Prologue from Ochrid - February 22 [Leap year March 6]
1. The Holy Martyr Maurice and the 70 soldiers with him.
There was a great persecution of Christians in the time of the Emperor Maximian. Maurice was in charge of the local army in the town of Apamea in Syria, and pagans reported him to the Emperor as a Christian and a spreader of Christianity among the soldiers. The Emperor himself came and took him for questioning. Seventy soldiers were brought before the Emperor with Maurice, among them his son, Photinus. The Emperor was unable to make the heroes waver either with flattery or with threats. To them, they replied: 'O Emperor, there in no fear in the wise and strong souls of those who love the Lord.' When the Emperor ordered that their military belts and clothing be stripped from them, they said: 'Our God will clothe us with raiment and girdles that are uncorrupting, and with eternal glory'. When the Emperor rebuked them for holding in contempt the military status he had given them, they replied: 'Thine honour is dishonourable, for thou hast forgotten God, who gave thee this royal power.' Then the Emperor ordered that Maurice's son be slain before his eyes, that he might thus intimidate the father and the others. But Maurice said: 'Thou hast fulfilled our desire, O torturer, and sent Photinus the soldier of Christ, on before us.' Then the Emperor sentenced them to a most inhuman death: he had them taken to a marshy place, stripped, bound to trees and smeared with honey, for the mosquitoes, wasps and hornets to eat. They gave their souls to God in terrible torment after ten days, and went to eternal rejoicing with the holy angels in heaven. Christians secretly took their bodies and buried them. These courageous soldiers of Christ suffered in about 305.
2. The Many Martyrs of Eugenius, near Constantinople.
In the time of the Emperor Arcadius, the relics of many Christian martyrs were excavated, among which were those of the Apostle Andronicus and his helper, Junia (Rom. 16:7). These relics were discovered by a revelation from God to a certain cleric, Nicolas Calligraphus. 'God alone knows their names, and He has written them in the Book of Life in heaven.' The Emperor Andronicus the First built a fine church over the relics of his namesake in the 12th century.
3. Our Holy Fathers Thalassius and Limnaeus.
Syrian hermits, one of their especial ascetic practices was of silence. After the death of St Thalassius in 440, Limnaeus joined St Maron and lived with him on a mountain top beneath the open sky.
4. St Papius of Hierapolis.
He was a disciple of the holy apostles and a Patristic writer. From him we have testimony concerning the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the four Maries and the Lord's brothers, as well as one incomplete manuscript: 'A Commentary on the Words of the Lord.' He died in about 130.
Concerning the constant abiding with God, St. Anthony teaches: "Let your soul abide with the Lord at all times, and let your body abide on earth as a statue. Always stand upright before the face of the Lord. Let the fear of God always be before your eyes; and in like manner, remembrance of death, repulsion of everything worldly. Die every day that you may live; for whoever fears God will live forever. Be constantly vigilant so not to fall into laziness and idleness. Abhor all that is worldly and distance yourself from it or else it will distance you from God. Abhor all that will bring ruin to your soul. Do not deviate from God for the sake of transient things. Do not accept the example of one weaker than yourself rather from the one who is more perfect. Before all else continually pour out prayer, give thanks to God for all that would befall you. If you would fulfill all that is commanded, you will receive the inheritance 'What the eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart what God has prepared' " (1 Corinthians 2:9).
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in conversation with Martha and Mary:
- How both sisters cordially receive the Lord and desire to hear His word;
- How Mary is more worried with the spiritual and Martha about the material hospitality of the Divine Guest;
- How the Lord rejoices more that He satisfies someone with spiritual nourishment rather than He be satisfied with material nourishment.
About fools, wiser than the world
"We are fools for Christ's sake" (1 Corinthians 4:10).
Thus speaks the great Apostle Paul who in the beginning was guided by worldly wisdom, which is against Christ, until he recognizes the falsehood and decay of the wisdom of the world and the light and stability of the wisdom of Christ. Then, the holy apostle did not become angry with the world because they called him "a fool for Christ's sake" neither did he, in defiance of the world, hesitate to be called by this name.
It is not of any value to us how the world is going to regard or call us. However, it is important, and extremely important, how the holy angels in the heavens will regard and call us when, after death, we meet with them. This is of crucial importance and everything else is nothing.
Either we are fools for the world because of Christ or we are fools for Christ because of the world. O how short-lived is the sound of a word of the world! If the world would say to us "fool," the world will die and its word will die! What then is the value of its word? But if the heavenly, immortal ones say to us "fool," that will neither die nor is it removed from us as eternal condemnation.
Whoever does not believe in the Living God, nor in eternal life, nor in the Incarnation of the Lord Christ, nor in Christ's Resurrection nor in the truth of the Gospel nor in God's eternal mercy and justice - is it any wonder if he considers that one a fool who does believes in all of this?
O, may every one of us who cross ourselves with the Sign of the Cross not only find it easy to endure but with satisfaction receive the name "fool" for Christ's sake! Let us rejoice and be glad if the non-believers call us such, for that means that we are close to Christ and far away from the non-believers. Let us rejoice and be glad and repeat with a powerful echo in the ears of the world: yes, yes, indeed we are fools for Christ's sake!
O Lord Most-wise, strengthen us by Your power that we not fear the non-believing world neither when they lash us with whips nor when they insult us with words for Your sake.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK