Prologue from Ochrid - March 6 [March 19]
1. The Forty-two Holy Martyrs of Ammoria.
These were all generals under the Byzantine Emperor Theophilus. When the Emperor lost the struggle against the Saracens around the town of Ammoria, the Saracens took the town and enslaved many Christians, with these generals among them. The remaining Christians they eithe killed or sold into slavery, but threw these generals into prison, where they remained for seven years. Moslem leaders came many times, urging them to accept the Mohammedan faith, but the generals refused to do so. When the Saracens told the generals that Mahomet was a true prophet and Christ was not, the generals asked them: 'If two men were to quarrel about a field, with one saying: "It's mine!", and the other saying: "No; it's mine!", and one had many witnesses that it was his field and the other had not a single witness but himself, what would you say - whose field was it?' The Saracens replied: 'His, of course, who had the many witnesses. "You have judged right', the generals answered them. 'So it is with Christ and Mahomet. Christ has many witnesses: the ancient prophets, whom you also recognise, from Moses to John the Baptist, witnessed to Him, But Mahomet only witnesses to himself that he is a prophet, and has no other witness.' The Saracens were confounded, but attempted then to defend their faith thus: 'That our faith is better than Christianity is seen in this: that God has given us victory over you, that He gives us the best lands on earth and an empire much greater than the Christian.' To this the generals replied: 'If that were so, then the idol-worship of Egypt and Babylon, and of Greece and Rome, and the fire-worship of Persia, would have been true faiths, for at some time each of these peoples has conquered others and governed them. It is obvious that your victory and power and wealth do not prove the truth of your faith. We know that God sometimes gives victory to Christians, and sometimes leaves them in torture and suffering to correct them and bring them to repentance and cleansing from sin.' After seven years they were beheaded, in 845. Their bodies were cast into the Euphrates, but they floated to the other bank where Christians collected them and gave them burial.
2. Blessed Job.
He was born in Moscow in 1635, and was drawn to the Church by the beauty of the singing and of the services. He became the confessor of Tsar Peter the Great, but, because of some slander, withdrew to the monastery of Solovetsk, where he lived in strict asceticism. He entered into rest in the Lord in 1720, at the age of 85. As his death drew near, he cried out: 'Blessed is the God of our fathers! - and as He is thus, I have no fear, but go from the world with joy!'
3. The Holy Martyrs Conon, Father and Son.
The father was already an old man, and the son a youth of seventeen, when they were sawn in half for their faith in Christ, and were glorified in the Church on earth and in heaven. They suffered with honour in 275.
For as long as you are on earth, consider yourself a guest in the Household of Christ. If you are at the table, it is He who treats you. If you breathe air, it is His air you breathe. If you bathe, it is in His water you are bathing. If you are traveling, it is over His land that you are traveling. If you are amassing goods, it is His goods you are amassing. If you are squandering, it is His goods that you are squandering. If you are powerful, it is by His permission that you are strong. If you are in the company of men, you and the others are His guests. If you are out in nature, you are in His garden. If you are alone, He is present. If you set out or turn anywhere, He sees you. If you do anything, He remembers. He is the most considerate Householder by Whom you were ever hosted. Be careful then toward Him. In a good household, the guest is required to behave. These are all simple words but they convey to you a great truth. All the saints knew this truth and they governed their lives by it. That is why the Eternal Householder rewarded them with eternal life in heaven and glory on earth.
To contemplate the Mystery of Communion as a life-giving cure for the soul and body:
- As a cure that heals and cleanses the soul from sinful maladies and restores it to life;
- As a cure that heals and cleanses the body from avarice and vice and restores it to life;
- As a cure that enlivens man and makes him a healthy member of the immortal Body of Christ, who, if he is not, would remain decayed to the end and eventually, he would be cut off and cast aside.
About the heir and the slave
"I mean that as long as the heir is not of age, he is no different from the slave" (Galatians 4:1).
As long as the heir apparent is in the cradle, what would make him better than the son of a slave? Neither is his body better, nor are his thoughts more elevated, nor are his wishes or desires more pure. Such is the son of the king; so is the son of the slave; so is the son of the beggar. For a few years the son of the king does not differ from the son of the slave. However, when the son of the king reaches maturity and with full consciousness of his dignity, he receives authority over the kingdom, and when the son of a slave reaches full maturity and with full consciousness, he succumbs to the yoke of slavery. Then the enormous difference is seen. Then it is clearly manifest that the heir and the slave are not equal. The slave has to serve and the king has to rule. The apostle means to say that it is the same with Christians and with those who are not Christians. The non-Christian is a slave to nature and the Christian rules over nature. The non-Christian era of the history of mankind shows us how man was the slave to the elements of nature, the slave of the flesh, the slave of idols and creatures. The Christian era of the history of mankind shows us how man was master and owner, a nobleman of a royal race and heir to all. Even those who knew about the One True God, as the Israelites knew, were not like children toward God nor heirs toward their father but were slaves and servants toward their Lord and Judge. "But when the fullness of time had come"(Galatians 4:4), the Only-Begotten Son of God came to earth. He made it possible "so that we might receive adoption" (Galatians 4:5), and to address the Spirit of God and cry out, "Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:6). Brethren why did Christ come to earth? He did so to make us better than slaves and to give us the right of sonship and the duty of the master. The right of sonship, that in the name Christ, we can call God, Father, and the duty of the master to rule over ourselves, over our flesh, over our thoughts, over our desires, and over all nature around us.
O Only-Begotten Son of God, by Your mercy and sacrifice, we have received the adoption of sons.
O help us that with Your help we may persevere to the end in purity and in truth.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK