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Prologue from Ochrid - May 5 [May 18]

1. The Holy and Great Martyr Irene.

She lived in the Balkans in apostolic times, in the town of Magedon where her father Licinius was governor of a small region. Some think that she was a Slav.* She was born a pagan of pagan parents. Penelope - for that was her pagan name - learned the Christian faith from her teacher, Appelianus. St Timothy, the disciple of the Apostle Paul, baptised her and her lady-in-waiting, and brought her a letter from the Apostle Paul to read. She infuriated her father by her refusal to marry, and he intended to torture her, but she brought him to Christianity in a miraculous way. She was tortured in different ways by four kings, other than her father, but God saved her through His angels. King Sedechias buried her up to the neck in a pit full of snakes and scorpions, but an angel of God neutralised the poison of the reptiles and preserved the holy maiden untouched. Then the same king attempted to saw her in two, but the sword broke against her body as against stone. This same king once again bound her to the wheel of a water-mill, then let the water in to drown her, but the water would not flow, but stood still, and the maiden remained whole and alive. King Sapor, Sedechias's son, shod her with nails, loaded a sack of sand onto her, put a bridle on her and commanded that she be led like an animal far outside the city. 'Truly I am as a beast before Thee, 0 Lord!', said the holy martyr as she ran bridled behind her torturers. But an angel of God caused an earthquake, and the earth opened and swallowed up her tormentors. Surviving all these tortures, by which an enormous number of pagans were brought to Christianity, Irene went to the city of Kallinikos, where she preached the Christian faith. The local king, Numerian, tried to kill her, throwing her into three burning metal oxen one after the other. But the maiden was preserved and remained alive, and many saw and believed. The Eparch, Vaudon, took her to the city of Constantina, where he thought to kill her by putting her onto a burning grid. But this did not harm St Irene, and many were brought to the true Faith. Finally, Irene came to the city of Mesembria, where the king killed her but God restored her to life. And the king, seeing this, together with many of the people, believed in Christ and was baptised. And thus St Irene, by her sufferings and miracles, brought over 100,000 pagans to faith in Christ. At last she laid herself in a grave and commanded Appelianus to close it. After four days, when the grave was opened, her body was not in it. Thus God glorified forever the maiden and martyr Irene, who had sacrificed all and endured all, that God should be the more greatly glorified among men.

* Author's note: Archbishop Philaret thinks that St Irene was of Serbian birth. See his 'Lives of the Saints'.

2. Saints Martin and Heraclius.

Slavs, they were persecuted by heretic Arians in Illyria. Sent into exile, these knights of Orthodoxy finished their earthly course in the 4th century, and went to the Lord.

Reflection

Prayer consisting of words alone does not help if the heart does not participate in prayer. God hears only a fervent prayer. Abba Zoilus of Thebaid was once returning from Mt. Sinai and met a monk who complained to him, that they are suffering much from drought in the monastery. Zoilus said to him: "Why don't you pray and implore God?" The monk replied: "We have prayed and have implored, but there is no rain." To this, Zoilus replied: "It is evident that you are not praying fervently. Do you want to be convinced that it is so?" Having said this, the elder raised his hands to heaven and prayed. Abundant rain fell to the earth. Seeing this, the astonished monk fell to the ground and bowed before the elder, but the elder, fearing the glory of men, quickly fled. The Lord Himself said: "Ask and it will be given you" (St. Luke 11:9). In vain are mouths full of prayer if the heart is empty. God does not stand and listen to the mouth but to the heart. Let the heart be filled with prayer even though the mouth might be silent. God will hear and will receive the prayer. For God only listens to a fervent prayer.

Contemplation

To contemplate the ascended Lord Jesus:

  1. How, by His Ascension, He signified the triumphant end of His entire work on earth in the course of some thirty-three years;
  2. How, by His Ascension, He teaches us that we should direct all of our aspirations toward heaven and not toward earth.

Homily

About the divine marriage of the souls of men

"Turn, O backsliding children says the Lord; for I am married to you" (Jeremiah 3:14).

The soul of man is the bride and the Living and All-powerful God is the bridegroom of the soul of man. His bride, the soul, the Lord clothes in light and nourishes it with His Grace. And the soul, from God the groom, gives birth to good children and many children in the form of many and beautiful virtuous works. The soul, on its own, cannot give birth to one virtuous work. Only the soul made fertile by God, gives birth to virtuous works. However, the soul, made fertile by the world, either remains barren or produces sin and vice. That is why the Lord speaks to men: "I am married to you", so that the soul of man may know to whom it is betrothed and with whom it is wed in order that it would not stray and by adultery deaden itself and turn itself into ash.

God is a faithful groom of the human soul of men. He never betrays the bride, the soul. His love toward the soul never cools as long as the soul does not turn away from Him and does not commit adultery. But, even then, God does not abandon the soul immediately, but pursues it and returns it from the path of destruction. "Turn O backsliding children" the Lord then speaks to the souls of men. Repent and I will forgive you. Return and I will receive you. Penitents would know to say, how great is the mercy of God. They would be able to confirm how persistent the love of God is toward sinners, even to the last hour. God is faithful in His love and He is not swift to seek vengeance on the adulterous soul. He constantly tries to restore to the adulterous soul, the lost shame of sinning. Shame produces repentance and repentance leads to restoration and restoration leads to original love and fidelity.

O Lord, All-powerful, help us, that from your eternal love our souls may produce the good and abundant fruit.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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