Prologue from Ochrid - May 3 [May 16]
1. The Holy Martyrs Timothy and Maura.*
Strange was the destiny of these wonderful martyrs, husband and newly-wedded wife. Twenty days after their wedding, they were taken for trial for their Christian faith before Arrianus, governor of the Thebaid, in the time of the Emperor Diocletian. Timothy was a reader in the church where he lived. 'Who are you?', the governor asked him. Timothy replied: 'I am a Christian and a reader in the Church of God.' The governor said to him further: 'You see, don't you, the instruments prepared for torture?' Timothy replied: 'But you don't see the angels of God, which are strengthening me. `Then the governor commanded that he be pierced through the ears with iron rods, so that the pupils of his eyes leapt out with the pain. They then suddenly hanged him by the feet and stuffed his mouth with wood. Maura was at first afraid of torture but, when her husband gave her courage, she also confessed her steadfast faith before the governor. He commanded that, first, her hair be torn out, then all her fingers cut off. After many other tortures, to which they would quickly have succumbed had they not been strengthened by the grace of God, they were both crucified, one in sight of the other. And thus, hanging on their crosses, they remained alive for nine full days, counselling each other and encouraging each other in endurance. On the tenth day they gave their spirits into God's hands, the God for whom they had suffered crucifixion, and thus became worthy of His Kingdom. They suffered with honour for Christ in 286.
* Author's note: 'Maura' means 'black', from which it comes that in Macedonia the day of these saints is known as 'Black Day'. On the island of Zakynthos there is a church of Saints Timothy and Maura, in which many miraculous hearings have taken place.
2. Our Holy Father Theodosius of the Kiev Caves.
From his earliest youth, he fled from laughter and merriment and gave himself to pondering on God and prayer. Because of this, he was often beaten by his mother, and especially when she saw one day an iron belt around his naked body, from which his shirt was stained with blood. Reading one day in the Gospel the words of the Lord: 'He who loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me', he left his parents' home and fled to Kiev, to the cave of our holy father Antony. Antony received him and quickly made him a monk. When his mother found him, and called him to return home, he spoke with her and she then became a nun in a women's monastery. By his asceticism, his meekness and his goodness, Theodosius quickly outstripped all the other monks and became very dear to Antony, who made him abbot of the monastery. In his time, the number of brethren in the monastery grew very rapidly, churches and cells were built and the Rule of the Studion introduced in its fullness. God endowed Theodosius with great grace in response to his virginal purity, labours in prayer and love for his neighbour, and so this man of God had great power over unclean spirits and healed sicknesses and had insight into the destinies of men. With St Antony, St Theodosius is regarded as the restorer and organiser of Russian monasticism. He entered peacefully into rest in 1074, and his healing relics rest beside those of St Antony.
The Abba John the Short asked the monks: "Who sold Joseph?" One monk replied: "His brothers." To that, the elder replied: "No brethren, rather his humility. Joseph could have said that he is their brother and could have protested to being sold but he remained silent. His humility, therefore, sold him. Afterward, this same humility made him master over Egypt." In surrendering ourselves to the will of God, we defend ourselves too much from external unpleasantness, that is why we lose the good fruits which is harvested at the end of unpleasantness endured with humility. Abba Pimen wisely spoke: "We have abandoned the easy yoke, i.e., self-reproach and we have burdened ourselves with a heavy yoke, i.e., self-justification." The Christian accepts every unpleasantness as deserving of their present or their past sins; seeking in all, the will of God with faith and awaiting the end with hope.
To contemplate the ascended Lord Jesus:
- How He began His saving work on earth as an ordinary humble worker;
- How He completed His saving work by His miraculous and glorious ascension into heaven.
About how the idol-worshippers will be put to shame
"As the thief is ashamed when caught, so shall the house of Israel be ashamed: They who say to a piece of wood, 'You are my father' and to a stone 'You gave me birth:' They turn to Me their backs, not their faces; yet in time of trouble they cry out, `Rise up and save us !' " (Jeremiah 2: 26-27).
In truth brethren, they will all be put to shame who do not see beyond wood and stone and, who in their ignorance, say that man is composed entirely of plants and minerals and the same thing occurs to him as with plants and minerals. With their backs turned to the Creator, they are unable to see anything other than creation and, forgetting the Creator, they proclaim creation the Creator. They say that nature created and gave birth to man, that is why man is lesser than nature, lower than nature, the servant in the lap of nature, a slave on the chain of nature and a dead man in the grave of nature. They who speak like that will be shamed when they fall into misfortune and cry out to God: "Rise up and save us!"
Why do they cry out to God "Rise up" as though God is lying down? God is not lying down, but stands; stands and waits to be of service to everyone who, with faith and humility, request a favor from Him. But those who have become enamored with wood and stone, while they have trusted in their own power, have overturned Him in their lives and excluded Him from their lives. That is why when they are pressured by difficulties, they cry out to Him: "Rise up!"
But the Lord is meek and rises and comes to the aid of every penitent. Let the sinner truly repent and casting off his sinful love, return to God in love and God will help him. Let him turn his back on dead wood and stone and turn his face to the Living God and God will redeem him. For the Almighty is not vengeful and vindictive. Neither did He create man for death, but for life.
O brethren, let us not seek help in the helpless nor life in the lifeless. Let us turn our heads toward our living Creator Who gave us a face more radiant than the face of every earthly thing. Let us turn from the western ways to the eastern path, for on this path is salvation. Just let us hasten before our last day on earth is sunk into the darkness of the west.
O ascended Lord, raise our minds to heaven. Cleanse them from the darkness and unburden them of the earth, O our Light-bearing Creator.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK