Prologue from Ochrid - July 7 [July 20]
1. The Holy and Great Martyr Dominica (Nedelja).
In the time of the Emperors Diocletian and his son-in-law Maximian, both adversaries of Christ, there lived in Anatolia two elderly, devout souls, Dorotheus and Eusebia. They were devoted Christians, rich but childless. With unceasing prayer, they besought God for a child, and their prayers were answered in this holy Dominica. She consecrated herself to God from her childhood, holding herself apart from the activities of carefree children. When she had grown up, beautiful in body and soul, she had many suitors but refused them all, saying that she had betrothed herself to Christ the Lord and desired nothing other than to die a virgin. One of these rejected suitors denounced Dominica and her parents to the Emperor Diocletian as Christians. The Emperor ordered that her parents be tortured, and after torture had them exiled to the town of Melitene, where they died under further torture. Diocletian sent Dominica to Maximian for trial. When she affirmed her faith in Christ the Lord before Maximian, he ordered that she be thrown to the ground and flogged with bull-whips. Then the Emperor handed her over to the generals - firstly to Hilarion and then, after his death, to Apollonius. They tortured her bestially in all possible ways, but in vain. While holy Dominica lay in prison wounded all over, Christ the Lord appeared to her, healed her and said to her: 'Don't be afraid of the torture, Dominica; My grace is with thee.' And indeed Christ's grace saved this martyr from fire and from wild beasts, which the godless torturers were certain would bring about her death. Seeing the miraculous saving of Dominica from such a death, many of the pagans came to belief in Christ. All were beheaded. Dominica said to Apollonius: 'There is no way that you can turn me from my faith. Throw me into the fire - I have the example of the Three Children; throw me to the wild beasts - I have the example of Daniel; throw me into the sea - I have the example of Jonah the prophet; put me to the sword - I shall remember the honoured Forerunner. For me, to die is life in Christ.' Then Apollonius ordered that she be beheaded. Dominica knelt and raised her hands to eaven in prayer to God, that He would have mercy on and save all those who would celebrate her memory, and that he would give rest to her soul and those of her parents. Finishing her prayer, she gave her soul to God before the sword descended on her head. She suffered with honour in Nicomedia and went to eternal joy in the year 289.
2. Our Holy Father Thomas of Malea.
This Thomas was a general, famed for his courage and wealth. He was massive of body and a source of fear to his enemies. But, when he came to love Christ more than the world or anything in the world, he left everything and retired to the desert, where he became a monk and gave himself to asceticism. St Elias the Prophet appeared to him, and led him to the mountain called Malea, near the Holy Mountain. There he lived in solitude, alone with God, in unceasing prayer day and night. Although he hid from the world, he could not succeed in concealing himself. Learning of the holiness of his life, people began to go to him, bringing their sick. St Thomas healed them of all ills and weaknesses. When he went to God (in the tenth century), his relics continued to give aid to all who drew near to them in faith.
3. Our Holy Fathers, the Martyrs Epictetus and Astius.
Epictetus, a priest, brought Astius, the only son of his parents, to the Christian faith, baptised him and made him a monk. They then went off eastwards, to the region of Scythia, and settled in the Scythian town of Almirida (now Ramzina), at the mouth of the Danube on the Black Sea. They were tortured and killed for the Christian faith in about 290. They both appeared after their deaths in great light to St Astius's parents, Alexander and Marcellina, who turned to Christ and were baptised by Bishop Evangelus, who was himself then executed for Christ; 'Evangelus, another angel', as is sung of him.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK
The example of St. Dominica, the beautiful virgin, and the example of St. Astius the rich young man, both of whom submitted themselves to torture and death for Christ the Lord, leads us to contemplate that there is nothing comparable in history to the power of Christ by whose help young men conquer themselves and through that, everything else. To obtain victory over one's self is the greatest victory. Such victors, the Church numbers by the thousands and many thousands. In writing about virginity, St. Cyprian says: "To conquer pleasure is the greatest pleasure, neither is there a greater victory than the victory over one's desires. He who conquered one opponent, proved himself stronger than somebody else but he who conquered passion proved himself stronger than himself. Every evil is easier to conquer than a pleasure. For all other evils are repulsive while the pleasure of evil is attractive. He who frees himself from desires, frees himself from fear for, because of desires, fear proceeds."
To contemplate the miraculous bringing forth of water from the rock in Horeb (Exodus 17):
1. How the thirsty Israelites doubted that God is among them and murmured against Moses;
2. How, by God's command Moses struck the rock with his rod and water flowed from the rock;
3. How even my heart has become as hard as stone because of doubt and how brooks of tears begin to flow when the grace of faith touches it.
About the [sincere and pure] milk of the word
"As newborn babes, desire the sincere [pure] milk of the word, that you may grow thereby: If so be, you have tasted that the Lord is gracious" (1 Peter 2: 2-3).
"As newborn babes," this is how the great apostle regards Christians. Baptism is a new birth and man counts a new life from baptism. The spiritually new born must be fed with mild food the same as the physically new born. What kind of food does the apostle recommend for Christians? "The sincere and pure milk of the word." The physical child is fed with the milk of insincerity, which is only the image of the "pure [sincere] milk of the word" by which a spiritual child needs to be fed. What then is this sincere and pure milk with which Christians should be fed? The apostle himself answers this when he says: "for you have tasted that the Lord is gracious." Therefore, that is the Lord Jesus Himself, Living and Life-giving. Christ's words are the sincere and pure milk. Brethren, blessed are you if you nourish your souls with the words of Christ, as sweet milk, for your souls will expand and be blessed and you will be prepared for the Kingdom of God.
Christ's miracles are the sincere and pure milk. Brethren, blessed are you if you nourish your souls with this sweet milk, for you will be similar to the angels who sing the praises of the miracles of God day and night.
The Body and Blood of Christ are the sincere and pure milk. Brethren, blessed are you if you nourish your souls with this sweet milk, for you will become members of the Living and Immortal Body of Christ in the heavens.
Christ's resurrected victory over death is the sincere and pure milk. Brethren, blessed are you if you nourish your souls with this sweet milk, for you will, while yet in this life, walk as victors and in the life to come stand at the right side of Christ the Victor.
Brethren, the whole of Christ is the sincere and pure milk. Let us be eager for this milk above all else that we may grow to salvation. This is the only nourishment for salvation. All else is for decay and the grave.
O Lord Jesus, Lamb of God, You Who are the sincere and pure milk, nourish us with Yourself as You did nourish Your holy apostles so that we may also grow sufficiently to salvation.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.