Prologue from Ochrid - April 19 [May 2]
1. Our Holy Father John of the Ancient Caves.
John lived a life of asceticism in the so-called "old caves," the "old Lavra" of Chariton the Great in Palestine. Having loved Christ the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his mind, John, at an early age, began to travel to the holy places and to listen to the instructions and counsels of the holy men. Finally, he settled in the Caves of Chariton, where he gave himself to rigorous asceticism spending days and years in fasting, prayer, vigils, continuously meditating on death, and teaching himself humility. As a good ripened fruit, he was plucked by death and took up habitation in Paradise. He lived and died in the eighth century..
2. The Holy Martyrs Christopher, Theonas and Antonius.
Christopher, Theonas and Antonius were young officers serving under Emperor Diocletian. When St. George the Great Martyr was being tortured, they witnessed his sufferings as well as the miracles which occurred at that time. Seeing all of this, they came before the emperor, laid down their arms, removed their military belts and bravely confessed the Name of the Lord Jesus. For that, they were subjected to great torture and finally were tossed into the fire, where their bodies were consumed while their souls went to God into eternal joy. They honorably suffered in Nicomedia in the year 303 A.D..
3. Saint Tryphun, Patriarch of Constantinople.
The Emperor Romanus, who reigned over Byzantium at the beginning of the tenth century had a son, Theophylact, who was sixteen years old when Patriarch Stephen died. The emperor wanted his son to be elevated as patriarch for he had promised him [his son] this spiritual calling from his youth. Because his son was a minor, the emperor was ashamed to do this. The patriarchal throne was assumed by Tryphun a simple but chaste and pious old man. Tryphun remained on the throne for three years. When the son of the emperor reached his twentieth year, the emperor thought, to remove Tryphun at any price and to install his son as patriarch. The saint of God, Tryphun, did not want to relinquish his throne voluntarily, for no other reason, because he considered it to be a great scandal that such a young man be elevated to such a responsible and burdensome position as that of being patriarch. Through the intrigue of a nefarious bishop, the signature of the innocent Tryphun was extracted on a blank sheet of paper. Later on, in the imperial court, above that signature, the alleged resignation of the patriarch was written which the emperor decreed. As a result of this, there arose a great confusion in the Church, for the laity and the clergy stood by Tryphun, the godly man. The emperor then forcibly removed the aged patriarch and sent him to a monastery and, his son, Theophylact, was elevated as patriarch. St. Tryphun lived as an ascetic in this monastery for two years and five months and presented himself before the Lord in the year 933 A.D..
4. Our Holy Father Agathangelos.
Agathangelus was from Thrace. His secular name was Athanasius. Serving the Turks, he was forcibly converted to Islam in Smyrna. As a penitent, he was tonsured a monk on the Holy Mountain [Athos] in the Monastery of Esfigmenu. Tortured by his conscience, he desired to wash away his sin with his own blood. He departed for Smyrna where he exhibited a cross and an icon of the resurrection of Christ before the Turks. He was beheaded on April 19, 1819 in his nineteenth year. Following his death, he appeared alive to Herman, his spiritual father.
5. Our Holy Father Simeon the Barefoot.
Simeon lived a life of asceticism on the Holy Mountain [Athos] and, for a short while, was the abbot of the Monastery Philotheu. He strengthened Christians in the Faith in many areas of the Balkans and was glorified by his miracle-working. He walked barefooted for which he is called, the Discalced (The Barefooted One). He died in Constantinople.
An elder spiritual father said: "Getting up in the morning, say to yourself: body, work in order to feed yourself; soul, be vigilant in order to save yourself and inherit the Kingdom!" These are not empty words, but this was the rule of many thousands of monks throughout the centuries: their daily Rule of Life. By labors, they fed themselves, through prayer they remained vigilant. Why only for monks? Cannot this be the Rule of every follower of Christ? Did not Christ Himself give us an obvious example of that, i.e., an example of physical effort and constant vigilance in prayer?
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How He, in His glorified body, was close to His disciples;
Close to them who sought Him (Mary Magdalene in the Garden);
Close to those who are in fear (The disciples in a closed room);
Close to those who are hungry (Those on the shore of the lake);
- How He is close, even now, to everyone of us who seek Him, who is in fear and who is hungry?
About being cautious toward all that is not according to Christ
"Brethren, see to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
Brethren, do not let philosophy enslave us, which by conjecture, says that there is no eternal life nor resurrection from the dead. For we do not arrive at the Truth through the conjecture of man, but by God's revelation. That which we know about the truth we know from Truth Itself which was revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ and which was communicated to us through the faithful and wise witnesses of the Truth: the apostles and the saints. If we, because of our sins, were to reject these witnesses and accept the conjecture of humans, we will fall into the dark and bitter slavery of nature, of the body, to sin and to death.
Brethren, let us not be deceived by the empty myths of men, from men and according to men as though another world does not exist or if another world does exist, we, so to speak, do not know anything about it. Behold, we know with confidence that another world does exist. We know this not from conjecturers or deceivers but from the Lord Jesus Himself Who, on Mount Tabor, appeared to His disciples with Moses and Elijah who long ago departed this world and Who Himself, appeared to many of His followers after His death. We also know about this from the apostles, saints and numerous discerners to whom, because of their chastity and sanctity, God revealed the ultimate Truth about the other world. If, because of our sins, we do not believe these holy and the truthful witnesses, we will then have to believe those unholy and false men and we will be slaves to darkness, sin and death.
Brethren, let us not be led astray by worldly teaching, which examines animals, plants and stones and say it has not found God among these things and, from that, arrogantly attest that there is no God. Behold, we know that the Creator cannot be, as a thing among things, rather He is above all things and different from all things. We know this, as much by spiritual understanding and conscience, as well as by the obvious revelation of the Lord Jesus Himself, Who appeared in the body of a man as the Lord of all created things, as well as through the witness of the apostles, many other saints and discerning men.
Rather, let us glorify the Lord Jesus resurrected from the dead.
O resurrected Lord, To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK