Prologue from Ochrid - July 9 [July 22]
1. The Hieromartyr Pancratius, Bishop of Taormina.
This holy hierarch was born in Antioch at the time that the Lord Jesus walked as a man among men on earth. Hearing of Christ's miracles, Pancratius's parents desired to see the Lord, the wonderworker. They came to Jerusalem, bringing Pancratius, where they saw Jesus, heard His words and witnessed His miracles. There Pancratius met the Apostle Peter. After the Lord's Ascension, both parents and their son were baptised in Antioch. Pancratius retired to a cave in Pontus, where the Apostle Peter found him and, in consultation with the Apostle Paul, installed him as bishop of Taormina in Sicily. St Pancratius worked great wonders in that town. He destroyed idols, baptised the unbaptised and instructed the baptised, and governed the Church of God. A pagan general, Aquilinus, hearing that the whole town of Taormina had become Christian, set out with an army to the town to destroy it. Holy Pancratius encouraged the faithful to be fearless, and he himself went out from the city with the clergy, carrying in his hands the unconquerable sign of the precious Cross. When the soldiers drew near to the town, a darkness fell on them and they were seized with great terror. A great confusion arose, so that they fell over one another and were stabbed and cut about by their own swords. Thus that godly man, Pancratius, saved his city and his flock by the power of his prayers before God. He was finally stoned to death by some envious and wicked pagans, and entered into rest in the Lord. His holy relics are preserved in Rome.
2. The Hieromartyr Cyril, Bishop of Gortyna in Crete.
As an old man of eighty-four, he was tortured for Christ during Decius' reign. Cast into the flames, he was saved by the providence of God. Then the judge pronounced this sentence: 'Just judgement cannot tolerate that Cyril, having been delivered from fire, remain among the living. I therefore command that he be killed with the sword.' The old man joyfully laid his head under the sword and was beheaded, to live eternally in the Kingdom of Christ.
3. Our Holy Fathers, the Martyrs Patermuthius and Copres.
Both were Egyptians, martyred by the Emperor Julian the Apostate. The first was aged seventy-five and the second forty-five. The Emperor succeeded in turning Copres from the Christian faith to idolatry. The apostate Copres cried: 'I am Julian's, not Christ's!' When old Patermuthius rebuked him and brought to his mind the thought of eternal torment, Copres was distressed and cried out before the Emperor: 'I am Christ's, not Julian's!' They were both beheaded. One of the Emperor's soldiers, Alexander, who saw their courage in suffering and himself became a Christian, suffered together with them. They suffered with honour for Christ, and went to Christ in the year 361.
4. Our Holy Fathers Patermuthius and Copres.
Although they have the same name, these two are different from the above. This Patermuthius was at first a robber leader, but, after a wondrous vision, he turned to the true Faith. What happened was this: he had climbed onto the roof of a house belonging to a devout woman, with the intention of getting into the house that way and stealing. Sleep fell on him, and he saw in a dream a Man who commanded him to cease doing evil and repent. He was not only baptised but also became a monk.
Both of them were great wonderworkers. By God's grace, they healed men of every pain and ill, brought sinners back to the true path and had the gift of prophecy. A sinner lying on his deathbed begged Patermuthius to prolong his life that he might repent. The saint prayed, and then told him that God had given him three ears more. The sinner repented, and died exactly three years later. They entered into rest in the Lord in great old age, at the end of the fourth century.
5. St Theodore, Bishop of Edessa, and others with him.
He became a monk at the age of twenty, and spent thirty-six years as a monk. Then, in the time of the Emperor Michael and Empress Theodora, he was chosen as Bishop of Edessa. He died in 848. Together with him are commemorated his teacher, St Theodosius Stylites of Syria, his brother St John, and St Aderus, a rich nobleman who left his wife and became a monk.
Many ask themselves, why God takes young men, young girls and children from this life and why does He not permit them to grow old and then take them through death to the other world? That is God's plan of Dispensation and that is the holy will of His Providence. However, there are some examples in the enormous experience of the Church that sometimes God does so according to the wishes and prayers of his chosen ones in the other world or of relatives. St. Ader (in monasticism Athanasius) appeared to his wife, whom he had suddenly left with three children and entered a monastery where he died. When the wife reached a state of despair first, because of her concern for the helpless children and second, because of her concern for her husband for she did not know where he was, her husband then appeared to her from the other world in a dream with a glowing face and in a radiant white garment and said to her: "Cease to cry and to cry out against me. Behold, I will take two of the children from you to myself and you, if you want, to concern yourself with the salvation of your soul." At the same time and in the same manner, he also appeared to St. Theodosius the Stylite and said to him: "In three days an old hermitess who lives near the monastery will go to the Lord and in that cell put my wife so that she may live an ascetical life as a nun. Let the youngest child remain with her until he grows up. He will walk in my footsteps and will be the successor to the apostolic throne in Jerusalem." And in truth, all this occurred as was foretold. On the third day the old hermitess died and so also did Ader's two older children and his wife assumed the cell of the old hermitess along with the youngest son who, when he grew up, became the patriarch of Jerusalem.
To contemplate the miraculous victory over the Amalekites (Exodus 17):
- How the people defeated the Amalekites as long as Moses prayed to God with upraised hands;
- How Moses, with upraised hands in prayer prefigures the victorious crucifixion of Christ;
- How through the power of the Cross and prayer, even I can conquer the darkened passions, which Amalek represents.
About the judgment of God over the righteous
"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that do not obey the Gospel of the Son of God?" (1 Peter 4:17).
When the judgment of God comes upon the house of the righteous, let not the unrighteous maliciously rejoice, but let the unrighteous tremble with fear. If the righteous and the unrighteous are neighbors and the hand of God falls on the righteous, it has fallen on them both: the first to temper and the second to warn. When bitter suffering befalls the righteous, it does not befall him without the will of God. Let not the unrighteous rejoice for this suffering is more for his sake than for the sake of the righteous, that is to say, that he may see the wrath of God and hasten to change his spirit and to correct his works. Let him also ask himself: if there is such a great wrath of God on the righteous, how much more will there be on me?
Therefore, brethren know that justice is strength and injustice is weakness. Who can endure more and not break under the strain: might or weakness? Without a doubt, might. It is for this reason that a heavy yoke (burden) is placed upon the righteous. Let not the unrighteous ridicule when he sees the righteous under a heavy yoke and let him not say: my injustice is better than his justice! Let him look upon the yoke of the righteous with horror and trembling and let him sincerely say to himself: that is my yoke but I am entirely too weak to bear it, that is why it was thrown on his back, on the back of the righteous one, so that I may see and repent of my ways and through repentance become strengthened for the burden that awaits me. "Judgment must begin at the house of God," that is, the immeasurable mercy of God toward sinners, toward the weak ones who have become weakened by sin. Let them open their eyes and read the written wrath of God. "Judgment must begin at the house of God" for the house of God is strong and the house of God is a righteous man in which the Spirit of God abides. When the wind rocks the stony tower, then let the hut dwellers strengthen their huts.
O my brethren, how fateful and awesome are those apostolic words for sinners!
O Lord Jesus, Just and Merciful, Merciful and Just have mercy on us and save us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK