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Prologue from Ochrid - December 29 [January 11]

1. The 14,000 Holy Children in Bethlehem.

When the wise men from the East failed to return to Jerusalem from Bethlehem to tell Herod about the new-born king, but, at the angel's command, returned to their home another way, Herod was as furious as a wild beast, and commanded that all the children of two years and under in Bethlehem and its surroundings be killed. This terrible command of the king's was carried out to the letter. His soldiers cut off some of the children's heads with their swords, dashed others on the stones, trampled some of them underfoot and drowned others with their own hands. The weeping and lamentation of their mothers rose to heaven: 'Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children' as had been prophesied (Jer. 13:15; Matt. 2:18). This evildoing towards the hordes of innocent children came to pass a year after the birth of Christ, at a time when Herod was trying to find the divine Child. He sought Zacharias's son, John, meaning to kill him in the belief that John was the new king. When Zacharias refused to hand John over, he was killed in the Temple on Herod's orders. St Simeon the Host of God was also killed, and went to God soon after the Presentation in the Temple. Slaying the children in Bethlehem, Herod then turned on the Jewish elders, who had revealed to him where the Messiah would be born. He killed Hyrcanes the High Priest, and seventy elders from the Sanhedrin, and thus they who conspired with Herod to kill the new baby King came to an evil end. After that, Herod killed his own brother and sister and wife, and three of his sons. Finally, God's punishment fell on him: he began to tremble, his legs swelled, the lower part of his body became putrid and worms came out of the sores, his nose became blocked and an unbearable stench spread around from it. At the time of his death, he remembered that there were many captive Jews in prison, so, that they should not rejoice at his death, he ordered that they all be slaughtered. Thus this terrible ruler lost his inhuman soul and was given to the devil for eternity.

2. Our Holy Father Marcellus.

From Apamea in Syria, he was abbot of the community of the Sleepless Ones in Constantinople. He was a seer, a healer and a great wonderworker. He spoke with angels, and drove out devils with ease. After his death, he appeared to his close friend, St Lucian, and told him that he had begged God to take Lucian quickly to His heavenly Kingdom. This glorious and holy man entered into rest in 486.

3. Our Holy Fathers Mark the Gravedigger and Theophilus the Weeper.

They were monks of the Caves in Kiev. St Mark had such grace that he could command the dead and they would listen to him. 'Wait till tomorrow, my brother; your grave isn't ready yet', he is recorded as having said to a dead monk, who was already washed and embalmed, and the monk opened his eyes and lived till the following day. Theophilus wept constantly for his sins, catching his tears in a basin. An angel appeared to him at the time of his death, and showed him a very large basin full of tears. These were Theophilus's tears, that had fallen to the ground or been wiped away with his hand, or had dried on his face. Thus in heaven they know and keep all our tears along with our sufferings and labours and sighs for the sake of our salvation. These holy servants of God entered into rest in the eleventh century, and went to the kingdom of Christ.

Reflection

A story about the Most-pure Virgin Mary: She conceived the Lord Jesus on a Friday, just as His passion was on a Friday, and she gave birth to Him on the first day of the week. On the first day of the week God said, Let there be light (Genesis 1:3); on the first day of the week, manna fell from heaven; on this day the Lord and Savior was born; and on this day He was baptized in the Jordan. At that time, there lived in Bethlehem the aged Salome, a kinswoman of Joseph and Mary. She was unable to receive her kinfolk at her house but visited them in the shepherd's cave. When the Most-holy Virgin immaculately gave birth to the Lord and Savior, Salome came to visit her. She was amazed that such a young girl could give birth without the aid of a midwife, swaddle the Child herself, and beside all of that still be on her feet. When it was explained to Salome that this birth was of God and not man, that it was immaculate and without pain, and that the Virgin Mother remained a Virgin after birth as she was before birth, Salome did not believe it, but rather she stretched out her hand to the body of the Most-holy Virgin to examine it, after the custom of a midwife, and to find out if this was indeed so. And because of her unbelief and insolence, a punishment befell her: her hand was seized and withered. The aged woman was greatly frightened by the miracle and lamented over her withered hand. However, when she touched the Divine Child later, her hand was restored to health like it was before. Thus, Salome believed in the virginity of the Most-pure Virgin Mary and in the Divinity of Christ. Thus after forty days, when according to custom the Most-pure Virgin came with the young Child to the Temple in Jerusalem, Zacharias the high priest placed her in the area reserved for virgins. The Pharisees and priests were disturbed by this and wanted to remove her to the place reserved for married women, but the discerning Zacharias did not allow this, claiming, that she was a virgin even though she had given birth. Because of this, the Jewish elders hated Zacharias and sought from Herod that he be killed. Immediately after she left the Temple, the Theotokos and Joseph left from Jerusalem to Nazareth and then to Egypt.

Contemplation

Contemplate the assembly of the holy hierarchs and teachers of the Church:

  1. How they zealously preached the Gospel and shepherded the flock of Christ;
  2. How they confirmed the devout Faith and trampled heresies;
  3. How they now rejoice in the Kingdom of Christ and help us by their prayers.

Homily

On the Most-holy Virgin, the Theotokos

Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also (Luke 2:35).

Who on this earth could even closely compare with the Lord in patient endurance of suffering except His Most-holy Mother? The elder Simeon, adorned with snowy hair like a white swan, prophetically foresaw her future sufferings and likened those sufferings to a sword piercing her soul. One sword had pierced her soul when the righteous Joseph doubted her at the time of her pregnancy; the second, when she had to flee to Egypt before Herod's sword; and the third, fourth and many, many others when she saw the hatred and intrigues of the Jewish elders against her Son day in and day out during the whole time of His preaching and miracle-working among men. But the sharpest sword pierced her soul when she stood beneath the Cross of her Son and Lord. This sword was foreseen and prophesied to her by the holy, aged Simeon. Majestic and moving was her silence, beneath which she covered all her pains and all the wounds of her heart as with a veil. In the twilight, all these countless pains that had accumulated in her most pure heart shone as an inextinguishable flame of faith and hope in God and dedication to God. This handmaid of the Lord, unsurpassable in nobility! She saw herself clearly in God's plan for the salvation of mankind; she read about herself in the prophets; she spoke with the angels-God's messengers. Therefore, all that came upon her, joy or pain, she knew came from God. She was not jubilant in her joy nor did she murmur in her pain, but rather she remained silent and laid it all up in her heart.

O Most-holy Virgin Theotokos, help us that we may be, like thee, submissive to the will of God.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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