Prologue from Ochrid - April 24 [May 7]
1. The Holy Martyr Sabbas Stratelates.
This famous Sabbas lived in Rome in the time of the Emperor Aurelian, and held a general's rank. He was of a noble Gothic family. He often visited Christians in prison, helping them from his abundance. Through his great purity and fasting, God gave him power over unclean spirits. When he was charged with being a Christian, he stood courageously before the Emperor, cast his officer's belt before him and publicly confessed Christ the Lord. He was tortured in various ways: flogged, flailed with iron rods, burned with torches. But he did not succumb to these deadly tortures, and was seen to be alive and well. His comrades, the soldiers, seeing clearly that God was helping Sabbas, accepted the Christian faith, and seventy of them were immediately beheaded at the Emperor's command. Christ the. Lord Himself appeared to Sabbas in the prison in great light, and strengthened His martyr. Then Sabbas was condemned to death by drowning. He was thrown into a deep river, where he gave his soul to God in the year 272. And his soul went to the Lord to whom he had remained faithful under many tortures.
2. Our Holy Mother Elisabeth
She embraced monasticism in early youth in the monastery of Ss Cosmas and Damian in Constantinople, and took on herself a heavy asceticism for the sake of Christ the Lord and of her soul. She regarded herself as the bride of Christ, and this world as illusory From her great love for God flowed a great compassion for people, especially for the sick and suffering. By the gift she had received from God, she healed many diseases and much distress among the people. At her nightly prayers she was seen all illuminated with heavenly light. And after her death, her relics had the power of healing, and many of the sick and suffering have come to her grave through the ages. She entered peacefully into rest and went to the eternal joy of her Lord in the year 540.
3. The Holy Martyrs Eusehius, Neon, Leontius and Longinus.
These four were army comrades of St George. Seeing the courageous endurance and marvels of the saint, they became Christians and were consequently beheaded.
4. The Holy Martyrs Pasicrates and Valentine.
When the judge urged Pasicrates, and also the martyr's brother, Papianus (who had fallen away from Christ through fear of torture) to offer sacrifice to idols, Pasicrates put his hand into the fire and cried: 'The body is dead and burned by fire, but the soul is immortal and does not feel visible torture.' His mother upheld him and greatly encouraged him to endure to the end. He was beheaded along with Valentine, and they both went to the Kingdom of Christ in about 228.
5. Our Holy Father Thomas the Fool for Christ.
Whenever, in his monastic work, he had to go into the city of Antioch, Thomas feigned madness for the sake of Christ. A certain Anastasius, refusing to give him the requested alms for the monastery, gave him a blow instead. Then Thomas prophesied: 'From now on, I shall receive nothing from Anastasius, nor will Anastasius be able to give anything.' One day later, Anastasius died; and Thomas also, about to return to the monastery, gave up the ghost. And so the prophecy of this holy man was fulfilled. St Thomas departed this life in Laphnis near Antioch, in the time of Patriarch Domnus (546--560).
6. The Holy New Martyrs Luke and Nicolas
The young man Luke, a tailor by profession, suffered for Christ in 1546, and Nicolas in 1776.
In exhorting Christians to attend church for prayer, St. John Chrysostom says: "If someone delivers to subjugated citizens a royal decree, the citizens do not question the life of the messenger, as to whether he is rich or poor or righteous or sinful but all listen attentively to that which he is reading. If someone did not hear, he asks one who has heard. When you have such a great awe of earthly rulers, how much more should you have heed us priests here, where the Creator of the Heavenly Powers speaks through us sinners?" Indeed, what is Holy Scripture but a Grammata [Letter] of the Heavenly King! Why is it that the unique and saving Grammata does not interest us every day and every hour, when the least authority in the country and their trivial orders do interest us? St. Anthony said: "Whatever you do have justification for this in Holy Scripture." But how can you have justification in Holy Scripture if you are not familiar with Holy Scripture?
To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:
- How His resurrection drives away from us every confusion, gloom and melancholy;
- How His resurrection instills serenity, courage and goodwill into the souls of men.
About the vanity of everything in comparison with Christ
"I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8).
The apostle who writes this had worldly knowledge; he had wealth and friends, he had youth and health. He had all the requisites of worldly success among his people. Paul says, "I left all." For the sake of Christ Jesus my Lord, I left all. Before the sages of this world he became a fool; before the rich he became as a beggar; before his friends, he becomes an enemy. He exhausted his youth and health by voluntary sufferings and afflictions. With one stroke he closed for himself all prospects for worldly success. Why did you do this O Holy Apostle Paul? Because, " I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ."
Brethren, did the Apostle Paul deceive himself leaving everything as rubbish and did he gain something greater in gaining Christ? Twenty centuries are witnessing that the holy apostle did not deceive himself and, that in gaining Christ, he received incomparably more and better than that which he abandoned and sacrificed. He received wisdom above all worldly knowledge and riches unperishable and incorruptible; he gained friends in the form of true angels of God; and eternal youth without disease and aging; and divine success, which lasts without change, in eternal life. All of this he gained in gaining Christ. All of this he received leaving all that the world offers to its favorites.
Indeed, brethren, Christ is better than the world. There are no words which could express His superiority over the world. The world deceives its favorites but Christ rewards His favorites truthfully. The world gives little and takes all. The world offers decay and takes away life. Christ, however, seeks little and gives all. He seeks that we discard decay and He gives us eternal life. Brethren, Christ is our one and only true friend.
O resurrected Lord Christ, help us to renounce rubbish, to renounce decay and grant us eternal life.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK