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Prologue from Ochrid - October 24 [November 6]

1. The Holy Martyr Arethas.

This holy martyr suffered for the Christian faith with more than four thousand other Christians: priests, monks and nuns, townsmen and women and children. Arethas was the local governor of the town of Negran, in the land of Omir in southern Arabia, and was ninety-five years old when he suffered. The land of Omir was governed by a Jew called Dunaan, a vicious persecutor of Christians. Resolving to exterminate Christianity completely in his land,, he laid siege to the Christian town of Negran and told the citizens that, if they did not deny Christ, he would put them all to death. The citizens closed the gates, and Dunaan attacked the city wall for a long time without success. Then the iniquitous governor swore to the citizens that he would do nothing to them if they opened the gate for him to enter and take the tribute owing to him, saying that he would then go away at once. The Christians believed him, and opened the gates. Then the bloodthirsty Jew summoned the aged Arethas to him, along with his clergy and other eminent citizens, and slew them all with the sword, and then indulged in a riot of butchery through the town. Hearing of this, the Byzantine Emperor, Justin, was greatly distressed and wrote a letter to the Ethiopian Emperor Elesbaan, urging him to set out with an army against Dunaan and avenge the Christian blood that had been spilled. Elesbaan obeyed Justin, attacked the governor of Omir, overcame him, slaughtered his entire army and put him to the sword. A devout man called Abramius was installed as ruler of Omir by God's revelation and, as archbishop, also by God's revelation, St Gregory (see Dec. 19th). In Negran, the Christians rebuilt the Church of the Holy Trinity that Dunaan had burned, and built a church to the holy martyr Arethas and the other martyrs of that city. They suffered and received wreaths of martyrdom from the Lord in 523.

2. St Elesbaan, Emperor of Ethiopia.

Inflamed with love for Christ, this devout Emperor raised an army against Dunaan, the wicked persecutor of Christians in the land of Omir, but he was unsuccessful in the early stages of the battle and many of his soldiers perished in the and desert. He then lamented bitterly to God, and promised to become a monk if God would help him overcome the shedder of Christian blood. Defeating Dunaan, Elesbaan returned to Ethiopia and immediately left the imperial court and went to a monastery, where he lived in strict asceticism as a true monk for a whole fifteen years, God giving him wonderworking gifts both before and after his death. He entered into rest in 555.

3. The Icon: 'Joy of all who Sorrow'.

This is the name given to one of the wonderworking icons of the most holy Mother of God, and today is especially the commemoration of the miraculous healing of Euphemia, sister of Patriarch Joachim, in Moscow in 1688. Euphemia had a dangerous wound in the side and, when the doctors were unsuccessful in their treatment of it, she fell down in prayer before the most holy Mother of God. She then heard a voice: 'Euphemia, go to the Church of the Transfiguration of my Son; there you will find the icon "Joy of all who Sorrow". Ask the priest to pray before that icon, and you will be healed.' Euphemia did this, and was immediately completely healed.

4. Our Holy Father Arethas of the Kiev Caves.

He went to the Lord in 1190 (see the passage for consideration below).

Author's note: In the Greek Synaxarion, the holy martyr Sebastiana, a disciple of the Apostle Paul, who suffered for the Faith in the year 82, in the time of the Emperor Dornitian, is also commemorated. She was first tortured in the city of Marcianopolis, where the Apostle Paul appeared to her and said: 'Rejoice, and do not be sad, for you will go from here to your own town to confess your faith in Christ.' And so it came to pass: the judge sent her to her birthplace, Heracleia, where she was tortured and finally beheaded. Her remains were put in a sack and thrown into the sea, but an angel of God took them to a place called Risiston, where Ammia, the wife of a senator, found them and gave them burial. Her relics had healing power and gave off myrrh.

Reflection

When a consecrated person commits a transgression, a greater punishment awaits him than awaits a layman, less enlightened in the mystery of the will of God than he, who commits the same sin. St. Arethas was a monk in the Monastery of the Kiev Caves, and was very avaricious. He would give nothing to anyone of the piles of possessions in his cell, not even a kopeck. But once, he became very seriously ill and saw, as if in a vision, devils snatching his soul from the angels, screaming, "He is ours, he is ours!" and citing as their proof Arethas's greed and miserliness. Upon his recovery Arethas amended his life, and from then on counted all earthly goods as nothing. Our benevolent God forgave him, and later endowed him with abundant grace.

Again, in the monastery where the blessed Emperor Elesbaan reposed, a monk developed the habit of visiting a tavern often, getting drunk there, and even committing immoral acts with women. One day, returning from the tavern, a terrifyingly huge snake began chasing him and gained on him rapidly. In great torment and anguish, the monk cried out: "Depart from me, as you would from the holy and righteous Elesbaan!" Suddenly, the snake stopped. And the monk heard as it were a human voice from the serpent: "An angel of God commanded me to consume you because of your impurity and foulness, for you vowed to serve God in purity, but now you soil your body and anger the Holy Spirit." The monk vowed never to sin again, returned to the monastery, and sinned no more up to his death. Thus, God rebuked, and showed mercy, by the prayers of the Holy Emperor Elesbaan.

Contemplation

Contemplate Cornelius the Centurion's wondrous visitation by the angel of God (Acts 10):

  1. How, though it was daytime, Cornelius saw in a vision an angel of God who called him by name;
  2. How Cornelius was afraid and replied, What is it, Lord?
  3. How the angel instructed him to send to Joppa for the Apostle Peter, who would speak to him the words of salvation.

Homily

On the clear coming of God

Our God shall come and shall not keep silent (Psalm 50:3).

The vocation of a commander is different than the vocation of a judge. The commander does not show himself to his enemy immediately, but allows his enemy to think whatever he wants about him; for the main purpose of the commander is to conquer. The judge, however, immediately shows himself to those whom he has to judge.

Then, too, the vocation of a teacher is different than the vocation of a judge. For the teacher, the main purpose is to teach his pupils. That is why he often lowers himself to the level of his students and speaks to them as their friend. A judge, however, from beginning to end, is bound to show himself as nothing other than a judge.

The vocation of a physician is different than the vocation of a judge, and the difference in these two vocations can be compared as in the first two instances cited above.

Brethren, God appeared to the world in the body of a man. He appeared as a Commander, as a Teacher and as a Physician, but He has not yet appeared as a Judge. In the first instance, He chose to remain silent, and not to openly express His greatest dignity, but rather left His enemies, His pupils and His patients to make their judgments about Him from what they knew. Those who had sound judgment would know Him as God in the flesh by the evidence of His words and by His deeds, by His love for mankind and by the heavenly signs at His birth, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. However, those whose minds were darkened by evil passion would not recognize Him or acknowledge Him as God. But when He comes as Judge, then no one will ask "Art Thou He?" or "Who art Thou?" because everyone will know, without any doubt, Who He is. The angels will blow their trumpets before Him; His Cross will shine in the heavens before Him: A fire goes before Him and burns up His enemies round about (Psalm 97:3). Then both the believers and the unbelievers, the righteous and the unrighteous, will recognize the Judge. Then, only they who recognized Him beforehand as God, in the cave and on the Cross, will rejoice. Truly, they will rejoice: for they shall recognize in the Judge Him for Whom they waged war, Him from Whom they learned, and Him by Whom they were healed.

O Most-glorious Savior, have mercy on us and set us aright before Thy Second Coming.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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