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Prologue from Ochrid - October 11 [October 24]

1. The Holy Apostle Philip.

Born in Palestinian Caesarea, he was married and had four daughters, all four endowed by God with the gift of discernment and all four vowed virgins for the sake of Christ (Acts 21:8-9). When the holy apostles chose deacons, Philip was chosen along with Stephen and the others (6:5). Philip served the poor and the widows with great fervour. When persecution fell on the Christians in Jerusalem, he fled to Samaria and there preached the Gospel and witnessed to it by many miracles, driving out demons, healing the sick and so forth. Seeing the miracles of the holy apostle, Simon the Magician was baptised. St Philip also baptised the eunuch of Queen Candace. After that, an angel of God suddenly and invisibly bore him away to Azotus, where he taught and preached, bringing many to Christ (Acts 8). He was later made bishop in Tralles. He died peacefully in great old age, and entered into the joy of his Lord.

2. Commemoration of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

This Council was held in 787 in Nicaea, in the reign of the devout Empress Irene and her son Constantine, and in the time of Patriarch Tarasius. This Council finally upheld the veneration of icons, expounding it from Holy Scripture, the witness of the holy fathers and the examples of miracles in connection with the holy icons. Among other examples cited, the Cypriot bishop, Constantine, brought forward this one: A herdsman from the city of Constantia, driving his flock out to pasture one day, saw an icon of the Mother of God adorned with flowers by the devout. 'Why give so much honour to a rock?', said the herdsman, obviously brought up in iconoclasm, and threw his iron stave at the icon, damaging the right eye of the Mother of God. As soon as he had left that spot, he stumbled over the same stave and put out his own right eye. Returning blinded to the city, he cried out tearfully that it was a punishment from the Mother of God.

This Council also decided that the relics of the martyrs be placed in the antimins.* Three hundred and sixty-seven fathers took part in the Council. May the Lord have mercy on us and save us by their prayers.

*Antimins: a cloth containing relics of the saints that is spread on the Holy Table for the celebration of the Liturgy - Translator

3. Our Holy Father Theophanes the Hymnographer (the Branded).

A confessor and writer of Canons, he was born in Arabia of wealthy and devout parents. With his brother Theodore (see Dec. 27th), he became a monk in the monastery of St Sava the Sanctified. Being very well-educated monks, they were sent by Patriarch Thomas of Jerusalem to Leo the Armenian, to explain things to the Emperor and defend the veneration of icons. The wicked Emperor inflicted harsh torture on these two holy brothers and threw them into prison. Later, the iconoclast Emperor Theophilus continued their torture, and, to expose them to the world's ridicule, commanded that derisory words be branded on their faces. At the end of the iconoclast controversy, Theophanes was freed and quickly made bishop. He suffered for the holy icons for twenty-five years, writing a hundred and forty-five Canons in that time. He died peacefully in 847, and entered into the joy of his Lord.

4. St Nectarius, Patriarch of Constantinople.

As a layman and a high-ranking court official, he was chosen as Patriarch after St Gregory the Theologian, in 381. He was distinguished by a deep understanding, tact and zeal for the Church. He entered peacefully into rest in 397.

5. The Holy Martyrs Zinaïs and Philonilla.

They were sisters, born in Tarsus, kinswomen of Paul the Apostle. As virgins, they scorned the world for the sake of Christ and withdrew to a cave to leave in asceticism. They were skilled in medicine, and helped many of the sick. Philonilla especially, for her great fasting, was made worthy of the gift of wonderworking. But unbelievers fell on them one night and stoned them to death.

Reflection

Just as, by God's providence, the power of miraculous healing is given to blessed water or sanctified oil, so this same power is also given to icons. St. Athanasius the Great cites one wonderful example of the miraculous power of holy icons: In the town of Beirut, there lived a Christian in a rented house. In moving out of the house, he forgot an icon of the Savior. Then a Jew moved into that house. There were many Jews in that town who were particularly embittered against the Christian Faith. Consequently, when the icon was found in the house, the Jews carried it to their gathering place and mocked it, as their ancestors had once mocked the living Savior. The Jews also did to the icon what their ancestors had done to the Savior: they pierced the hands and feet with nails, wiped vinegar on the lips of the image on the icon, and mocked the image of the Savior in every way possible. Finally, one of them took a spear and struck the divine image under the rib. But oh, the wonder-blood and water flowed from the image's wound as they had from the living body of the crucified Lord. The Jews' terror cannot be described. However, they brought a vessel to catch the blood, and brought many of the sick, blind, deaf, lame and insane to the icon. As soon as the Jews anointed the ailing with this blood, they were healed. The whole town gathered to see this miracle and all glorified Jesus Christ, the true God; and all the Jews in that town came to believe in the living and life-giving Lord Jesus Christ.

Contemplation

Contemplate the numerous unrighteous acts of the people of Israel, and the numerous punishments that God visited upon them (II Kings 24):

  1. How the princes of the people often turned away from God, and did that which is evil in the sight of God;
  2. How God punished the people in order to correct them;
  3. How finally, under the evil King Jehoiachin, the Israelites were taken into the Babylonian captivity.

Homily

On the voice of the Lord upon the waters

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters (Psalm 29:3)

The voice of the Lord was heard over Jordan, when St. John baptized the Savior. On the Sea of Galilee, when there were storms and winds, the voice of the Lord was heard, and the tempest was calmed and the winds ceased. The voice of the Lord was heard at the marriage feast at Cana of Galilee, and the water was changed into wine. The voice of the Lord was heard at the Red Sea, and the sea parted and a path was opened for the people of God. The voice of the Lord was heard in the wilderness, and water flowed from a dry rock. Given all this, what does the voice of the Lord is upon the waters mean? It means that the element, water, is the work of God; and through it, God works miracles when He wills, and how He wills. No less are the other elements the work of God: fire, air and earth. And God is Lord over them all, and through them He works miracles when He wills, and how He wills.

God the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of fire at Pentecost. In the furnace at Babylon, the flames lost their power at the sound of the voice of the Lord, and did not harm the blessed children. Fire was sent down from heaven to consume the sacrifice of Gideon (Judges 6). Elias brought down fire from the heavens (II Kings 1:10). The bush burned and was not consumed (Exodus 3). Fire from heaven came down and consumed Elias's sacrifice to God (I Kings 18:38). A fiery pillar went before the Israelites (Exodus 13, 14). All of this was according to the word of the Lord.

The earth opened up and swallowed the unrighteous Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:32). The earth opened and hid Elizabeth and the infant child John from the sword of Herod. The earth quaked when the Lord breathed His last on the Cross, and the graves opened up (Matthew 27:51-52).

The Lord ascended into the heavens through the air (Luke 24:51). The holy apostles were carried through the air to Jerusalem, from various parts of the world. An angel took the Prophet Habakkuk to Babylon through the air in an instant (Bel and the Dragon 1:35). And all of this was in accord with the voice of the Lord: by the Lord's command. When will men be as obedient to the voice of the Lord as the irrational elements of nature are? Then again, "the waters" is to be interpreted as meaning "men", men who are obedient to the voice of the Lord, the apostles and the saints. Like water, they covered the earth with the preaching of Christ our God. Like water, they assuaged the thirsty world with the effusion of the fountain of eternal life, and the world was restored and blossomed. Upon them, just as upon ordinary water, numerous miracles were manifested; for they were submissive to the will of God, obedient to the voice of God, just like water.

O Lord Jesus Christ, help us to be obedient to Thy voice. Help us to be ashamed before lifeless elements that obey Thee better than we do.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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