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Prologue from Ochrid - November 11 [November 24]

1. The Holy and Great Martyr Menas.

An Egyptian by birth and a soldier by profession,, St Menas, as a true Christian, could not bear to look upon the foul offering of sacrifice to idols, so he left the army and the town, the society of men and everything else, and went to a deserted mountain. It was easier for Menas to live with the wild beasts than with pagans. One day, Menas looked from afar in spirit at a pagan festival in the town of Cotyaeus, then went to the town and, before them all, confessed his faith in Christ the living God, denouncing idolatry and paganism as falsehood and darkness. The governor of that town, one Pyrrhus, asked who and what he was. The saint replied: 'My fatherland is Egypt; my name is Menas. I was an officer, but, seeing the worship of idols, I rejected your honours. I have come now to proclaim my Christ before you all as the living God, that He may reveal me as His servant in the Kingdom of God.' Hearing this, Pyrrhus put holy Menas to harsh torture. He was flogged, flayed with iron flails, burned with torches and tortured in many other ways, finally being beheaded. His body was burned to prevent Christians taking it, but they did succeed in rescuing some bits from the flames. They buried these remains with care, and they were later taken to Alexandria and buried there, a church being built over them. St Menas suffered in about 304, and entered into the Kingdom of Christ. He was and remains a great wonderworker in both lives: both on earth and in heaven. Whoever has glorified Menas or invoked his aid with faith in time of need has received help. He has often appeared as a soldier on horseback, to help the faithful or punish the faithless.

2. The Holy Martyr Stephen of Decani, King of Serbia.

He was the son of King Milutin and father of King Dusan. At the command of his ill-informed father he was blinded, and at the command of his light-minded son was, in old age, drowned. At the time of his blinding, St Nicolas appeared to him in the church at Ovce Polje (the Sheep-Pasture) and gestured towards his own eyes, saying: 'Stephen, don't be afraid; your eyes have been given to me and I will return them to you in due course.' He spent five years in Constantinople, as an exile in the monastery of the Pantocrator. By his wisdom and ascesis, his meekness and devotion, his patience and greatness of soul, Stephen surpassed not only the monks in that monastery but those in the whole of Constantinople. When five years had passed, St Nicolas appeared to him again and said to him: 'I have come to fulfill my promise.' He then made the sign of the Cross over the blind king, and he received his sight. Out of gratitude to God, he built the monastery of Decani, a rare example of the finest Byzantine work and one of the most famous memorials of Serbian devotion. The holy King Stephen, St Sava and the holy Prince Lazar make a trio of holiness, nobility and self-sacrifice, the gift of the Serbian people. He lived his time on earth as a martyr, and died a martyr in 1336, receiving the wreath of immortal glory from the Almighty whom he had served so faithfully.

3. The Holy Martyrs Victor and Stephanis.

Victor was a Roman soldier, and was tortured for Christ in the time of the Emperor Antoninus (138-161). During his torture, a young woman, Stephanis, revealed that she also was a Christian. Victor was beheaded and Stephanis was torn in half, being tied by the hands and feet to the tops of palm trees.

4. The Holy Martyr Vincent the Deacon.

From the diocese of Saragossa in Spain, he was terribly tortured for Christ the Lord, and finally burned on an iron grid. He gave his soul into God's hands in 304. His body is preserved in Rome, in the church bearing his name.

5. Our Holy Father Theodore the Studite.

The famous abbot of Studium, he suffered greatly for the sake of the icons. He was a wise organiser of the monastic life, an inspired teacher of Orthodoxy and wonderful ascetic. He entered into rest in Constantinople in 826, at the age of sixty-eight.

6. St Urosica, Prince of Serbia.

He was son of King Dragutin. He preserved his chastity and purity in marriage, and myrrh flowed from his tomb.

Reflection

If ever there was a holy king who sat on the throne of an earthly kingdom, that was the holy King Stefan of Deèani. The Greeks, who otherwise considered the Slavs barbarians, were amazed at the beauty of St. Stefan's soul as one of the rarest wonders of the time. When the Emperor Cantacuzene sent the abbot of the Monastery of the Pantocrator to Milutin on some official business, King Milutin inquired about his son Stefan. "O King, are you asking me about the second Job?" the abbot replied. "Be assured that his poverty stands above your royal greatness." For his part, the Byzantine emperor acted very cruelly toward the blind Stefan: he confined him to one area of the court and forbade everyone access to him. After that, he sent him to the Monastery of the Pantocrator, hoping that the monastery would force him into strict monastic asceticism, and that he would become weak and perish there. But God preserved the Blessed Stefan and he endured the ascetic labor of fasting and prayer like the best of monks. They began to speak of his wisdom throughout all of Constantinople, and the emperor began to respect him and often sought advice from him. For example, St. Stefan contributed to the defeat of the infamous heresy of Barlaam, against which St. Gregory of Palamas fought. Barlaam then resided in Constantinople, and by skillful intrigue, had won over many high-ranking clerics and civil officials to his way of thinking. In perplexity, the emperor summoned Stefan and asked him what he should do. The wise Stefan replied with the words of the Psalmist: Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee? (Psalm 139:21), and also said: Dangerous men must be banished from society. Heeding this, Emperor Cantacuzene drove Barlaam from the capital with dishonor.

Contemplation

Contemplate the wonderful healing power of the Apostle Paul (Acts 28):

  1. How Paul prayed and laid his hand on Publius's father and healed him of dysentery;
  2. How he also healed many others in that place in the same manner.

Homily

On the Creator of the new man

… for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace (Ephesians 2:15).

When He came to earth, the Lord, the Lover of Mankind, came to all men, not just to some. The Jews awaited a messiah; He came as the Messiah. The pagans awaited a redeemer; He came as the Redeemer. He came with equal love for both the Jews and the pagans. There was no other group on earth-only the Jews and the pagans. The Jews were the only ones in the world who believed in one God, whereas the pagans worshiped idols. But the Jews had obscured their faith by their transgressions and, therefore, knew nothing. Thus, both the Jews and the pagans had become equal in their ignorance and equal in the curse of sin with which Adam had burdened the benighted earth. As of old Adam did not belong to the Jews exclusively, but also to the pagans, for they both descended from him, so Christ, the new Adam, did not belong to one or the other, but to both, for He saved both. The Lord Jesus could not side with the Jewish kingdom of empty legal formalism, or the Hellenic kingdom (including paganism in general) of naturalistic fables and demonic divinations and sorcery. Rather, He healed them both. He took both of these sick ones and he created the new man. And this is the Church of God. Thus, the Lord annulled and cast out both Judaism and Hellenism, and created His Holy Church.

O Lord Jesus, All-good and All-wise, everything Thou hast done is good and wise beyond words.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK