Prologue from Ochrid - September 20 [October 3]
1. The Holy and Great Martyr Eustace (Placidus).
He was a great Roman military leader in the time of the Emperors Titus and Trajan. Although a pagan, Placidus (for that was his pagan name) was a righteous and merciful man, like the centurion Cornelius, who was baptised by the Apostle Peter (Acts 10). Going hunting one day, he found a stag. By the providence of God, a shining Cross appeared among the stag's antlers and the voice of God came to Placidus, telling him to go to a Christian priest and be baptised. Placidus was baptised, along with his wife and two sons. At his baptism, he received the name Eustace, his wife the name Theopiste and their sons the names Agapius and Theopistus. After his baptism, Eustace went back to the very place where the revelation through the stag had occurred, and thanked God on his knees that he had brought him to the truth. At that, the voice of God came to him again, foretelling suffering for His name and strengthening him. Then Eustace secretly left Rome with his family, with the intention of hiding among simple people and serving God in an unknown and humble way. Arriving in Egypt, he was immediately beset by trials. Some wicked barbarian carried off his wife, and his two sons were seized by wild beasts. But the barbarian quickly came to a bad end, and a herdsman saved the boys from the wild beasts. Eustace settled in the Egyptian village of Vadisis, and there lived as a village hireling for fifteen years. After this, the barbarians descended on the Roman Empire, and the Emperor Trajan was sorry that his brave commander Placidus, who had been victorious wherever he had fought, was not with him. The Emperor sent two of his officers to seek the great general throughout the Empire. By God's providence, these officers, who had been friends of Eustace, came to this village of Vadisis, found him and took him to the Emperor. Eustace gathered the army together and defeated the barbarians. On the way back to Rome, Eustace went and found his wife and sons. When he arrived in Rome, the Emperor Trajan had died and the Emperor Hadrian was on the throne. When Hadrian summoned Eustace to offer sacrifice to idols, Eustace told him that he was a Christian. The Emperor put him to torture, together with his wife and sons. When the wild beasts did them no harm, he threw them into a white-hot metal ox. On the third day, they took out their bodies, dead but untouched by the fire. Thus this glorious general gave to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God that which is God's, and entered into the eternal Kingdom of Christ our God.
2. The Holy Prince Michael and his Counsellor Theodore.
Prince Michael of Chernigov went to the Tartar horde with his counsellor, Theodore, at the invitation of their ruler, Bati. When they refused to follow the Tartar custom of passing through fire and worshipping idols on being received by Bati, they were beheaded, in 1244. Their relics, the witnesses of their death by martyrdom for the sake of Christ, are preserved in the Church of the Archangel in Moscow.
3. Our Holy Father, the Martyr Hilarion.
A monk of the Holy Mountain, he suffered voluntarily for the Christian faith at the hands of the Turks in Constantinople on September 20th, 1804. His wonderworking relics are preserved in the Church of the Transfiguration on the island of Proti.
Suicide is a mortal sin and an act of defiance against the Holy Spirit, Who gives life. Suicide is a much greater sin than murder, since for the sin of murder a man can still repent; but for the sin of suicide there is no repentance. Here are two examples of overwhelming misfortune, in the face of which a fainthearted man would commit suicide, yet in which holy men of God showed themselves to be heroes.
St. Eustathius found himself in the following predicament: he left one of his sons on the bank of a river, while he carried the other son to the opposite bank and returned for the first son. Halfway back across the river, he saw that a lion had seized his son and carried him away. He looked at the other bank and saw a wolf seize the second son and carry him away. A fainthearted man in such a situation would have drowned himself in the water, and made an end to his life. Even though drowning in sorrow, Eustathius did not commit suicide, but with hope in God lived as a hireling for fifteen years. This patient man lived to see his two sons again. Thus, God rewarded his faith and patience.
As a young man, St. Hilarion was forced to become a Moslem, but his conscience began to torment him cruelly, and he had no peace at all. He returned to the Christian Faith, was tonsured a monk, and gave his body over to intense fasting and every difficult ascetic labor. Even so, his peace of soul did not return to him. A fainthearted man of little faith would have committed suicide. But Hilarion chose an incomparably better path. He went to Constantinople with his spiritual father Bessarion, and not only openly confessed the Christian Faith at the sultan's court, but even counseled him to go to Russia and be baptized. After being subjected to mockery and torture, this courageous young man was beheaded, and God glorified him both in heaven and on earth. Even today, his holy relics are miracle-working. But where is the glory of those who commit suicide? Where are their relics?
Contemplate the righteousness of King Jehoshaphat, and God's reward (II Chronicles 17):
- How Jehoshaphat was zealous for God's truth, and how he destroyed the idols in his land;
- How God granted him riches, glory, peace and victory over his enemies.
On the only Way, Truth and Life
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me(John 14:6).
Brethren, these words were not merely spoken, but were soaked with blood, confirmed by the Resurrection, instilled by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the faithful, and proven again and again by the Church through ages and ages. Of all the treasures on earth, men love life the most-and they love life more than they do truth, even though there is no life without truth. Thus, the highest good is life, but truth is the foundation of life. He who loves life, must also love truth. But where is the way to truth? Our Lord says: I am the Way. He did not say: "I am a way," so that none would think there is another way to truth besides the Lord Jesus. And He is not only the Way, but also the Truth and the Life, so that none would think that there is some other truth and some other life besides the Lord Jesus. For this He was born as a man, to show men the way; for this He was crucified, to mark the way by His blood. No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me. This addresses those who deceive themselves by thinking that they can know God and acquire the Kingdom of God without the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord entirely cut off this false hope and desperate self-deception by these words. The apostle who heard and wrote these words in the Gospel, expressed them in his Epistle in this way: Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father (I John 2:23).
O Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, Source of all blessings-truly Thou art for us the only Way, the only Light, the only Truth, the only Life and Life-giver. We acknowledge Thee before men and angels as our only God and Savior. Have mercy on us and save us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK