Prologue from Ochrid - June 25 [July 8]
1. Our Holy Mother, the Martyr Fevronia.
She was the daughter of Prosphorus, a Roman senator. In order to escape marriage with a mortal man, she betrothed herself to Christ and became a nun in the East, in Assyria, in a monastery where her aunt, Bryaena, was abbess. Lysimachus, a nobleman's son, was desirous of entering into marriage with Fevronia, but the Emperor Diocletian, suspecting him of being a secret Christian, sent him to the East with his uncle, Silenus, to seize and kill the Christians. Silenus was as ferocious as a wild beast and mercilessly exterminated the Christians wherever he could. Lysimachus, on the contrary, protected the Christians whenever possible and hid them from his bestial uncle. Having emptied Palmyra of Christians, Silenus came to the city of Nisibis, close to which there was the monastery of fifty ascetic virgins in which Fevronia was a nun. Although she was barely twenty years old, Fevronia was held in respect both in the monastery and in the city for her meekness, wisdom and restraint. The monastery followed the rule of a former abbess, Blessed Platonida, and every Friday the nuns would spend their time in prayer and reading sacred books, with no other work. Bryaena had appointed Fevronia to read to the other sisters while standing behind a curtain, so that no-one would be distracted or captivated by the beauty of her face. When Silenus heard about Fevronia, he ordered that she be brought before him. When the holy maiden refused to renounce Christ and enter into marriage with a mortal man, he ordered them to whip her and then cut off her hands, breasts and feet and finally to slay her with the sword. But a fearful divine punishment came upon her tormentor that very day. A demon entered into him, and a fearful terror took hold of him. In his terror, he struck his head on a marble pillar and fell down dead. Lysimachus ordered that Fevronia's body be gathered together and brought to the monastery for solemn burial, and he, together with many of the soldiers, was baptised. Many hearings were wrought through Fevronia's holy relics, and she herself appeared on the day of her Feast, standing in her usual place among the sisters. They beheld her with both fear and joy. St Fevronia suffered and went to eternal blessedness in the year 310, and her relics were translated to Constantinople in 363.
2. Our Holy Father Dionysius.
The founder of the monastery of St John (Dionysiou) on Mount Athos, he was born in Koritza in Albania. His elder brother, Theodosius, went off to the Holy Mountain and became for a time abbot of the monastery of Philotheou. When St Dionysius had grown up, he went to his brother at Philotheou and became a monk at his hand. By divine dispensation, when Theodosius was engaged on some business for his monastery in Constantinople, he was elected and consecrated Metropolitan of Trebizond. A wondrous light began to appear to Dionysius each night on the spot where he later built the monastery of St John the Forerunner. Understanding the light as a sign from heaven that he was to build a monastery, Dionysius went to Trebizond to seek help from his brother and from the Emperor Alexius Comnenis. The Emperor gave him both money and a Royal Charter, which is still preserved in the monastery. Dionvslus founded the monastery of St John the Forerunner in 1380. When pirates plundered the monastery, Dionysius went again to Trebizond, and there finished his earthly course at the age of seventy-two. Dionysiou still flourishes like a flower to the present day. An icon of the Mother of God known as ,Of the Praises', a gift from the Emperor Alexius Comnenis to Dionysiou, can be found in the monastery. According to tradition, it was before this icon that the Akathist to the Mother of God, composed by Patriarch Sergius, was read for the first time.
St. Mark the ascetic said: "Whoever desires to eliminate future tribulations must bear the present tribulations with joy." Men consider slander as a great tribulation and there are few men who bear this tribulation without grumbling. O beautiful is the fruit of kindly endured tribulation! Tribulation is given to us for good spiritual commerce and we are missing the opportunity thus remaining empty-handed at the market place. Behold, even Athanasius, Basil, Chrysostom, Macarius, Sisoes and thousands of other followers of the Most-slandered One were themselves slandered. But God, Who orders all things for our salvation, had so ordered that on the thorn of slander would sprout fragment roses of glory for all those who are slandered for His Name. Had Stephen not been slandered would he have seen the heavens opened and seen the glory of God in the heavens? And the slander against Joseph the Chaste One, did it not serve to his greater glory?
To contemplate the miraculous fishing in the deep: "But when He had ceased speaking, He said to Simon, ' Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch' " (St. Luke 5:4):
- How the apostles went out into the deep and, with the blessing of the Lord, caught an abundance of fish;
- How I am empty and hungry while I stand in the shallow [physical] senses and here fish for power and wisdom;
- How I should enter into the spiritual depths, with the blessing of the Lord, and there to catch a good catch.
About today's day and tomorrow's day
"Boast not of tomorrow, for you know not what any day may bring forth" (Proverbs 27:1).
Brethren, let us not boast of that which is not in our power. The Lord has placed the times and the years under His power and He disposes of them. Only God Himself alone knows whether tomorrow's day will number us among the living or the dead. Some have died on the eve of their marriage; again, others have descended into the grave on the eve of their coronation with a royal diadem. Therefore, let no one say that tomorrow will be for me the happiest day of my life; tomorrow, I enter into marriage! Or, tomorrow I will be crowned with a royal diadem! Or, tomorrow I am going to a great feast! Or, tomorrow a great gain is coming to me! O, let no one speak of the happiness of tomorrow's day. Behold, yet this night your soul may depart your body and tomorrow you will find yourself surrounded by black demons in the tollhouses [Mitarstvo]! And yet, even this night, a man can be separated from his relatives and friends, from wealth and honor, from the sun and the stars and find himself in a totally unknown company, in an unseen place and at an unexpected judgment.
Instead of boasting of tomorrow's day, it would be better to pray to God to "Give us this day our daily bread." Perhaps today's day may be our last day on earth. That is why it is better to spend this day in repentance for all our past days on earth rather than vainly fantasizing about tomorrow's day, about the day which perhaps will not dawn for us. Vain fantasizing about tomorrow's day cannot bring us any good, but repentance for one day with tears can save us from eternal fire.
O righteous Lord, burn up the insane vanity that is in us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK