Prologue from Ochrid - November 7 [November 20]
1. The Holy Martyr Hieron with his Companions.
He was born in the Cappadocian city of Tijane of a good and God-fearing mother, Stratonica, who was blind. Hieron was a very zealous Christian, and cared for his blind mother with a truly filial love. Because of both his faith and his mother, he refused to go into the army, and fended off and drove away those who were sent to take him, for he was loth to leave his helpless, blind mother and be forced as a soldier to bow down and offer sacrifice to idols. Finally, Hieron was seized and taken before the governor of the city of Melitene, along with other Christians. While they were on the road, a man in white apparel appeared one night to Hieron and said to him: 'Behold, Hieron, I reveal to thee thy salvation: thou shalt not wage war for any earthly king, but shalt engage in a battle for the King of heaven, and quickly shalt thou come to Him and receive from Him both honour and glory.' Hieron's heart was filled with ineffable joy at these words. When they reached Melitene, they were all thrown into prison, where Hieron strengthened them all in their faith with great ardour, exhorting them that not one should fall away but that all should freely give their bodies over to torment and death for Christ. To a man, they all confessed their faith in Christ the Lord before the judge, except for one kinsman of Hieron's called Victor, who repudiated his faith. Hieron's hands were cut off , then he was flogged and tortured in various ways, until he was finally beheaded with the sword together with the others. Going out to the place of execution, the thirty-three martyrs sang the psalm: 'Blessed are those that are undefiled in the way, and walk in the Law of the Lord' (Ps. 1:1). Let us remember by name these honourable martyrs, who are inscribed in the Book of Life: Hesychius, Nicander, Athanasius, Mamas, Barachius, Callinicus, Theogenes, Nikon, Longinus, Theodore, Valerius, Xanticus, Theodulus, Callimachus, Eugene, Theodochus, Ostrichius, Epiphanius, Maximian, Ducitius, Claudian, Theophilus, Gigantius, Dorotheus, Theodotus, Castrichius, Anicetas, Themilius, Eutychius, Hilarion Diodotus and Amonitus. A certain man called Chrysanthus found Hieron's severed head and gave it burial, and he later built over it a church in honour of St Hieron. One of the martyr's hands was taken to his blind mother. St Hieron suffered with his companions in 298, and entered into the glory of Christ.
2. The Holy Martyr Thessalonica, with Auctus and Taurion.
This maiden was the daughter of Cleon, a pagan priest, a rich and arrogant man. Because of her faith in Christ, her father drove her from the house and the city. Two respected citizens, Auctus and Taurion by name, reproached Cleon for his inhuman treatment of his daughter, and Cleon thereupon denounced them as Christians. They were savagely tortured and beheaded for Christ, and the maiden Thessalonica was tortured and killed soon after. They suffered in the Macedonian city of Amphipolis, near present-day Kavala, and so these martyrs were found worthy, by their sufferings, of the immortal Kingdom.
3. Our Holy Father Lazarus of Mount Galesius.
A pillar of light appeared above the house where he was born. He left his village in Magnesia and went to Jerusalem on pilgrimage to the holy places, becoming a monk there in the monastery of St Sava the Sanctified. After ten years, he settled on Mount Galesius and toiled in asceticism upon a pillar as a stylite, and was a wonderworker both during his lifetime and after his death. The Emperor Constantine Monomachus had great respect for him. St Lazarus entered into his eternal home at the end of the eleventh century.
There are decisive moments in life upon which a man's eternal life or eternal death depend. We do not know when this decisive moment will come for us-perhaps today-and because of this we must be unceasingly vigilant. Victor, a kinsman of St. Hieron, was arrested with him. On the day before their torture, Victor, in terror of the impending tortures, went to the prison warden and begged him to take his name off the list of the condemned and release him, promising to give him his land. The warden removed his name and released him. However, upon returning home, Victor died of natural causes in the same moment that St. Hieron and his companions died in torments for Christ. Thus Victor vainly missed the decisive moment: he lost his land, his friends and both his earthly and heavenly life. In that same decisive moment, Hieron gained all. No one vied for Victor's body, while many vied for Hieron's body. When Christians sought the head of Hieron from the eparch, he asked as much gold for it as it weighed. Chrysanthus, a wealthy and devout man, paid that much gold for the martyr's honorable head. Anthony and Matronian hid one of St. Hieron's severed hands and brought it to Hieron's mother, the blind Stratonika. She took her son's hand and wept bitterly: "O my beloved son, I gave birth to you whole, and now I have only one part of you!"
Contemplate the malignant power of an evil spirit over those who serve him (Acts 19):
- How seven Jews tried to imitate Paul in driving out spirits from possessed people, attempting this for their own gain;
- How the evil spirit answered them, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
- How the man with the evil spirit leaped on them and overwhelmed them.
On the dark paths of mankind before and apart from Christ
… in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2).
This is all one and the same path-the path to destruction. According to the course of this world means inclination toward sinfulness; according to the prince of the power of the air means according to the will of those chiefs of the demons who inhabit the air; in the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience means that in the same way that the opponents and adversaries of God now live, all men lived before the advent of Christ, including those to whom the Apostle writes the epistle. What is this power of the air, brethren? This is the order of evil spirits who exist in constant movement in the air. They make the air lethal and they impede the souls of the departed as they make their way to heaven. They deceive the spirit of man to work every evil; they tempt it with every sin. Yet, they do not command the spirit to sin, for they lack the power to do that; they can only tempt and corrupt. They acted more strongly and directly on the pagans than on the Israelites. They fell upon the pagans as a swarm of flies on a carcass, but the Israelites they watched from a distance, corrupting and tempting them more subtlely. They stood at a distance from Israel because of the name of God, which was preserved and spoken among the Israelites. The Lord Jesus Christ scattered them all and plucked out their poisonous stings, so that they remained only as empty phantoms, as miserable, inconstant shadows that vanish instantly at the mention of the name of Christ or at the tracing of the sign of Christ's Cross.
O Lord Jesus, our Commander and Deliverer, help us to live in Thy freedom.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK