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Prologue from Ochrid - January 16 [January 29]

1. The Holy Apostle Peter.

Today we commemorate the chains with Which Peter was shackled by the lawless Herod and which, when an angel appeared to him in prison, fell from him (Acts 12:7). The faithful kept these chains, both in memory of the great Apostle and also because of their healing power, for many of the sick were healed by touching them (as with the towel of the Apostle Paul: Acts 19:12). The Patriarch of Jerusalem, St Juvenal, made a gift of these chains to the Empress Eudocia, the exiled wife of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger. She divided them in half, sending one half to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople and the other to her daughter, the Empress Eudoxia, wife of Valentian of Rome. This Eudoxia built the Church of St Peter and placed these chains in it, together with those in which Peter was shackled before his death under the Emperor Nero.

2. The Holy Martyrs Speusippus, Eleusippus, Meleusippus and their grandmother Leonilla.

They suffered for Christ in France in the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161 - 180). The three brothers were triplets. At first only Leonilla was a Christian, while her grandsons were pagans. After much exortation on the part of the pious Leonilla and a local priest, the three brothers were baptised. Being baptised, they began with youthful fervour to witness to their faith, and in their zeal went out and smashed all the idols in the area. Accused and brought before the judge, they acknowledged their action and openly confessed their faith in Christ. The judge threw them into prison, then summoned their grandmother and directed her to go to the prison and counsel her grandsons to deny Christ and worship idols. Leonilla went off without a word to the prison, but instead of advising her grandsons to deny the true Faith, she set about encouraging them not to give up, but to persevere to the end in all their sufferings and die for Christ. When the judge examined them again and saw their yet stronger steadfastness in the Faith, he condemned them to death. All three were first hanged on one tree, where they hung 'like the strings of a lute', and after that flogged and then finally burned. A woman, Jovilia, stirred by the courage of these martyrs, cried out: 'I too am a Christian!' They immediately seized her and beheaded her with a sword, together with the aged Leonilla.

3. Our Holy Father, the Martyr Damascene of Gabrovo.

He lived in asceticism at Hilandar, where he became abbot. When he sought a debt due to the monastery from some Turks, they persuaded a Moslem woman to go into the house where Damascene lived. The Turks then came and found the woman, and dragged Damascene off before the judge. He was given the alternative: hanging or conversion to Islam, to which he replied decisively: 'It would be foolishness were I for temporal life to buy eternal peril.' He was hanged in 1771 in Svishtov. So Damascene sacrificed his life to save his soul. But his murderers immediately met God's punishment. They got into a boat to cross the Danube, but suddenly a storm capsized them and they drowned.

4. Our Holy Father Romil.

Born in Vidin, he was a disciple of St Gregory the Sinaite, and lived the ascetic life in several monasteries. St Romil entered into rest at Ravanica in Serbia in about 1375.

Reflection

Nothing crushes human pride as does habitual obedience toward elders. In ancient Sparta, obedience was considered a great virtue. It is said a Spartan soldier, who rushed into battle armed with a sword, caught up with his enemy and at the precise moment when he was about to slay him, the trumpet sounded to end the fighting and the Spartan replaced his sword in the sheath. When someone who saw this asked him: "Why did you not slay the enemy?" He replied: " It is better to obey the commander than to slay the enemy." Christian obedience differs from this Spartan obedience in that it is voluntary and has as its goal the salvation of the soul; i.e., it is not for the preservation of the earthly kingdom but rather for obtaining of the heavenly kingdom. St. John the Short [Colobus] began his ascetical life with a certain elder of Thebes. In order to teach his disciple obedience, the elder planted a withered tree in the ground and ordered his disciple to water it daily. For three years, John without murmuring watered this withered tree until it finally turned green and brought forth fruit. This is the fruit of resigned obedience. The Crucified Lord Himself "became obedient to death" (Philippians 2:8).

Contemplation

To contemplate the peace of the Lord Jesus:

  1. The peace which He carried in His soul: The only, perfect Peace-bearer;
  2. The peace which He created among men: The only, perfect Peace-maker;
  3. The peace which He gave to His disciples: The only, perfect Peace-giver.

Homily

About how we all are free only if we are slaves of Christ

"For the slave called in the Lord is a freed person in the Lord, just as the free person who has been called is a slave of Christ" (I Corinthians 7:22).

The great news that Christianity daily announces to the world is that nothing is evaluated at full value according to its external appearance but by its essence. Do not evaluate things according to its color and shape but by its meaning. Do not evaluate a man by his position and property but by his heart - by his heart in which are united his feeling, his reason and his will.

According to this, for the world always a new teaching; he is not a slave who is outwardly enslaved; neither is he free who possesses outward physical freedom. According to secular understanding, the slave is one who enjoys the world the least and a free man is one who enjoys the world the most. According to Christian understanding, a slave is one who least enjoys from the living and sweet Christ and the free man is one who enjoys most from the living and sweet Christ. Further, according to secular understanding, the slave is one who carries out his own will less frequently and who carries out the will of others more frequently, and a free man is one who carries out his will more often and even less often the will of others. However, according to Christian understanding, the slave is one who carries out his will more often and even less often the will of God, and the free man is one who carries out the will of God more frequently and who carries out even less frequently, his own will. To be a slave to the Lord is the only true and worthy freedom of man and, to be a slave to the world and to one's self, sin and vice is the only fatal slavery. Of the kings on the throne, a man would think: Are there any more free men on earth than those? However, many kings were the most base and the most unworthy slaves of the earth. Of shackled Christians in the dungeons, a man would think: Are there any more miserable slaves on earth than they? However, the Christian martyrs in the prisons felt as free men and were filled with spiritual joy; they chanted Psalms and raised up prayers of gratitude to God. Freedom which is tied to grief and sorrow is not freedom but slavery. Only freedom in Christ is tied with unspeakable joy. Lasting joy is the mark of true freedom.

O Lord Jesus, the only Good Lord, Who grants us freedom when You tie us stronger to Yourself, make us Your slaves as soon as possible that we would cease to be slaves of cruel and unmerciful masters.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

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