Prologue from Ochrid - May 8 [May 21]
1. The Holy Apostle and Evangelist John.
The main commemoration of this great Apostle and Evangelist is on September 26th, but on May 8th is commemorated a wonderful revelation about his grave. When St John was more than a hundred years old, he took seven of his disciples, went outside the city of Ephesus and told the disciples to dig a grave in the form of a cross. Then the old man went down alive into the grave and was buried. When the faithful later opened John's grave, they did not find the body in it. And on May 8th each year a dust arose from the grave, from which those suffering from many diseases were healed.
2. Our Holy Father Arsenius the Great.
This famous saint was born of a patrician family in Rome, and was well-educated both in secular learning and philosophy and in spiritual wisdom. Abandoning all secular studies, he gave himself to the service of the Church and was deacon in a large church in Rome. Unmarried, retiring, silent and prayerful, Arsenius thought that he would spend his whole life in that way. But, by the providence of God, his life was directed in a different way. The Emperor Theodosius summoned him to bring up and educate his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius, and made him a senator, surrounding him with wealth, honour and luxury. But this was a greater burden than pleasure to the heart of Arsenius. It happened at one time that Arcadius was at fault, and Arsenius punished him for it. The insulted Arcadius thought up a harsh revenge on his teacher, and, when Arsenius discovered this, he dressed himself in simple clothing, went to the coast, got into a boat and sailed off to Egypt. When he arrived at the famous Scetis, he became a disciple of John the Dwarf and gave himself to asceticism. He considered himself as one dead, and, when he was informed that a rich kinsman had died and left him all his goods, he replied: 'I died before he did. How, then, can I be his heir?' He retired to a cell in the desert as into a grave, and there he spent his days weaving baskets from palm-leaves and his nights in prayer. He fled from men and from every conversation with men. Only on feast-days did he leave his cell and come to the church for Communion. In order not to become idle, he often put this question to himself: 'Arsenius, why did you come into the desert?' He spent thirty-five years as a hermit, and all that time he was an example to the monks and the glory of monasticism. In all, he lived a hundred years and departed this life peacefully in 448, after long labours and trials voluntarily taken on himself. He went to the Kingdom of Christ the Lord, whom he had loved with all his heart and soul.
3. St Emilia.
She was the mother of St Basil the Great. In her youth, she desired to remain a life-long virgin, but was forced to marry. She bore nine children, and so endowed each of them with a Christian spirit that five of them became Christian saints: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Peter of Sebaste, Macrina and Theosevia. She founded a monastery in her old age, where she lived with her daughter Macrina, and where she entered into rest in the Lord on May 8th, 375.
4. Our Holy Father Arsenius the Lover of Labour.
A monk of Kiev, he never gave himself any rest, but worked without pause. He ate only once a day, at sunset. He lived in asceticism and died in the 14th century.
A monk complained to St. Arsenius that while reading Holy Scripture he does not feel, neither the power of the words read nor gentleness in his heart. To that the great saint will reply to him: "My child, just read! I heard that the sorcerers of serpents, when they cast a spell upon the serpents, the sorcerers are uttering the words, which they themselves do not understand, but the serpents hearing the spoken words sense their power and become tamed. An so, with us, when we continually hold in our mouths the words of Holy Scripture, but even though we do not feel the power of the words, evil spirits tremble and flee for they are unable to endure the words of the Holy Spirit." My child, just read! The Holy Spirit Who, through inspired men, wrote these divine words, will hear, will understand and will hasten to your assistance; and the demons will understand will sense and will flee from you. That is: He Whom you invoke for assistance will understand, and those whom you wish to drive away from yourself will understand. And both goals will be achieved.
To contemplate the Descent of God the Holy Spirit upon the apostles:
- How there appeared fiery tongues over the apostles, one on each of them;
- How the apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in various tongues, as the Holy Spirit gives them utterance.
About evil as the fruit of the thoughts of men
"Hear O earth: behold I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened to my words, nor to my law, but rejected it" (Jeremiah 6:19).
Brethren, do you see where evil grows and where it ripens? Not in the bosom of God, but in the thoughts of men. Evil is sown in the thoughts of men by demonic powers or from the passions of the flesh. Evil grows in the thoughts of men and spreads and multiplies itself, blossoms and bears leaves and finally shows fruit. In due time, God warns men to break from their evil thoughts so that evil would not ripen in the souls of men and bring forth its bitter and deadly fruit. In due time, God warned Cain but he did not want to heed the warning and permitted evil thoughts against his brother to being forth evil fruit; fracticide.
What are the thoughts of evil? All those thoughts that are contrary to the law of God; the word of God. Evil thoughts are the self-willed law of man which man prescribes for himself against God and contrary to the law of God. Therefore, if a man has resolutely decided to adhere to the law of God, evil thoughts are then as weak as shadows which quickly appear but, in the same way, quickly disappear. Then, a man is lord over his thoughts for he feels God as the Lord over himself. Then the law is the law of God and the evil thoughts of men, are nothing.
"Behold, I will bring evil upon this people," said the Lord. What kind of evil? "The fruit of their thoughts." That is: I will permit them only to reap that which they sowed and nurtured, for evil is neither My seed nor My harvest. The evil which I will permit upon lawless men is the fruit of their own thoughts. According to their thoughts, they should have estimated what kind of evil will befall them as a sower estimates, according to his seeds, what he will harvest.
O Lord meek and guileless, save us from our own evil which we alone, have nurtured in ourselves. We pray to You, remove the evil fruit of evil crops, and help us to pluck out the evil seed from our souls.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK