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Prologue from Ochrid - October 4 [October 17]

1. The Hieromartyr Hierotheos.

He was a friend of Dionysius the Areopagite, and received the Christian faith from the Apostle Paul a little after Dionysius. This Apostle later made him bishop in Athens. At the time of the Dormition of the most holy Mother of God, Hierotheos arrived in Jerusalem and took part in the funeral. With his divine singing, he brought heartfelt joy to many and showed himself to be greatly inspired. He laboured greatly for the sake of the Gospel, brought many pagans to the truth, governed his flock well and finally ended a martyr for Christ, who gave him a twofold wreath in His heavenly Kingdom: of the hierarch and of the martyr.

2. St Stephen Stiljanovic.

A Serbian despot, born of the Pastrovic family, he governed the Serbian people during a most difficult period, struggling courageously against the Turks and the Latins. A righteous and godly man and a patriot, this great prince can be compared with St Alexander Nevsky or with the holy king John Vladimir. He entered into rest at the beginning of the sixteenth century (according to some, in 1515). A light appeared at his grave at night, by means of which his holy relics were found, being kept for a long time in the monastery of Sisatovac in the Fruska Gora* and then, during the Second World War, taken to Belgrade and placed in the Cathedral beside the body of Prince Lazar. His wife Helena, seeing Stephen's uncorrupt relics and the miracles wrought by them, became a nun and gave herself to asceticism till her death.

*Translator's note: A mountain range in north-east Yugoslavia.

3. Our Holy Father Ammon of Nitria.

An Egyptian and a wine-grower by profession, he was forced by his kinsmen to marry against his will, but he would not live with a woman. On the first day, he called his bride his sister and counselled her, together with him, to guard her virginity for the sake of greater good things from heaven, and they lived thus for a whole eighteen years. Later, by mutual arrangement, his wife founded a womens' monastery in their house and Ammon went off to the Nitrian desert, where he gave himself to the ascesis of solitude. He received great gifts of insight and wonderworking from God for the purity of his heart. A man and woman brought him their insane son that he might heal him by his prayers, but Ammon would not do so. After long pestering on the part of the parents, Ammon said: 'The sickness and health of your son are in your hands. Return the stolen ox to the widow (and he named her), and your son will be healed.' The parents, amazed at such insight on the saint's part, acknowledged their sin and promised that they would return the stolen ox as soon as they got home. Then holy Ammon prayed to God, and the child was healed. Ammon was a close friend of St Antony the Great. When Ammon died in Nitria in about 350, St Antony saw from his cell window the soul of Ammon in the heights, and said to the brethren: 'Abba Ammon has today moved on, and I see his holy soul being borne by the angels into heaven.'

4. Our Holy Father Paul the Simple.

He lived in the world as a married man to the age of sixty. Catching his wife in sin, he left everything and went to St Antony in the desert, becoming a monk at his hands. Although he was simple and unlettered, he achieved such spiritual perfection that he saw every man's soul as ordinary men see each other's bodies. He was a great wonderworker and, in some things, outstripped St Antony himself. He died in great old age, in 340, and went to angelic joy.

Reflection

A vision of St. Andrew: St. Paul was not the only one who was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words (II Corinthians 12:4). Over 850 years after St. Paul, this also occurred to St. Andrew. One wintry night, St. Andrew was lying among the dogs on a dung heap in order to warm his frozen body, when an angel of God appeared to him and raised him up to Paradise (whether in the body or outside the body, St. Andrew himself could not explain), and kept him in the heavenly world for two weeks, eventually leading him to the third heaven. "I saw myself clothed in the most dazzling garments-they were as if woven from lightning-with a wreath of flowers on my head, and girt with a royal girdle. I rejoiced greatly at this beauty, and was amazed in both mind and heart, at the inexpressible beauty of God's Paradise, as I walked around it and rejoiced." Andrew also wrote that he saw Christ the Lord: "And when a flaming hand drew the curtain, I saw my Lord-as once did the Prophet Isaiah-sitting upon a high and exalted throne, with Seraphim standing all around Him. He was clothed in a crimson garment. His face was most radiant, and His eyes gazed most kindly upon me. Seeing Him, I prostrated before Him, worshiping the brilliant and awesome throne of His glory. How much joy overcame me during the vision of His face cannot be expressed; and now, calling to mind this vision, I am filled with inexpressible joy…. I heard my Most-merciful Creator when, with His most sweet and pure lips, He spoke three words to me, which so sweetened my heart and inflamed it with love for Him, that I melted as warm wax from spiritual warmth…." When St. Andrew also desired to see the Most-holy Theotokos, he was told that she was not in heaven just then, but had descended to earth to help the poor and to comfort those in need.

Contemplation

Contemplate the injustice of King Manasseh and God's punishment (II Chronicles 33):

  1. How Manasseh restored idol worship, enchantments and witchcraft, and did everything that is evil in the sight of the Lord;
  2. How God permitted the Chaldeans to capture Manasseh.

Homily

On useful anger

Be angry and sin not (Psalm 4:4).

Be angry with yourself, brethren, and sin no more. Be angry at your sins of thoughts and deeds, and sin no more. Be angry with Satan the father of lies (John 8:44), and no longer do his will. Be angry at sin in the world and the trampling of God's holy Church by godless men, but beware that you do not cure sin by sin. Be angry with your friends when they sin; but be angry with the intention to correct them, and not to embitter them even more. The anger of a friend toward a friend, and the anger of parents toward their children-and of God toward men-is not a storm that uproots the tree but a wind that strengthens the tree, and rids it of rotten fruit so that the healthy fruit will increase in number and beauty. But let your anger have measure, so that it may be healing and not poisonous. In order to have this kind of control, keep God before you in your anger. There is no stronger containment for anger than God. All anger that is not in the name of God and God's righteousness is a sin. Do not become angry for the sake of idleness, but become angry for that at which God is angered. If your will is firmly set in God's law, you will always know when it is necessary to be angry, and how much is needed. This cannot be expressed entirely in words, nor can it even be explained to the uneducated. Anger, in its place, acts as mercy does in its place. O my brethren, do you see how various powers are placed in our souls, and man, by his free will, can utilize them for life or death? Anger toward oneself can never be recommended enough. Here is a wonderful example: the more a man learns to be angry with himself, the less he is angry with others. Carried away with anger at his own weaknesses, he either does not see the weaknesses of others, or when he does see them, he judges them kindly.

O Lord God, Thou only righteous One, implant in us the remembrance of the Day of Thy righteous anger, so that we may protect ourselves from spiritual sin.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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