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Prologue from Ochrid - February 23 [Leap year March 7]

1. The Hieromartyr Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.

This great, apostolic man was born a pagan. St John the Theologian brought him to the Christian faith and baptised him. Polycarp was left an orphan in early childhood and a noble widow, Callista, after a vision in a dream, took him in, rearing and educating him as her own son. Polycarp was God-fearing and compassionate from his early years. He made great efforts to emulate the life of St Bucolus, the then Bishop of Smyrna, and of the Holy Apostles John and Paul, whom he had met and heard. St Bucolus ordained him priest and, at the time of his death, proclaimed him his heir in Smyrna. The apostolic bishops, who had gathered for Bucolus's funeral, consecrated Polycarp bishop. From the very beginning he was endued with the power of wonder-working. He cast out the evil spirit from a servant of some prince and put out a great conflagration in Smyrna by his prayers. Seeing these things, many pagans regarded him as one of the gods. He brought rain in a drought, healed sickness, had the gifts of insight and prophecy, and so forth. He suffered in the time of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Three days before his death, he prophesied: 'In three days I shall be consumed by fire for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ!' When, on the third day, the soldiers arrested him and took him for trial, he cried out: 'May this be the will of the Lord my God!' When the judge urged him to deny Christ and recognise the Roman gods, Polycarp said: 'I cannot exchange the better for the worse.' The Jews especially hated Polycarp and endeavoured to have him burned. When they placed him, bound, on the pyre, he prayed long to God. He was very old and grey, and he shone like an angel of God. All the people saw how the flames licked around him but did not touch him. Frightened by such a phenomenon, the pagan judge ordered the executioner to stab him with a lance through the flames. When this was done, a vast flow of blood gushed out and extinguished the whole fire, and his body remained whole and unburned. At the Jews' persuasion, the judge ordered that Polycarp's dead body be burned according to the Greek custom, and so they dishonourably burned dead him whom they had failed to burn alive. St Polycarp suffered in the year 167, on Holy Saturday.

2. Our Holy Father Damian.

A monk of the monastery of Esphigmenou on the Holy Mountain, he was a contemporary and friend of the great Cosmas of Zographou. He lived in asceticism on the mountain of Samareia, between Esphigmenou and Hilandar, and entered peacefully into rest in 1280. A wonderful, fresh smell arose from his grave for forty days after his death.

Reflection

St. Polycarp writes the following to the Philippians about a priest Valentine who fell into the sin of avarice and secretly hid money belonging to the church: "I was deeply saddened because of Valentine who, at one time, was a presbyter among us, who had forgotten the rank [the priesthood] bestowed upon him. That is why I beg you, beware of greed and remain pure and just. Restrain yourself from every vice. He who cannot restrain himself, how will he be able to teach others restraint. He who submits to avarice pollutes himself with idolatry and numbers himself among the ranks of pagans. Who is not aware of God's judgement? As Paul teaches: "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?" (1 Corinthians 6:2). In other words, I have not noticed anything similar among you neither have I heard anything among you; among those whom Blessed Paul lived a life of asceticism and about whom he speaks with praise at the beginning of his Epistle to the Philippians. He boasts of you throughout the churches, which, at that time, knew God, and we did not yet know him, i.e., Polycarp and the inhabitants of Smyrna. Brethren, that is why I am very saddened because of Valentine and his wife. May God grant them true repentance. "And you, be prudent in that and 'not count him as an enemy' (2 Thessalonians 3:15), but endeavor to correct them as suffering and prodigal members, that your entire body be sound. Acting thusly, you build yourselves up." Thus, the saints dealt with sinners: cautiously and compassionately; cautiously to prevent others from a similar sin and compassionately in order to correct and save sinners.

Contemplation

To contemplate the Lord Jesus in conversation with the woman of Samaria (St. John, Chapter 4):

  1. How at first, the mind of the woman was smothered completely by carnal sophistry;
  2. How the meek Lord gradually leads her mind toward a loftier and spiritual reasoning;
  3. How this encounter culminated in the conversion of many to Christ;
  4. How the scattered seeds of the Lord, at first, seemingly decays in the physical mind, and how later it resurrects, grows, ripens and brings forth much spiritual fruit.

Homily

About the works of Christ

"For the works which the Father has given Me to finish - the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me" (St. John 5:36).

Brethren, what are those works of Christ? Those are the works of the Householder Who had returned from a journey and found the home robbed and desolate. Those are the works of the Physician Who entered into the most contaminated hospital and brought medicines and began to heal. Furthermore, those are the works of the King Who returned to his country and found it divided and ruined and his subjects as slaves in a strange land. Those are the works of the elder Brother who journeyed to a distant land to seek his younger brothers who, wandering and prodigal impoverished and became wild. Those are also the works of the Healer, Shepherd, Hero and Provider. Truly, these are not minor works! The average man with the greatest worldly knowledge, skill and courage would not be able to accomplish even in three-thousand years; those works which Christ completed in three years. Not only one man, but all men of all times, together, would not be able to complete the works of Christ for all eternity.

How did the Lord complete so many works? He completed them with the aid of five main miracles: Humility, Words, Deed, Blood and Resurrection.

What do the works of Christ witness? First, the works witness that the earth did not send Him, but Heaven; Second, that an angel did not send Him, but the Heavenly Father Himself; Third, that, for such works no one is sufficient except Him Who is as great as God, Who is as wise as God, as almighty as is God, as merciful as God; Yes, Who Himself is equal to God.

O, how all of our works are insignificant compared to the works of Christ! With only one kernel of Christ's goodness and zeal, diligence and truthfulness can we complete our work perfectly. Grant us that kernel, O Lord Jesus, for we cannot either find this kernel on earth nor deserve it.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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