Prologue from Ochrid - January 9 [January 22]
1. The Holy Martyr Polyeuctus.
The Armenian town of Melitene was soaked in Christian blood, as was all the land of Armenia. The first blood shed for Christ in that town was that of St Polyeuctus, spilled in about the year 259, during the reign of Valerian. There were in the town two friends who were officers: Nearchus and Polyeuctus, the former baptised and the latter unbaptised. When a decree went out from the Emperor that all Christians were to be killed, Nearchus prepared himself for death, though with great sorrow at not having brought his friend Polyeuctus to the true Faith. When Polyeuctus became aware of Nearchus' sorrow, he promised to become a believer. On the following day, he related to Nearchus a dream that he had: the Lord Himself had appeared to him in light, stripped his old clothing from him, clothed him in new and shining raiment and set him upon the saddle of a winged horse. After relating this dream, Polyeuctus went off to the town, tore up the royal decree on the persecution of Christians and smashed many statues of idols. He was tortured and condemned to death. On the way to the place of execution, he caught sight of Nearchus in the crowd and called joyfully to him: 'Save your soul, my dear soul-friend! Remember the vow of love confirmed between us!' And St Nearchus later ended a martyr for Christ in the fire. His feast is on April 22nd.
2. Our Holy Father Eustratius.
A native of Tarsus, he was a great ascetic and man of prayer. During seventy-five years of monastic life, he never lay on his left side to sleep, but always on his right. In church, he repeated over to himself throughout the service: 'Lord, have mercy'. He died at the age of 95.
3. St Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow.
Born on February I 1 th, 1507, he was standing one day in church, while still a young man, when he heard the priest read from the Gospel the words: "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24). He was filled with awe at these words, as though they were said to him alone, and was enlightened in that same moment. He went off to the monastery of Solovetzk, where, after a long and hard novitiate, he received the monastic habit. In time he became abbot, and, resplendent as the sun in holiness, became known throughout the land of Russia. Because of this, Tsar Ivan the Terrible translated him to the vacant See of Moscow as Metropolitan in 1566. But the holy man could not witness with indifference the atrocities of that terrible Tsar, but counselled him strongly and then fearlessly denounced him. The Tsar found false witnesses against Philip, dismissed him, stripped him of all but his simple monastic rank and imprisoned him at Tver. On December 23rd, 1569, Malyuta Skhuratov, an emissary of the Tsar, came into Philip's cell and suffocated him with a pillow. But a horrible death quickly overtook all who had opposed Philip.
After some years, the body of the saint was found to be whole and uncorrupt, and giving off a fragrant odour. It was transferred to the monastery of Solovetzk.
The Orthodox Church by teaching men about perfect love, at the same time, also teaches them perfect obedience from which emanates order and harmony among the faithful. Bishops owe their obedience to the Lord. Priests owe their obedience to the bishops. The faithful owe their obedience to both [bishops and priests]. St. Ignatius writes about this: "You are required to obey without hypocrisy; he who would deceive his visible bishop would also scorn the Invisible [Christ]. I pray you, endeavor to fulfill everything in godly unanimity under the presidency of the bishops who occupy the place of Christ and the presbyters who constitute the assembly of the apostles, not thinking that whatever you do alone and apart would be correct."
To contemplate all the virtues in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ:
- How every virtue in Him is complete and perfect as in no other in the history of the world;
- How everything is wonderfully complimented, one in the other is developed and one in the other is made radiant.
About the concern for the salvation of our neighbors
"No one should seek his own advantage, but that of his neighbor" (I Corinthians 10:24).
This is the principle of the saints of God, both now, at one time, always and forever. This is the principle on which society is built. Upon this principle can be established the most perfect, the most God-pleasing and the most prosperous human society. This is the saving principle for every type of difficulty with which contemporary men struggle, struggle without victory and without hope. The holy soul is concerned with where the homeless will spend the night, how the hungry will be fed, how the naked will be clothed. The soul is concerned and prays to God that their neighbors be saved; that their hearts be filled with love toward God; that their minds be directed toward God; that the wicked turn from the path of wickedness; that those wavering in the Faith be strengthened; that those who are strengthened be sustained; that those who have died see the Face of God; that the living be written in the Book of Life in the Kingdom of Light.
Therefore, be careful brethren, how even in like manner, word for word, can sound the destructive and antisocial principle of the devil. This principle of the devil says: no one should look at their own body to preserve it in purity from sin, but rather everyone should look at the bodies of others in order to ruin and to destroy them. That no one should look at his own soul, how to save it, rather everyone should look at the soul of someone else in order to blacken it, to curse it, to impoverish it and to destroy it. Let no one look at his house, in order to build it, and renew it rather let everyone look at the home of another in order to burn it and demolish it. No one should look at his granaries in order to fill them, rather, one should look at the granaries of others in order to steal from them and to empty them. See, brethren, how this principle can be either a principle of good or a principle of evil; a sharp two-edged sword; an angel or Satan. See how this principle in the satanic spirit and form has taken momentum on all sides today!
O Lord, Holy Spirit, Who has released these holy words in the world through the tongue of the apostle of God as bright rays of the sun to illuminate and not to burn us, help us now to fulfill them in the proper heavenly sense to the glory of the Triune God and for the salvation of our souls.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK