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Prologue from Ochrid - July 10 [July 23]

1. The Forty-Five Holy Martyrs: Leontius, Maurice, Alexander, Sisinius and the rest.

In the time of the wicked Emperor Licinius, who ruled over the eastern half of the Byzantine Empire, there was a great persecution of Christians. In Armenian Nicopolis, Leontius came before the imperial governor, Lysius, together with several of his friends, and told him that he was a Christian. 'And where is your Christ?', asked Lysius. 'Was he not crucified and did he not die?' To this, St Leontius replied: 'If you know that our Christ died, know that He also rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.' After much harassment for their faith, Lysius had them whipped and thrown into prison, where they were given neither food nor drink. A noble Christian woman, Viassiana, brought them water and gave it to them through the window of the prison, and an angel of God appeared to them there, to comfort and encourage them. When their trial was held, two of their warders came before Lysius as Christian converts, and many others, numbering forty-five in all. The judge condemned them all to death, ordering that their arms and legs be hacked off and that they then be thrown into the flames. This vicious punishment was carried out, and the souls of the holy martyrs flew off to their Lord, to eternal life. They suffered with honour and inherited the Kingdom in the year 319.

2. Our Holy Father Antony of the Kiev Caves.

The renewer and father of monasticism in Russia, he was born in a little place called Lubetch, near Chernigov. He left his home while still a boy and went to the Holy Mountain, where he became a monk and lived in asceticism at Esphigmenou. In response to a vision, the abbot sent him to Russia, to found the monastic life there. He chose a cave near Kiev. When a group of men desiring the monastic life settled round him, he installed Theodosius as their abbot and himself remained in his cave in silence. By the grace of God, the monastery grew and became the mother of Russian monasticism. Antony endured much evil from men and from demons, but he overcame all by his meekness. He had a great gift of discernment, and was able to heal the sick. He went to the Lord in 1073 at the age of ninety, leaving his spiritual nursery, which would, through the ages, yield good fruit for the Orthodox peoples of Russia.

3. The Translation of the Precious Vesture of our Lord Jesus Christ.

At the time of our Lord's suffering for the human race, there was to be found in the ranks of the Roman army in Jerusalem a Georgian, Elias, from the town of Mtskhet. His mother had heard of Christ, and believed in Him in her heart. Sending her son into the army in Palestine, she exhorted him to do nothing against Christ. When the Lord was nailed to the Cross, the sound of the hammering on Golgotha came to the cars of Elias's mother in Mtskhet. Hearing this sound, she cried out: 'Woe is me that I did not die before this hour, that death might deliver me from this terrible sound!' And, thus saying, she fell dead. Elias was at that time underneath the Cross, and, with the other soldiers, was casting lots for Christ's vesture. The vesture fell to him, and he took it to Mtskhet, making a gift of it to his sister Sidonia. She, hearing of the Lord's death and learning that her brother had a hand in the shedding of innocent blood, fell dead with the Lord's vesture in her hands, in such a way that no-one could take it from her and they were constrained to bury it with her. A cedar grew up over her grave, from which flowed a healing myrrh. In time, the cedar fell and the place was forgotten. St Nina found it by the aid of a pillar of fire on that spot, in response to her prayers. King Mirian, when he had been baptised, built a church there to the Holy Apostles. In 1625, Shah Abbas took this vesture and sent it to Moscow as a gift to Prince Michael Feodorovich and Patriarch Philaret. The vesture was then placed in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow.

Reflection

The thought of death is like a downpour of cold rain, which extinguishes the fire of passions. The Psalmist David says: "For when he dies he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him" (Psalms 49:17). Who would not be ashamed when he sometimes sees, even among the unbelievers, a better comprehension of our earthly nothingness than with some Christians? When Caliph Saladin died, a crier [Telal] went before his coffin with a spear in his hand and, on the spear one of the emperor's shirts, and he cried out: "O great Saladin who conquered all of Asia and because of that caused many nations to tremble before him and who conquered emperors: behold of all his glory and of all his subjects he takes nothing with him except this miserable shirt."

Contemplation

To contemplate the miraculous appearance of God to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19):

  1. How Moses climbed to the top of Mt. Sinai and entered the darkness where God was: "I am coming to you in a dense cloud" [Exodus 19:9];
  2. How the light of God is so great that, before it, all of nature and her light becomes darkness;
  3. How the heart of man is like Mt. Sinai; in the darkness of the heart, there God encounters man.

Homily

About the duties of spiritual shepherds

"Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint but willingly [in God]; not for filthy lucre but of a ready mind [good heart]; neither as being lords over God's heritage but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5: 2-3).

Here is the constitution for shepherds of the flock of Christ! In a few words, the holy Apostle Peter unmasks three terrible passions which turn the shepherds of the flock of Christ into wolves: the passion of pride, "not by constraint"; the passion of greed, "not for filthy lucre"; and power, "neither as being lords over God's heritage". Contrary to these pernicious passions, the apostle points out three virtues which must adorn the priest of God: the fear of God (but willingly in God), zeal (but of a good heart) and service (being an example to the flock). The apostle gave this constitution not only as a teacher but also as a prophet. Primarily, the centuries have revealed two types of shepherds: the first were those who, in their lofty positions of governing the Church, were guided by their passions: pride, greed and lust for power and the second, those who were guided by the fear of God, zeal and an example of service. From the former, the Church suffered but did not perish while they perished. From the latter, the Church grew and advanced and shone forth in the world. The former are wolves and the latter are shepherds. The former are enemies both of man and of God and the latter are friends of man and of God. Christ the Chief-Shepherd will seek an accounting both from the former and the latter concerning every sheep, i.e. of every human soul and will justly recompense everyone according to their merit. Pride, greed and lust for power in so-called shepherds will be rewarded by eternal fire and the fear of God, mercy and service of the true shepherds will be rewarded by eternal rejoicing.

O Lord Jesus the Chief-Shepherd, help the shepherds of Your spiritual flock that, to the end, they may fulfill the commandment of Your holy apostle.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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