Prologue from Ochrid - April 21 [May 4]
1. The Hieromartyr Januarius, and those with him.
This saint was Bishop of Benevento in Italy. In the time of a persecution under Maximian, he was brought before the judge and tormented with various tortures, which he endured patiently. When they threw him into the flames, they were cooled by an invisible dew and the martyr stood uninjured in it and sang the praises of God. Then they flayed his body with iron flails until the bones showed white, but the martyr patiently endured all. His deacon, Faustus, and his reader, Desiderius, were watching the torture and wept for their spiritual father. Then they too were bound and taken with their bishop to the town of Pozzuoli, and cast into prison. There were in the same prison for the sake of Christ the Puetolian deacons Proclus and Sossus and two simple, Christian men, Eutychius and Acutius. All seven were thrown next day to the wild beasts, but the beasts would not touch them. They were all then beheaded, and the Christians of the city of Naples secretly took the body of St Januarius to their city and buried it in the church. To this present day innumerable wonders are worked at this saint's grave. One among many remembered is this: a poor widow, whose only son had died, took the icon of St Januarius out of the church and laid it on her dead son, weeping and imploring the saint's aid, and her son was restored to life. St Januarius suffered with honour in 305.
2. The Holy Martyr Theodore, and others with him.
He suffered for the Christian faith in Perga of Pamphylia in the time of the Emperor Antoninus. Theodore was young and fair of face. When the governor of that district chose him, along with several other young men, for service at the imperial court, Theodore refused and declared himself to be a Christian. Because of this, he was tortured in various ways and then thrown into the flames, but water gushed from the earth and put out the fire. The governor ascribed this to some magic of Theodore's, but the martyr said to him: 'This is not the work of any power of mine, but of Christ my God; and if you want to test the power of your gods, light another fire and throw in one of your soldiers - then I hope you will understand the strength and almighty power of my God.' The governor really wanted to throw in one of the soldiers, but they, in terror, begged him to throw in the pagan priest, Dioscorus, in their place. The priest begged him to throw in only the idol of Zeus and the other idols, for, he said, if they were gods they would easily save themselves. Dioscorus spoke thus because he had already in his heart turned to Christ, having seen the marvel wrought concerning Theodore. Discovering this, the governor condemned Dioscorus to death by burning. He also delivered Theodore and two soldiers, Socrates and Dionysius, and Theodores's mother Philippa, to death. Theodore was crucified, and breathed his last on the cross only on the third day. Socrates and Dionysius were run through with spears and Philippa was beheaded. They were all crowned with wreaths of glory in the Kingdom of Christ.
"Guard your heart!" These words were spoken in the past by experienced ascetics. Father John of Kronstadt says the same thing in our days: "The heart is refined, spiritual and heavenly by nature; guard it. Do not overburden it, do not make it earthly; be temperate to the utmost in food and drink and, in general, in bodily pleasures. The heart is the temple of God. `If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person' (1 Corinthians 3:17)." Spiritual experience in ancient times and spiritual experience in our time is identical, under the condition that the confession of faith is identical. Heavenly knowledge, to which the ascetics of old arrived, does not differ from the heavenly knowledge to which the ascetics of today arrive. For as Christ is the same today and tomorrow so it is the same with human nature. What is important: the human heart is the same; his thirst, and his hunger, is the same; and nothing is able to satisfy him but the glory, power and riches of God.
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How when He appears to the apostles, He appears to all of us;
- How His resurrection is the proof of eternal life and announcement of eternal life to all of mankind.
About Christ in the hearts of the faithful
"And that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Ephesians 3:17).
That person does not have Christ who only has Him on his tongue. Neither does that person have Christ who has Him only on paper. Neither does that person have Christ who has Him only on the wall. Neither does that person have Christ that has Him in the museum of the past. That person, in truth, has Christ who has Him in his heart. For Christ is Love and the throne of love is the heart.
If Christ is in your heart then, for you, He is God. If He is only on your tongue, or on paper or on a wall, or in the museum of the past and even though you call Him God, for you, He is but a toy. Beware then, O man, for no one can play around with God without punishment.
The heart apparently is a narrow organ, but God can dwell in it. When God dwells in it, then it is filled and overly filled and nothing else can position itself in it. If, however, the whole world were to settle in it, it remains empty without God.
Brethren, let Christ, the resurrected and living Lord, pour faith into your hearts and your hearts will be filled and overly filled. He cannot enter and dwell into your hearts except through your faith. If you do not possess faith, Christ will remain only on your tongue or on your paper or on your wall or in the museum of the past. What kind of benefit do you have from that? What kind of benefit do you have to hold life on your tongue and death in your heart? For, if you hold the world in your heart and Christ on your tongue, you hold death in your heart and life on your tongue. Water on the tongue of the thirsty does not help. Lower the living Christ into your heart and you will be permeated with the truth and you will sense unspeakable sweetness.
O resurrected Lord, cleanse our hearts from the deadly guests who dwell in it and You Yourself take up dwelling in it, that we may live and glorify You.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK