Prologue from Ochrid - October 25 [November 7]
1. The Holy Martyrs Marcian and Martyrius.
These saints were clergy with Patriarch Paul of Constantinople in the time of the Emperor Constantius. After the death of the great Emperor Constantine, the Arian heresy, which had till then been kept under, sprang up again and began to spread, and the Emperor Constantius himself inclined towards it. There were two influential nobles at the imperial court, Eusebius and Philip, both ardent Arians. Through their influence, Patriarch Paul was dethroned and driven out to Armenia, where the Arians strangled him, and the patriarchal throne was seized by the dishonourable Macedonius. At that time, when Orthodoxy had two fierce struggles on hand, against both the pagans and the heretics, Marcian and Martyrius ranged themselves decisively and with all their strength on the side of Orthodoxy. Marcian was a reader and Martyrius a sub-deacon at the Cathedral, and had been secretaries to Patriarch Paul. The Arians first tried to bribe them, but, when the two holy men refused this with scorn, the heretics condemned them to death. When they were led to the scaffold, they raised their hands and prayed to God, thanking Him that they were finishing their lives as martyrs: 'Lord, we rejoice that we are leaving this world by such a death. Make us worthy to be partakers of eternal life, O Thou our Life!' They then laid their heads under the sword and were beheaded, in 355. A church was later built to them over their relics by St John Chrysostom.
2. The Holy Martyr Anastasius.
He was a maker of cloth and a zealous Christian. In the time of Diocletian's persecution of Christians at the beginning of the fourth century, this godly man went and presented himself to the judge of the Dalmatian town of Solin and confessed his faith in Christ. He was inhumanly tortured and then killed, and his body was thrown into the sea, from which it was later taken out and given burial.
3. St Tabitha.
Tabitha (which means `doe') was a disciple of the apostles and lived in Joppa, the present Jaffa. She was 'full of good works and almsgiving' (Acts 9:36). She suddenly weakened and died at the time that the Apostle Peter was in the city of Lydda, and the grieving disciples sent to Peter, asking him to come and comfort his people. The great Apostle of Christ, on his arrival, told everyone to leave the room where the corpse lay, then knelt in prayer. When he had done praying, he called to the dead body: 'Tabitha, arise!', and Tabitha opened her eyes and arose. Drawn by this wonder, many came to faith in Christ the Lord.
Among other mysterious perceptions from the world of spirits, the saints also had perceptions of sweet fragrances from good spirits and foul stenches from impure spirits. During every appearance of luminous, pure spirits, a life-giving and sweet fragrance wafted about; and during every appearance of dark and impure spirits, a suffocating, unbearable stench filled the air. The saints were able to discern which passion possessed a man by the kind of stench he emanated. Thus it was that St. Euthymius the Great recognized the stench of the passion of adultery in the monk Emilian of the Lavra of St. Theoctistus. Going to Matins one morning, Euthymius passed by Emilian's cell and smelled the stench of the demon of adultery. Emilian had not committed any physical sin, but had adulterous thoughts that were being forced into his heart by the demon, and the saint already sensed it by its smell. The power of this perception once revealed itself even more wondrously in St. Hilarion the Great. A certain avaricious miser had sent some of his vegetables to Hilarion. When they were brought to Hilarion for a meal, the saint said: "Take these away from here. I cannot stand the stench that comes from these vegetables! Do you not smell how they reek of avarice?" When the brethren were amazed by these words, Hilarion told them to take the vegetables to the oxen, and they would see that not even the oxen would eat them. Indeed, the oxen merely sniffed at them, and turned their heads away in disgust.
Contemplate God's miraculous revelation to the Apostle Peter (Acts 11):
- How Peter saw the heavens open and a sheet full of all kinds of animals, beasts, creeping things and birds, being lowered to him;
- How he heard a voice: Arise, Peter; slay and eat! (Acts 11:7);
- How this admonished him to attend even to the pagans and preach the Gospel to them.
On fleeing the world and dwelling in the wilderness
Lo, then would I flee afar off, and remain in the wilderness (Psalm 55:7).
Brethren, from whom did the prophet flee into the wilderness? From evil adversaries, from passions, and from vanity. Why did he flee into the wilderness? Because that is the way of victory over wicked adversaries, passions, and the vanity of the world. Very few choose the wilderness: that is why he fled into the wilderness. Men fight over cities and lands, over authority and wealth, but not over the wilderness. In the cities, the inner adversaries of man-the passions and diverse vanities-constantly are aroused with new fire, while in the wilderness they fade and vanish. Before he spoke of fleeing, the prophet said, And the terrors of death have fallen upon me (Psalm 55:4); this is the reason to flee into the wilderness. One should prepare his soul for the other world, for the encounter with God. Not even a king can save himself from death or avoid judgment. Living in constant luxury and merriment, man is indeed as if lulled to sleep by the strong drink of this world. But then, in the midst of luxury and merriment, the thought of death tugs at him and awakens him. Oh, I must die! I must leave this world! I must come before God and before the angels! Where is my soul? Where are my deeds? With what shall I leave this world, and with what shall I enter into the next world? Thousands upon thousands of those who have been awakened from sinful sleep by such questions have fled to the wilderness and, day and night, they amend their souls and purify their hearts by repentance, prayer, fasting, vigils, labor and other proven means by which man kills the fear of death, and becomes adopted by God.
O Lord Jesus Christ, our Most-wise and Most-gracious Teacher, Who Thyself at times withdrew from men into solitude, help us to be collected in soul and prepare ourselves for Thy Most-glorious Kingdom.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK