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Prologue from Ochrid - April 29 [May 12]

1. St Basil of Ostrog.

Basil was born in Popovo Selo in Herzegovina, of simple and devout parents. From his youth he was filled with love for the Church of God, and when he grew up he went to the monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God at Trebinje, and became a monk. As such, he quickly became known for his serious and rare ascetic life, for he loaded himself with ascetic practices, each harder than the last. He was later chosen and consecrated as Bishop of Zahum and Skenderia, much against his will. As a bishop, he first lived in the monastery at Tvrdog, whence, as a good pastor, he confirmed his flock in the Orthodox faith, keeping it from the cruelty of the Turks and the guile of the Latins. But when he was too pressed-upon by his enemies, and when Tvrdos* was destroyed by the Turks, Basil moved to Ostrog, where he lived in strict asceticism, protecting his flock by his unceasing and loving prayers. He went peacefully to the Lord in the 16th century, leaving his whole and healing body, uncorrupt and wonderworking, to the present day. The miracles at the grave of St Basil are without number. Both Christians and Moslems hasten to his relics and find healing of the gravest sicknesses and sufferings. A great national gathering takes place there every year at Pentecost.

*Author's Note: A new church, on the ruins of the old Tvrdos, has been built in our day by Nikolai Runjevac, from the village of Poljica near Trebinje - a wonderful foundation in the sight of God and His people.

2. The Nine Holy Martyrs of Cyzicus.

These nine courageous martyrs, burning with love for Christ, refused to offer sacrifice to idols or to deny Christ the Lord, for which they were harshly tortured and finally beheaded. In the time of the Emperor Constantine, a church was built in Cyzicus in honour of these martyrs, and their uncoffupt relics were laid there. Their names were: Theognis, Rufus, Antipater, Theostoichus, Artemas, Magnus, Theodotus, Thaumasilas and Philemon. They all scorned the temporal for the sake of the eternal, and the corruptible for the incorruptible. Therefore the Lord brought them into His eternal family and crowned them with wreaths of unfading glory. They suffered with honour and were glorified in the 3rd century.

3. Our Holy Father Memnon the Wonderworker.

From his youth, Memnon gave himself to fasting and prayer, and purified himself so greatly that he became a dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. He cured incurable illnesses and worked many other miracles. He appeared during storms at sea and saved boats from destruction. He entered peacefully into rest in the Lord in the second century, and went to His heavenly courts.

Reflection

Nothing can be kept secret from our Omniscient God. At every moment, to Him is known all that is being done in the world; both in the external as well as in the internal, spiritual world. Not one intention, not one desire, not one thought of his can man conceal from God. How can you hide from God that which you cannot hide from men; from holy men! One day, Tsar Ivan the Terrible came to church to pray to God. In the church, Blessed Basil, "the fool for Christ," stood for prayer. It is true the Tsar was in church physically, but his thoughts were on the Hill of the Sparrow, a short distance from Moscow, upon which he had begun to construct a palace. Throughout the liturgical services the Tsar thought about how he could extend and complete his palace on that hill. After the services the Tsar noticed Basil and asked him: "Where have you been?" Basil replied: "In church." Basil then immediately asked the Tsar: "O Tsar and where were you?" "I, also, was in church, " answered the Tsar. To that the discerning saint replied: "You are not speaking the truth Ivanushka for I perceived how, in your thoughts, you were pacing about on the Hill of the Sparrow and building a palace."

Contemplation

To contemplate the Ascension of the Lord Jesus:

  1. How the Lord, blessing His disciples, is raised above the earth and is ascending into Heaven;
  2. How the disciples watched Him as He was ascending until a cloud hid Him from their sight.

Homily

About the incomparable love of Christ

"And to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19).

"The love of Christ that surpasses knowledge!" Surpasses, not the knowledge of God, but surpasses the knowledge of man, darkened and embittered by sin. God's knowledge is equal to God's love and neither surpasses the other. But man's knowledge, alienated from God, does not comprehend God's love at all, shown through the Lord Jesus Christ. God understands man but man does not understand God. God attempted, by reason, to enable man to understand through nature and through the Old Revelation, through the Law and the prophets, but man did not want to submit to that knowledge. Then, God attempted to overcome men through love and through this love to draw them to Himself. From that [love] comes the Incarnation of the Son of God, from that [love] thence is His sacrifice and His suffering to the death. Such inexpressible love of God, beyond words and knowledge, have captured and returned many to God, i.e., made them to understand; gave them a new knowledge, pure and bright. But, it confused many of them, again, for it did not agree with their darkened and embittered understanding.

"And to know," says the apostle. How can we brethren, know that which is beyond knowing and beyond understanding? In no other way than by a change of mind, awakening and sharpening of the mind, illumination and elevation of the mind: in brief, the acquiring of a new mind, which would have the capability to understand the love of Christ which is beyond the present sinful mind of men.

O the depth of God's wisdom and knowledge! Whoever even approaches just a little closer to You that one feels that You are, at the same time, the depth of the love of God.

O Lord, ascended into heaven, illumine our mind with Your understanding that we may more easily adopt Your unfathomable love toward mankind and weep--weep from sorrow because of our hardened hearts and because of our darkened and malicious minds and weep because of joy, because of Your love toward us, who are darkened and embittered.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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