Prologue from Ochrid - June 15 [June 28]
1. The Holy Prophet Amos.
Born in the village of Tekoa, close to Bethlehem, he was of simple birth and lived a simple life. Amos was a herdsman for rich men in Jerusalem. But God, who never looks into 'Who's Who', and judges a man by the purity of his heart and not by his external appearance, the same God who took Moses and David from their sheep to make them leaders of the nation; this same God also took Amos to be His prophet. Amos rebuked King Uzziah and his pagan priests for their idolatry and turned the people from the worship of the (,olden calves, teaching them to worship the one, only and living God. When Amaziah, the chief of the pagan priests, began to persecute him, he prophesied the triumph of the Assyrians over Israel, the slaying of King Jeroboam and Amaziah's sons and the defiling of his wife by the Assyrian soldiers before his own eyes, because Amaziah had led the nation into adultery with idols. And so it all came to pass. The son of the priest struck the prophet on the forehead with a staff so forcefully that he fell down. He was carried, barely alive, to his village of Tekoa, where he surrendered his holy soul to God. He lived in the 8th century before Christ.
2. The Holy Martyr Vitus, with Modestus and Crescentia.
St Vitus was born in Sicily of eminent pagan parents. Modestus was his tutor and Crescentia his governess. St Vitus was baptised early and, when only twelve years old, began to live an intensive ascetic life. Angels appeared to him, instructing him and encouraging him in his labours, and he was himself as radiant and handsome as an angel of God. A judge who beat him had the flesh of his arm wither away, but Vitus healed it by his prayers. His father was blinded when he saw twelve angels in his room 'with eyes like stars and faces like lightning', but Vitus restored his sight by his prayers. When his father sought to kill him, an angel appeared to him and took him to Lucania on the bank of the river Silaris, together with Modestus and Crescentia. St Vitus performed many miracles there for the sick and insane. He went to Rome at the summons of the Emperor Diocletian and drove out an evil spirit from his son. Far from rewarding him, the Emperor tortured him cruelly when he would not bow down before mute idols, but the Lord delivered him from torture and returned him to Lucania by His invisible arm, and there he and Modestus and Crescentia entered into rest in the Lord. St Vitus's relics are preserved in Prague.
3. Our Holy Father Doulas.
He lived a holy life in an Egyptian monastery. Some of the brethren living in the monastery falsely accused him of blasphemy out of envy towards him, saying that he had stolen from the church things they had themselves taken. The innocent Doulas was stripped of his habit and handed over to the governor for trial. The prince had him flogged and would have cut off his hands, according to the law for such offences, but Doulas's fellow-monks repented and declared his innocence. He returned to his monastery after twenty years of exile and humiliation, and went to his rest in the Lord on the third day. His body disappeared in a miraculous way.
4. The Holy Martyr Lazar, Prince of Serbia.
He was one of the greatest men of Serbia who ruled the kingdom after King, Dusan. Upon the death of King Uros, Lazar was crowned King of Serbia by Patriarch Ephraim. He sent a delegation to Constantinople, including a monk called Isaiah, to plead for the removing of the anathema from the Serbian people. He went to war on several occasions against the Turkish Pasha, finally clashing with the Turkish king, Amurat, at Kosovo on June 15th 1389, being slain there. His body was taken to Ravanica near Cupria, a foundation of his, and buried there, but was later taken to New Ravanica in Srem. During the Second World War, in 1942. it was taken to Belgrade and placed in the Cathedral, where it is preserved to this day, and offers comfort and healing to all who turn to him in prayer. He restored Hilandar and Gornjak, built Ravanica and the Lazarica in Krusevac and was the founder of St Panteleimon, the Russian monastery on the Holy Mountain, as well as numerous other churches and monasteries.
5. St Ephraim, Patriarch of Serbia.
The son of a priest, he had from his boyhood hungered for a spiritual and ascetic life. He ran away to the Holy Mountain when his parents wished him to marry, and returned later to live in a canyon of the river Ibar, and then at Decani. When rivalry and fighting for precedence broke out in the state and also, unhappily, in the Church, the Synod chose Ephraim as Patriarch in place of the deceased Sava, in 1375. When he was informed of their choice, he broke into bitter weeping, but could not refuse. He crowned Prince Lazar in 1382, then renounced his own throne, handing it on to Spiridon, and withdrew once again into solitude. But, upon Spiridon's death in 1388, Prince Lazar besought him to shoulder the burden once again. He led the Serbian Church through the difficult period of the defeat at Kosovo and until his death in 1400. He was eighty-eight when he went to the Lord whom he loved. His relics are preserved in the monastery at Pec.
6. Blessed Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.
He was turned from paganism to Christianity through the advice, tears and prayers of his mother, Monica. He was a great Doctor of the Church and an influential writer, but with certain unacceptable extremes in his teaching. He Served and glorified the Lord for thirty-five years as Bishop of Hippo and lived seventy-six years on earth in all, from 354 to 430.
It is not always easy to conquer the spirit of vanity and conceit in oneself. In this, only the great spiritual directors have succeeded, primarily with God's grace, with constant vigilance over their souls and with very delicate spiritual sensitivities and distinctions. At one time, Abba Nisteroes was walking with one of his brethren. Suddenly, they spotted a serpent on the road. The brother quickly moved aside and the great Nisteroes fled after him. "Are you also afraid, father?" the monk asked Nisteroes. The elder replied: "No, my son, I am not afraid but I had to flee otherwise I would not have fled from the spirit of vanity." That is: "Had I remained in place, you would have been amazed at me and I would have become vain from that!"
To contemplate the miraculous healing of many who were sick: "And besought Him that they might only touch the hem of the His garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole" (St. Matthew 14:36):
- How many who were sick only touched the hem of the Lord's garment and were made whole;
- How my soul can be healed if I touch the hem of His Body and Blood, as the physical garment of His Divinity.
About the poor man and his Creator
"He who mocks the poor, blasphemes his Maker (Creator)" (Proverbs 17:5).
If you are wealthy, in what are you wealthy, if not in the property of God? The things which constitute your wealth, whose are they, if not God's? Therefore, if you become proud in that which you possess, you become proud with the property of another, you become proud with that which is loaned to you by God. Why do you then mock the poor man who has less of someone else's property in his hands? Why do you mock him if he borrowed less from God than you? If he took less, he owes less; and you who took more, owe more. Not only should you not mock the poor man, you should admire him. Behold, he leads a struggle on the battlefield of this world with much less means than you. Both of you are soldiers, only you fight as a soldier abundantly equipped with all the needs and he fights naked and hungry. If the both of you succumb and surrender to your enemy, he will be judged more leniently than you. However, if you are both victorious, he will receive a greater reward than you and his victory will be more celebrated than yours.
He, who mocks the naked and hungry soldier, mocks his king. He, who mocks the poor, shames his Creator. If you know that the poor man's Creator is your Creator, the one and the same, you would not mock him. If you know that the poor man stands in the same military rank in which you are also, you will cover him, feed him and you will bring him closer to yourself.
O, Omnipotent Lord, boundless is Your wisdom in the economy of Your creation. Illumine us by Your Holy Spirit that we may marvel at that economy and, with reverence and love, gaze upon all of Your creation, gazing upon them through You.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK