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Prologue from Ochrid - July 8 [July 21]

1. The Holy and Great Martyr Procopius.

He was born in Jerusalem of a Christian father and a pagan mother, at first bearing the name Neanias. After his father's death, his mother brought him up entirely in the spirit of Roman idolatry. When he had grown up, the Emperor Diocletian saw him at some time and was so pleased with him that he took him to court to serve in the army. When this wicked Emperor launched a persecution of Christians, he ordered Neanias to go with a detachment of soldiers to Alexandria and exterminate the Christians there. But, on the road, there happened to Neanias something similar to that which happened to Saul. At three o'clock in the morning there was a violent earthquake, the Lord Jesus appearing to him and saying: 'Neanias, where are you going, and against whom are you rebelling?' In great fear, Neanias replied: 'Who are you, Lord? I cannot recognise You.' Then a brilliant Cross, as of crystal, appeared in the sky and a voice came from the Cross: 'I am Jesus, the crucified Son of God.' The Lord went on: 'By this sign that you have seen, overcome your enemies, and My peace will be with you.' This event utterly changed Neanias's life. He caused a cross such as he had seen to be made, and, instead of moving against the Christians, set off with his soldiers against the Agarians, who were attacking Jerusalem. He entered Jerusalem victorious and told his mother that he was a Christian. Brought to trial, he took off his army belt and sword and cast them before the judge, demonstrating by this that he was a soldier only of Christ the King. After harsh torture, he was thrown into prison. There Christ the Lord appeared to him again, baptising him and giving him the name Procopius. One day twelve women came to the window of his cell and said to him: 'We also are the servants of Christ.' Arrested for this, they were thrown into the same prison, where St Procopius instructed them in the Christian faith and carefully prepared them to receive the crown of martyrdom.* These twelve women were then harshly tortured. Beholding their sufferings and courage, Procopius's mother also came to faith in Christ, and then all thirteen were put to death. When St Procopius was led to the scaffold, he raised his hands towards the East and prayed to God for all the poor and needy, the destitute and the widowed, and especially for the holy Church, that it might grow and spread and that Orthodoxy might shine to the end of time. He was assured from heaven that his prayer was heard, after which he joyfully laid his head under the sword and went to his Lord, to eternal joy. St Procopius suffered with honour in Palestinian Caesarea, and was crowned with an eternal wreath of glory, on July 8th, 303.

*Author's note: Therefore those in the married state ('crowned'), invoke St Procopius, together with the God-crowned Constantine and Helena.

2. St Procopius the Fool for Christ.

A wonderworker of Ustiug, who died in 1303, he was of German origin and was a well-known merchant. Arriving in Novgorod in the course of his work, he was entranced by the beauty of Orthodoxy and embraced the Orthodox faith. He desired to be a perfect Christian, to which end he gave away all his goods to the poor and exercised himself in the practice of all the other virtues. He affected madness to avoid the praise of men, had insight into their hearts and destinies and was also able to predict natural occurrences. By his tearful prayers before the icon of the most holy Mother of God, he stopped a terrible hailstorm over the town of Ustiug, and thus brought the sinful town to repentance. His dead body was found in the road, covered with snow. A church was built over his wonderworking relics.

3. Our Holy Father Theophilus the Outpourer of Myrrh.

A Macedonian by birth, from the village of Ziki, he was a very learned man and a great ascetic. By order of Patriarch Niphon of Constantinople, he travelled to Alexandria to ascertain whether it was true that Patriarch Joachim could move mountains and drink poison without harm, being driven to this by the Jews and Moslems. Convinced of the truth of these marvels, Theophilus returned to the Holy Mountain, where he lived in asceticism first at Vatopedi, then at Iviron and finally in St Basil's cell near Karyes. Urged to accept the archbishopric of Salonica, this holy man refused. Through profound silence, meditation and heartfelt prayer, he succeeded in purifying his mind from all passionate thoughts, and thus became a pure vessel of the Holy Spirit, indwelt by Christ. At the time of his death, he ordered his disciple, Isaac, not to bury him when he was dead but to tie a cord round his feet and drag him away to a nearby stream, and there throw him in. With great fear, the disciple did this. But, by the providence of God, St Theophilus's relics were discovered and, when they were taken to his cell, a miraculous myrrh began to flow from them. He entered into rest on July 8th, 1548.

Reflection

St. Anthony teaches: "Be fearful that you do not become famous because of some work that you do. If they begin to praise you because of your work, do not rejoice in that and do not find satisfaction in that but keep your works in secret as much as you can and do not allow anyone to speak about them." How much more peace and joy would there be among men on earth if a part of mankind would take these holy words to heart! Even though St. Theophilus lived as a simple monk secluded on Holy Mt. Athos, he was famous in all the patriarchates of the east, as much for his learning as for his good works and ascetical life of mortification. It happened at one time that Theoleptus, the Patriarch of Constantinople, visited Thessalonica. At that time, the arch-episcopal throne of Thessalonica was vacant. The Christians of Thessalonica unanimously implored the patriarch to appoint Theophilus as their archbishop. The patriarch, a compatriot and friend of Theophilus, wrote a personal letter to him in which he invited him to accept the arch-episcopal throne. Fearing the glory of men and not being able to refuse the patriarch, Theophilus immediately received the "great angelic habit" [The Great Schema] and informed the patriarch of this adding: "If God be willing, we will see each other in the Kingdom of Heaven." Such were the spiritual

Contemplation

To contemplate the miraculous changing of bitter water into sweet water (Exodus 15):

  1. How the thirsty Israelites in Marah came upon bitter water and were unable to drink it and the people began to murmur against Moses;
  2. How God commanded Moses to place wood in the water and the water became sweet;
  3. How this wood foreshadowed the Cross of Christ by which the bitterness of our life is transformed into sweetness;
  4. How my entire being is but bitter water until I bring Christ Crucified into myself.

Homily

About the Living Stone

"To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men but chosen of God and precious, You also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2: 4-5).

Brethren, what does this stone signify if not stability? Brethren, what does the stone teach us, if not stability? The living stone signifies immortality. The apostle calls Christ the Lord the Living Stone because He is immortal and the giver of immortality. The apostle even calls Christians living stones as partakers of the immortality of Christ.

Brethren, what do unbelievers think concerning what happens to man at the end of time? They think that, in the end, the same thing happens to man as to a stone: man dies, becomes senseless and is transformed into dust. But a stone is already dead, senseless and, under certain conditions, is transformed into dust. So, both the unbelievers and the believers compare man with a stone; the unbelievers because of the deadness and the senselessness of the stone and the believers because of the durability and the stability of the stone. For the first [unbelievers], the stone is the symbol of death and for the other[unbelievers], the stone is the symbol of immortality.

In truth, without Christ, mankind has been and is always as a dead stone. But Christ is like a living stone. Adhere to Him only and you will become as living stones. In building a home, the builder chooses only those stones, which are chiseled out and prepared to easily lay along side the other stones in the wall. The builder rejects the unchiseled, the unprepared, the unpolished and the fragile stones. Building a home, or a temple of His Immortal Kingdom, Christ chooses men as the builder chooses stones, with one characteristic, namely alive, spiritually alive. The Lord rejects spiritually dead men as a rotten building and accepts only those who are alive, who resemble Him and who fall in place along side other living stones and they [the other living stones] are angels, prophets, apostles and saints in general. Brethren, let us endeavor to be a holy material for a holy house of the Kingdom of Christ which He builds day and night that He, by the end of time, finishes it completely.

O Lord Jesus, the builder of the Kingdom of Heaven, enliven us with Your Holy Spirit and build us also as living stones in the home of Your eternal glory.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen

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