Prologue from Ochrid - January 18 [January 31]
1. St Athanasius the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria.
Born in Alexandria in 296, he had from childhood an inclination to the spiritual life. He was a deacon with Archbishop Alexander and accompanied him to Nicaea, to the First Ecumenical Council in 325. At this Council, Athanasius became famed for his learning, his devotion and his zeal for Orthodoxy, and contributed very greatly to the containing of the Arian heresy and the strengthening of Orthodoxy. After the death of Alexander, Athanasius was chosen as Archbishop of Alexandria. He remained in his archiepiscopal calling for more than forty years, although he was not on the archiepiscopal throne the whole time. He was persecuted by heretics through almost the whole of his life, particularly by the Emperors Constantius, Julian and Valens, by Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia and many others, and by the heretic Arius and his followers. He was forced to hide from his persecutors in a well, a grave, private houses and the deserts. Twice he was forced to flee to Rome. Only just before his death did he have a peaceful period as a good shepherd with his flock, which truly loved him. There are few saints who have been so callously slandered and so criminally persecuted as St Anthanasius. But his great soul endured all with patience for the love of Christ and at last emerged victorious from all these terrible and lengthy struggles. He often went to St Antony for advice and moral support, revering him as his spiritual father. He suffered greatly for the truth, until the Lord gave him rest in His kingdom as His faithful servant, in the year 373.
2. St Maxim, Archbishop of Wallachia.
Son of the Serbian despot Stefan the Blind and his wife Angelina, he received the monastic habit in the monastery of Manasija. Having pressure put on him by the Turks, he fled into the mountainous part of Romania, where he was consecrated to the vacant archiepiscopal see of Wallachia. He reconciled the disputing military commanders Radul and Bogdan and averted war between them. He returned to Krusedol in his last years, founded a monastery there and, after great spiritual endeavour, entered into rest on January 18th, 1546. His uncorrupt and wonder-working relics lie even to this day in that monastery.
To the question: "Why did the Son of God appear on earth in a human body and not in another form of creation?", the brilliant St. Athanasius replied in this manner: "If they ask why did He not appear in some other better form of creation, for example: as the sun or the moon, or the stars or fire, or the wind but just as a man? Let them know that the Lord did not come to show Himself but to heal and teach sufferers. For, to reveal Himself only to amaze the viewers would mean to come for a show. It was necessary for the Healer and the Teacher, not only to come, but to serve for the benefit of the suffering ones and to reveal Himself as such so that this revelation would be bearable for the sufferers. Not one single creature was in error in the eyes of God, except man alone: neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the sky, nor the stars, nor water, nor wind did betray their ranks but, on the contrary, knowing their Creator and their King - The Word [The Logos], they all remained as they were created; only human beings separated themselves from good and replaced truth with deceit, and the honor belonging to God, as well as the knowledge about Him, they transferred to devils and to men carved out of stone [idols]. What is, therefore, so unbelievable in this, that the Logos [The Word - The Son Of God] appeared as a man to save mankind?" Indeed, even as we ask the unbelievers of our day: In what form would you wish God to appear, if not as a man?
To contemplate the Lord Jesus burdened by slander and shame for the sake of our salvation:
- Burdened by slander and shame from Jewish scribes and elders;
- Burdened by slander and shame from the many contemporary scribes and elders;
- Burdened by slander and shame from everyone of us who have been baptized in His Name and who have not fulfilled His law.
"Gird your loins and light your lamps" (St. Luke 12:35).
This is the commandment of Him Who knows the weaknesses of our being and Who desires our good more than our father and mother do. This is the commandment of our mankind-loving Lord. When man is ungirded, does not his entire body droop a little? When he girds and harnesses himself, does not the entire body become as erect as a candle? As a candle stands, so must our soul stand erect before God. How will our souls stand erect before God if unrestrained physical earthly passions and lusts weigh them down? Behold, between the loins is the nest of the main physical passions. To gird one's loins means to tighten oneself with restraint and not to give into passions at will. But to gird one's physical loins is not the goal but the means which we utilize to easily gird our mind, our heart and our will. Physical restraint is the primary school of our Christian character; after it, comes a higher school in which we learn restraint of the mind, restraint of the heart and restraint of the will. If we gird our mind, then in its narrowness, lustful thoughts would be unable to find a place in it. If we gird our heart, then lustful desires would be unable to find a place in it. If we gird our will, then the evil, beastly and demonic desires would be unable to find a place in it.
Brethren, by a narrow path can one enter into the Kingdom of God. In the narrowness of the mind, the heart and the will can the candles of all virtues be lighted whose flame rises toward God. Under the lighted candles, we should understand Christian virtues.
O Lord, pure and sinless, the hearth of all virtues, help us to gird ourselves with restraint and to walk the narrow path to You with lighted candles, which You brought into the world.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK