laughed, and called him a drunken old sinner, and so they parted. Coming to the city of Tarsus, Boniface saw many Christians undergoing torture: some were having their legs cut off, some their hands, others their eyes put out, yet others were dying on the gallows and so forth. Boniface's heart was changed, and he repented of his sinful life with tears. He called out among the Christian martyrs: 'I too am a Christian!' The judge took him for interrogation and ordered that he be harshly flogged, then that boiling lead be poured into his mouth and, as this did him no harm, that he be beheaded. The slaves then took his body back to Rome. An angel of God appeared to Aglaïs and said: 'Take him who was at one time your servant, but is now our brother and fellow-servant; he is the guardian of your soul and the protector of your life.' Aglaïs went in wonder to meet them, took Boniface's body, built a church for his relics and placed them there. She then repented, gave away all her goods to the poor and withdrew from the world, living a further fifteen years in bitter penitence. St Boniface suffered in the year 290.
2. St Gregory, Bishop of Omir.
He was at first a deacon in the church in Mediolanum (Milan), and had many visions. By God's providence, he was taken to the city of Alexandria, where Patriarch Proterius, in response to a heavenly revelation, consecrated him bishop of the land of Omir in southern Arabia, which the holy King Elesbaan (Oct. 24th) had already freed from the tyranny of Dunaan the Jew. He was a good shepherd and a great wonderworker. He organised the Church in Omir, with the help of the Christ-loving King Avram, built many churches and baptised a great number of the Jews. He performed great and terrible wonders by his prayers, even bringing about a revelation of Christ the Lord before the unbelieving Jews, which led to their baptism. Having governed the Church for thirty years, he entered peacefully into eternal life in the late fifth century.
3. St Boniface the Merciful, Bishop of Ferentino.
He had a rare compassion from childhood, being scolded for this by his mother. But, helped by prayer, he received a hundredfold from the Lord. He died peacefully in Italy in the sixth century.
4. Our Holy Father Elias of Murom.
He was a monk of the Kiev Caves, and died in 1188. His uncorrupt relics have wonderworking power. Three fingers of his right hand are to this day raised in prayer, whence it is seen that he died at prayer. This is a commentary on those who do not make the sign of the Cross with three fingers.
Can faith move mountains? (Matthew 17:20). Without a doubt it can, and it can do even more than that: by faith, God Himself can be moved to mercy toward us sinners. In the Omirian town of Safar, the majority of the inhabitants were Jews. St. Gregory endeavored to convert them to Christianity. Then the Jews suggested to St. Gregory and to King Abramis that they should have a debate about faith with the assurance that if they [the Jews] were defeated then all of them would enter the Christian Faith. This debate lasted several days in the presence of several thousand people, both Jews and Christians. The Jews, seeing that they would be defeated by Gregory's irrefutable reasons and proofs, sought from Gregory that, in some way, he show them Christ alive so that they might see Him with their own eyes and then they would believe. Having great boldness before the Lord because of the purity of his heart, St. Gregory knelt facing east and, before everyone, began to pray to God. When he had finished his prayer, the earth quaked, thunder clapped, and the heavens opened in the east. A cloud, glowing with a flaming fire and shining rays, moved from the east and then slowly descended to the earth toward that place where the assembly of people had gathered. In the midst of the cloud there stood a man of inexpressible beauty, with a face of extraordinary brightness and in a vesture that appeared to be woven of lightning. He moved upon the cloud until He came over Bishop Gregory himself. Everyone saw Him in unsurpassable glory and beauty, and in fear fell to the ground on their faces. Gregory cried out: "One is Holy, One is the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen." At this, there came a voice to the Jews from the Lord's glory: "For the sake of the bishop's prayers, He Who was crucified by your fathers heals you." And the shining cloud moved away as slowly as it came. After that, the Jews were baptized.
Contemplate the humility of Moses before God:
- How Moses always emphasized God and never himself;
- How he looked for all strength, for all good, and for all help from God only, and not from anyone else;
- How, in all labor, he humbly turned to God for help and leadership.
For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord (I Samuel 1:27-28).
Besought of God and dedicated to God, Samuel was a prophet and leader of the people of Israel. The blessed Hannah, his childless mother, besought him from God with tears and sacrifices. And she gave him, her one and only greatest blessing, to the service of the Lord from his infancy. A wise mother does not consider her children as her own, but rather as God's. They are God's both when God gives them and when He takes them, but they are mostly God's when a mother herself dedicates them to Him. God's gift is returned to Him as a reciprocal gift, for we have nothing of our own to give to Him but only that which we receive from Him. The young Samuel lived in the Temple among the iniquitous sons of Eli the high priest, and he did not become corrupt. The Lord would not reveal Himself to the sinful elders, but He appeared to this pure child: for Samuel did the will of God, and did let none of his words fall to the ground (I Samuel 3:19). Samuel was a judge of the people of Israel from his youth to old age and committed nothing wrong either before God or before the people. God gave him the power to prophesy and work miracles. He defeated all of God's enemies and the enemies of the people, and he anointed two kings, Saul and David. When he grew old, he called the people together and asked them if he had ever committed any violence against anyone or accepted a bribe from anyone. And the people replied with one voice: Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken ought of any man's hand (I Samuel 12:4). Behold, such a man was he, who was given by God and given to God as a reciprocal gift, and who grew up with the blessing of God and the blessing of his mother. Let mothers benefit from the example of the blessed Hannah; let judges and rulers of the people benefit from the example of the righteous Samuel.
O Holy and Most-holy Lord, gracious and most gracious, open our souls to see Thy holiness and Thy goodness, that we may repent of our evils.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK