Prologue from Ochrid - January 13 [January 26]
1. The Holy Martyrs Hermylas and Stratonicus.
The Emperor Licinius launched a violent persecution against the Christians. St Hermylas, a Christian and a deacon in one of the churches, was arrested and condemned to death. When he was told that he was being taken out to martyrdom, he rejoiced greatly. The Emperor threatened him in vain; Hermylas openly confessed his faith in Christ and, in reply to the Emperor's threats, said: "The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man doeth unto me" (Ps. 117:6). After harsh torture, Hermylas was flung into prison. But the jailer was one Stratonicus, a secret Christian who was filled with whole-hearted compassion for Hermylas's sufferings. When he too appeared before the Emperor as a Christian, Licinius ordered that they both be thrown into the Danube. So Hermylas and Stratonicus were bound together in one net and cast into the river. After three days the river threw their bodies onto the bank, and fellow-Christians took them and buried them a little way outside Belgrade. These glorious martyrs suffered for Christ and entered into glory in the year 315.
2. St James, Bishop of Nisibis.
In summer in an open field and in winter in a cave, St James lived as a hermit. On one occasion he went down into the city of Nisibis in Mesopotamia, to look into the faith and life of the Christians, and was there elected by the people as their bishop. He took part in the First Ecumenical Council in 325 and defended Orthodoxy against the Arians.
It happened at one time that the pagan Persian army attacked Nisibis. St James went out onto the ramparts with the banner-icon from the church, himself raising it aloft and walking round the ramparts fearless of the arrows the enemy was aiming at him. Walking thus, the saint prayed to God to save the city and the faithful in it by sending flies and mosquitoes on the Persians, thus driving them away from the city walls. He did not, we see, seek the destruction of the enemy but some sort of catastrophe, no matter what, even some quite small occurrence, that would overcome them and remove them from the vicinity. God heard the prayer of His chosen one and sent a plague of flies and mosquitoes on the Persians, driving them away and saving the city of Nisibis. St James lived long and with honour, and died peacefully in great old age in the year 350.
3. Our Holy Father Maximus of Kapsokalyvia.
Maximus lived in the fourteenth century, following the ascetic life as a monk on the Holy Mountain according to his own particular way: that is to say, he pretended to be slightly crazed and constantly changed his abode. This being a hut of boughs, he built them and burned them down in rapid succession, thus earning himself the name 'of Kapsokalyvia', that is, 'of the burnt huts'. He was regarded as a fool until St Gregory the Sinaite came to the Holy Mountain and perceived in Maximus a unique ascetic, a wonderworker with the gift of prayer and an 'angel in the flesh'. He went to the Lord in the year 1320.
A good deed done in silence is worth more than a good deed done with an explanation and is incomparably worth more than the most spiritual explanation without a good deed. From St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia, no words have remained, but his deeds have remained. On three occasions without any explanations, he came at night to the home of a poor man and secretly tossed a bag of gold through the window. A certain elder of a Scete in Egypt became very ill and desired to eat a little fresh bread, for the bread that the monks ate, at that time, was dried in the sun and lasted for months. Upon hearing this, one of the monks, not saying anything to anyone, departed the Scete and went to a distant town where he purchased fresh bread for the ailing elder. Learning about the effort of this monk, the elder did not want the bread saying: "That is the blood of my brother!" (That is to say, the brother, provided it with great difficulty, with great effort). Then, the other monks implored the elder to eat, saying to him, "Do not despise the sacrifice of the brother." What kind of explanation and what words of brotherly love are able to replace this simple and silent act of brotherly love?
To contemplate the hunger and thirst of the Lord Jesus for justice:
- How He comes into the world to restore down-trodden justice;
- How He proclaims God's justice and unmasks injustice;
- How He hurriedly does numerous acts of justice in order to leave us an example.
About the Kingdom of God which is within
"The Kingdom of God is within you" (St. Luke 17:21).
All that belongs to God carries the seal of immortality. And, the Kingdom of God is immortal. If we desire to breathe the air of immortality, we must enter within ourselves, within our hearts, within the Kingdom of God. Outside of ourselves is the air of time, the air of transitoriness and decay in which the soul breathes with difficulty. The kingdom of nature is the sensual kingdom; hence, a foreign kingdom in comparison to our soul which represents our inner kingdom. Why do men love to reside for a long, long time in a foreign land? Why do they rarely and reluctantly enter into their own home? Whenever we think about the world, we think about that which is foreign land. Whenever we converse about the sensual world, we converse about a foreign land. Living by the senses, we are similar to a man who rushes around all day to the homes of strangers, and only at night, returns to his own home to sleep. And so, we dedicate our vigilance to death and our sleep to immortality! We come to ourselves; we return to ourselves only in sleep. But, even our sleep is dreaming of our reality, i.e., even when we are in our own home, in an unconscious state, we dream of foreign homes: Our dreams are sensual, for our consciousness is sensual. And so, we are in a foreign land; we are strangers in reality and in dreams. We are constantly outside ourselves. The Lord wants to return us to ourselves, in His home and to His homeland. For us, the Kingdom of God is within us: outside of ourselves is a foreign land. In order to escape from a foreign land and find our true home, in which we directly encounter God, we must enter within ourselves, into our hearts. There is the King, there also is the Kingdom.
O Lord, King of the angels and saints, show us the riches and the light of Your Kingdom within us. That we may love Your kingdom more than we love the foreign land of the sensual, the kingdom of change and transitoriness.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK