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Prologue from Ochrid - January 17 [January 30]

1. Our Holy Father Antony the Great.

He was an Egyptian, born about 250 in a village called Quemen-el Arons near Heracleopolis. After the death of his rich and noble parents, he shared his inherited possessions with his sister, who was still in her minority, made sure that she was cared for, gave away his half of the inheritance to the poor and, at the age of twenty, consecrated himself to the life of asceticism that he had desired from childhood. At first he lived near his own village but then, in order to escape the disturbance of men, went off into the desert, on the shores of the Red Sea, where he spent twenty years as a hermit in company with no-one but God, in unceasing prayer, pondering and contemplation, patiently undergoing inexpressible demonic temptations. His fame spread through the whole world and around him gathered many disciples whom he, by word and example, placed on the path of salvation. In eighty-five years of ascetic life, he went only twice to Alexandria: the first time to seek martyrdom during a time of persecution of the Church, and the second at the invitation of St Athanasius, to refute the Arians' slanderous allegations that he too was a follower of the Arian heresy. He departed this life at the age of 105, leaving behind a whole army of disciples and followers. And, although Antony was unlettered he was, as a counsellor and teacher, one of the most learned men of his age, as also was St Athanasius the Great. When some Hellenic philosophers tried to test him with literary learning, Antony shamed them with the question: 'Which is older, the understanding or the book? And which of these is the source of the other?' The shamed philosophers dispersed, for they saw that they had only book-learning without understanding, while Antony had understanding. Here was a man who had attained perfection insofar as man is able on earth. Here was an educator of educators and teacher of teachers, who for a whole eighty-five years perfected himself, and only thus was able to perfect many others. Full of years and great works, Antony entered into rest in the Lord in the year 356.

2. The Holy Emperor Theodosius the Great.

This famous Emperor, a zealot for the Faith, ruled from 379 to 395. Constantine the Great forbade the persecution of Christians. Theodosius the Great went a stage further: he forbade sacrifice to idols in the area under his administration. He played a considerable part in the establishing and spread of the Christian faith in the world.

3. The Holy Martyr George the New of Ioannina.

He was an Albanian, born in the village of Churkli of very poor parents, farm-labourers. Made a target by the Turks for conversion to Islam, he remained steadfast in the Christian faith, for which he was hanged in Ioannina on January 17th, 1838. A great wonderworker and healer, he is still active today.

Reflection

St. Anthony teaches: "Learn to love humility, for it will cover all your sins. All sins are repugnant before God but the most repugnant of all is pride of the heart. Do not consider yourself learned and wise; otherwise, all your effort will be destroyed and your boat will reach the harbor empty. If you have great authority, do not threaten anyone with death. Know, that according to nature, you too are susceptible to death and that every soul sheds its body from itself as the final garment." In Byzantium there existed an unusual and instructive custom during the crowning of the emperors in the Church of the Divine Wisdom [St. Sophia]. The custom was that when the patriarch placed the crown on the emperor's head, at the same time, he handed him a silk purse filled with dirt from the grave. Then, even the emperor would recall death and to avoid all pride and become humble.

Contemplation

To contemplate the persecution of the Lord Jesus for righteousness sake:

  1. His persecution as a child by Herod;
  2. His persecution as a man and Messiah by the Jewish scribes and elders;
  3. His persecution as God by many of our contemporary scribes and elders both Jewish and Christian.

Homily

About two different types of wisdom

"For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God" (I Corinthians 3:19).

Even this scriptural concept is one great news which Christianity proclaims to the world. One is the wisdom according to God and from God and the other is the wisdom according to the world and from the world. Wisdom, according to God, is from the Holy Spirit. The apostles were filled with such wisdom when the Holy Spirit descended upon them. Wisdom, according to the world, is from the senses and from material and it represents true insanity before God if it is not seasoned and inspired by the Holy Spirit of God.

All worldly wisdom which is guided only by the physical senses, without regard for the Holy Spirit, is insanity before God and before God's angels; for such a wisdom does not perceive either the spirit or the purpose of this world; rather it knows this world only as ashes from without and ashes from within; as ashes which the wind of chance piles up and strews at one moment this way and at another moment that way.

All wisdom of man which is directed only by the senses and by physical conceptions and fantasies is insanity before God and before angels and saints of God, for it does not know man as man; that is, as a spiritual being related to God, rather it knows man only as a body from without and as a body from within; as a body according to form and as a body according to essence. It is the same as if a monkey, looking at an iron locomotive, described it and said, "This is iron on the outside and iron on the inside; iron which heats it and iron which operates it, iron which gives it direction and iron which stops it!" Brethren, who is able to be filled with the wisdom of God except him who, at first, empties himself of the insanity's of the world? With God's help, each one of us can do this. However, to our desires and to our efforts, without Faith, God's help goes to assist us. For God alone is Goodness, Wisdom and Holiness.

O Good Lord, Wise and Holy, fill us with Your Life-creating wisdom.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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