Prologue from Ochrid - March 4 [March 17]
1. Our Holy Father Gerasim.
This well-known saint first learned asceticism in the Egyptian Thebaid, but then went to the Jordan and there founded a community of about seventy monks which remains to this day. He formulated a particular rule for his monastery: the monks spent five days a week in their cells weaving baskets and mats; they were allowed no heat in their cells; five days they ate only a little dry bread and a few dates; the monks had to leave their cells open, even when they went out, so that anyone could, if he wanted something, take it from another's cell. On Saturdays and Sundays they gathered in the monastery church, ate together boiled vegetables, and took a little wine in God's praise. Then each monk brought and placed before the feet of the abbot the work he had done in the preceeding five days. Each monk had only one garment. St Gerasim was an example to all. In the Great Fast he ate nothing but what he received in Holy Communion. He once saw a lion which was roaring with pain, having a thorn in its paw. Gerasim came near to it, crossed himself and pulled the thorn out. The lion was so tame that it followed the elder to the monastery and remained there until the latter's death. When the elder died, the lion also succumbed to illness after him and died. St Gerasim was present at the 4th Council in Chalcedon in 451, in the time of Marcian and Pulcheria, and though he at first inclined a little towards the Monophysite heresy of Eutyches and Dioscorus, he was at that Council a great champion of Orthodoxy, having been turned from heresy by St Euthymius. Of Gerasim's disciples, the best-known is St Cyriac the Solitary. St Gerasim entered into rest and into the eternal joy of his Lord in 475.
2. The Holy Martyrs Paul and Juliana.
Brother and sister from Ptolemais in Phoenicia, they were cruelly tortured for Christ under the Emperor Aurelian and were finally beheaded. Many marvels attended their martyrdom and many of the pagans, seeing them, were brought to the Faith. Several of them were beheaded in 273 and received martyrs' wreaths.
3. St James the Faster.
He lived in the sixth century. He was so perfected in godliness that he was able to heal the gravest illnesses by his prayers. But the enemy of the human race brought a heavy temptation on him. There was once sent to him a woman who had been corrupted by some mockers. She pretended to weep before him, but enticed him to sin. Seeing that he would fall into sin, James put his left hand into the fire and held it there until it was completely burned . Seeing this, the woman was filled with fear and horror, repented and reformed her life. But on a second occasion he did not resist and fell with a young girl whom her parents had brought to him to be healed of her madness. He indeed healed her, but then sinned with her and, in order to conceal the sin, killed her and threw her into a river. As always, the path from lust to murder was not very long. James spent ten years after that as a penitent, living in a grave. He learned after that that God had forgiven him, because, when he at one time prayed for rain in a time of great drought from which both men and cattle were suffering, it fell. Here is an example, similar to that of David, of how wicked the evil demon is; how, by the permission of God, the greatest spiritual giants can topple, and how again, by sincere repentance, God in His compassion will forgive the greatest sins and does not punish those who punish themselves.
If the philosophies of men were able to satisfy man, why did the philosophers Justin and Origen become Christians? Why did Basil, Chrysostom and Gregory, who in Athens studying all the philosophy of the Greeks, receive baptism? And why did Blessed Augustine, who knew the wisdom of both the Greeks and the Romans, throw away all and seek salvation and illumination in the Faith of Christ? And St. Clement of Rome, who was very wealthy and very learned? And St. Catherine, who was from the royal house and knew all the worldly wisdom of the Egyptians? And the young Crown Prince Joasaph in India, to whom was known all the Indian philosophies? And many, many more who primarily sought explanations to the puzzles of the world and illumination for their souls in philosophy and, after that, entered the Church and worshipped the Lord Christ?
To contemplate the Mystery of Communion as the presence of our Lord Jesus in the Church on earth:
- As the fulfillment of His promise, "And behold, I am with you always until the end of the age" (St. Matthew 28:20).
- As His constant support of the faithful, to whom He said, "Without me, you can do nothing" (St. John 15:5).
About Pilate's wavering
"Consequently, Pilate tried to release Him, then, hehanded Him over to be crucified" (St. John19:12,16).
From where does this contradiction in Pilate stem? From where is this dual will in one and the same man? While he stood under the radiant face of Christ, Pilatefrom all his heart wanted to release the Just Man. But, when the darkness of the Jews overcame him, he agreed to the works of darkness. This is the seed [Jesus Christ], fallen among the thorns. While the face of Christ shown on the seed, the seed took root, but as soon as the seed was left without this light, the darkness of the thorns smothered it. When the Lord Jesus authoritatively spoke to Pilate of the Heavenly Kingdom, saying to him, "You would have no power over Me, if it had not been given to you from above" (St. John 19:11), Pilate then felt overcome by the fear of God. But when the masses of the Jews cried out to Pilate, "If you release Him, you are not a friend of Caesar" (St. John 19:12), then Pilate was overcome with fear from the worldly king. His fear for the body overcame his fear for his soul, as it happens occasionally, even today. Pilate was a disciple of worldly wisdom. Worldly wisdom does not offer strength but instills fear. Worldly wisdom does not sustain the soul but the body. Worldly wisdom does not instill fear for the soul but fear for the body and all that is physical. Here, in Pilate, we see an obvious and a pathetic example of what kind of men worldly wisdom produces and educates, sidestepping God and going against Christ. Pilate's weak character and wavering soul is a picture, not only of pagans, but also of weak Christians. Certain Christians daily, imperceptibly and, more often,unconsciously, would for a while like to eliminate Christ from the darkened and evil instinct of the Jews within themselves. Then, at other times, they would like to abandon Him to that instinct for crucifixion. This always happens when a Christian transgresses some of the commandments of Christ for the sake of fulfilling some of his own physical desires. For a moment, that commandment enlightens the heart of a wavering Christian and again, for a moment, the physical darkness overcomes him so much that he completely succumbs to it. O Lord, long-suffering, do not turn away the radiance of Your face from us even for one twinkling of the eye, so that the darkness does not overcome us.
O Lord help us that we will remain children of the light until the end.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK