Prologue from Ochrid - June 17 [June 30]
1. The Holy Martyrs Manuel, Sabel and Ishmael.
These three brothers were Persians, of a pagan father and a Christian mother. Brought up in a Christian spirit and baptised, they were high officials at the court of King Balanos, and were sent to the Emperor Julian the Apostate to conduct negotiations and confirm the peace between the Persian and Graeco-Roman Empires. The apostate Emperor had arranged some sort of vile celebration in honour of the idols at Chalcedon, and he went there with his nobles bearing sacrifices for the idols. The Persian delegates absented themselves from the celebration. The Emperor summoned them and ordered them to take part in the festivities and offer sacrifice to the gods. They then declared that they were foreign envoys who had come from the King of Persia to establish peace between the two Empires, and not for any other reason. They said that they were Christians and considered it unworthy to bow down before lifeless idols and offer them sacrifice. The Emperor. in fury, had them thrown into prison. They were brought out the next day, and he began to dispute with them about the Faith, but the holy brothers were irrefutable and unwavering. They were then bound naked to trees and struck and flayed with iron flails. During their torture, they prayed to God, thanking Him for it: 'O sweet Jesus, these pains are sent to us for love of Thee.' An angel of God appeared to them, comforted them and took away all their pain. Contrary to all understanding of the rights of foreign envoys, the wicked Emperor Julian finally issued the order that the three brothers were to be slain with the sword. There was a great earthquake at their execution, thus making it impossible for the pagans to burn them as the Emperor had commanded. The earth later gave up the martyrs' bodies for Christians to find and bury. Many miracles were worked over their relics, bringing many pagan witnesses to the Christian faith. When the Persian king heard of the inhuman death that Julian had provided for the envoys, he prepared for war against him. Julian set out for Persia convinced of victory, but he was beaten to his knees and perished miserably.
2. Our Holy Father Pior.
A Nitrian solitary, he was inflamed with love for God. Pior renounced the world early and went off into the Egyptian desert, where he gave himself to a life of heroic asceticism. It is said that he never sat at table to eat, but always ate standing up and working. When he was asked why he did this, St Pior replied: 'I do not wish to be concerned with eating as though it were an occupation. It is merely coincidental.' When he was called to sit in judgement on a brother who had done something wrong, he arrived carrying a bag of sand on his back and a small pouch in his hand. Questioned as to their significance, the holy man answered: 'The bag of sand on my back is my sins, which I do not see; the pouch of sand is the sin of my brother whom I have to judge.' Then all the brethren were confounded and exclaimed: 'This is the way of salvation!' He lived for a hundred years and went to his rest in the Lord in the 4th century.
The adversaries of Christ, through their efforts against Christ, always achieved the opposite results. Instead of stopping the river of Christianity, they have widened it, deepened it and made it louder. Instead of drying Christianity up they have, so to speak, caused a flood throughout the entire world. Where one martyr fell, a company of Christians was created; where shame was committed, glory sprouted; where it was said the end of Christianity, there was the beginning of luxuriant crops. In spite of all international considerations and customs, Julian the Apostate, because of his insane idolatrous fanaticism, killed the Persian emissaries for peace; Manuel, Sabel and Ishmael. What did Julian accomplish by this? He multiplied the number of Christians, increased the number of martyrs and hastened his own end and the end of paganism. Directly and unwillingly, the apostate helped in the spreading and deepening of Christianity, not only by his evil persecution but also by his inadvertent statements. Thus in discussions with Christians, Julian stated: "Christ did nothing in His life that would merit glory, except if that is counted as a great deed, that He healed the lame, the blind and expelled demons!" O wretched Julian! As if the opening of the eyes of only one blind man by the powerful word alone was not a greater deed, than the subjugation of ten kingdoms! How valuable is it, that Julian, as the greatest traitor of Christ after Judas, recognized the miracles of Christ.
To contemplate the miraculous Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus: "And after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother and brought them: up into a high mountain apart. And was transfigured before them" (St. Matthew 17:1-2):
- How the face of the transfigured Lord shone as the sun; /LI>
- How, even I, darkened by sin, can shine by Christ's power and grace with the original radiance of sinless man. /LI>
About the punishment of those who bear false witness
"The false witness will not go unpunished and he who utters lies will perish" (Proverbs 19:9).
God and all the hosts of heaven see everything that happens in the world. Therefore, how can man conceal the truth from so many witnesses of the truth? And, not only do the heavenly hosts see the truth, but they also are zealous for the truth. Therefore, how can a mortal man go against the truth, which means, to go against the myriads of heavenly zealots for the truth? In truth, darkened in the mind is the one who thinks that he can conceal the truth and proclaim a lie instead of truth. When millions of discerning angels know the truth, can a man conceal the truth? Can someone rise up against the truth and not be punished? O my brethren, there is nothing more false than falsehood! Nothing more unsuccessful! Nothing more arrogant! Nothing more insane!
God and all the Hosts of heaven see that which occurs inside man. Especially the Guardian Angel of man sees that. And this Guardian Angel does not tolerate that man brings out from himself and about himself that which is not in him. If a man remains persistent in his lie, his Angel will abandon him and will turn him over completely to the spirits of lies. Then, woe to that man! Of what benefit is it to witness falsely against the entire world if his Angel would witness truthfully against him before God and the hosts of heaven! If would be better for that man if he had not been born. For, whoever lies, lies to the Spirit of God and the Spirit of God abandons the liar in darkness and death.
O Lord of Truth, sustain us by the power of Your Holy Spirit that we never witness falsely. Sweeten to us Your Holy Truth and turn away a false word from our tongue.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK