Prologue from Ochrid - September 23 [October 6]
1. The Conception of St John the Baptist.
On this day are celebrated God's mercy, His wondrous act and His wisdom: His mercy towards the devout and righteous parents of St John, the aged Zacharias and Elisabeth, who had all their lives begged a child of God; the wonder of the conception of John in Elisabeth's more-than-aged womb; and the wisdom of the dispensation of man's salvation. For John, God had a specially great plan: that he should be a prophet and the forerunner of Christ the Lord, the Saviour of the world. Through His angels, God revealed the birth of Isaac to the childless Sarah, and of Samson to the childless Manoah and his wife, and of John the Baptist to the childless Zacharias and Elisabeth. Through His angels, God revealed the birth of those for whom He had a special plan. How could children be born of aged parents? If someone is curious to find out, let him not ask men, for men do not know, nor does natural law (it being beyond natural law), but let him turn his gaze to the power of almighty God, who made the whole world from nothing and who, for the creation of Adam, the first man, used no parents, either young or old. Instead of being curious, let us thank God that He often reveals to us His power and mercy and wisdom beyond the natural law, by which we would otherwise be fettered and, without these special wonders of God, would fall into despair and forgetfulness of Him.
2. The Holy Martyr Iraida.
She is sometimes called Raïs or Raida. A maiden from an Egyptian town called Batan, she was therefore probably an Egyptian. Iraida went out one day to draw water from a well near the sea, and saw a ship laden with bound Christians: priests, deacons, monks, women and maidens. Enquiring, she learned that pagan torturers were taking all this crowd to torture and death for the name of Christ the Lord. In the heart of the young Iraida, the desire flared up to suffer for the Lord. She left her pots by the well, went onto the ship and confessed that she was a Christian. She was immediately bound and taken with the others t the Egyptian town of Antinopolis. After divers tortures, Iraida was the first to be beheaded, followed by the others. She suffered with honour and was glorified at the beginning of the fourth century.
3. The Holy New Martyr Nicolas Pantopoles (The Grocer).
He suffered for the Christian faith as a young man at the hands of the Turks in Constantinople in 1672; his father, a grocer, having moved there from Thessaly. He took the name of his father's trade (in Greek, pantopoles). After great pressure to become a Turk, and torture because he refused, he was beheaded and entered into the Kingdom of God. His relics are preserved in the monastery of Xeropotamou on the Holy Mountain.
4. The Holy New Martyr John.
Born in a place called Konitsa in Albania, he was a Moslem of Moslem parents. Later, seeing the wonderful power of the Christian faith in various places and events, he was baptised. He was arrested for this and brought before the Turkish judge. Tortured for the Christian faith in Aetolia and beheaded in 1814, he cried out at the time of his death: 'Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom!'
He who gives to the poor, gives to Christ. This is the meaning of the evangelical teaching, which was confirmed in the experience of the saints. Peter the Merciful, after he repented, began to give alms to the poor wherever the opportunity presented itself. On one occasion, a shipwrecked man who had barely saved his naked body from the wreck, met Peter and begged him for some clothing. Peter removed his costly dolman and clothed the naked man with it. Shortly afterward, Peter saw his dolman in the shop of a merchant who had displayed it for sale. Peter was very saddened that this shipwrecked man sold his dolman instead of using it for himself. Peter said to himself: "I am not worthy; the Lord does not accept my alms." But the Lord appeared to him in a dream in the form of a nobleman, brighter than the sun with a cross on his head wearing Peter's dolman. "Peter, why are you sad?" asked the Lord. "My Lord, why would I not be sad when I see that which I gave to the poor is sold at the market?" Then the Lord asked him: "Do you recognize this garment on Me?" Peter replied: "I recognize it, Lord, that is my garment with which I clothed the naked one." Then the Lord spoke to him again: "Therefore do not be sad, you gave it to the poor man and I received it and I praise your deed."
To contemplate the sins of King Jehoram and God's punishment (2 Chronicles 21):
- How Jehoram slew all his brothers and restored idolatry in the groves and the hills: "He put to the sword all his brothers" and have led Judah into idolatry" (2 Chronicles 21:13);
- How his enemies plundered and enslaved the land: "Then the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the animosity of the Philistines and of the Arabs who bordered on the Ethiopians" (2 Chronicles 21:16);
- How he was smitten with a grave illness in the bowels and died and "no one mourned for him": "And after all this the Lord smote him [Jehoram] in his bowels with an incurable disease. And it came to pass, that in process of time, after the end of two years, his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness; so he died of sore diseases. And his people made no burning for him like the burning of his fathers" (2 Chronicles 21:18- 19).
About God the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father
"But when the Comforter is come, Whom I will send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceeds from the Father, He will testify [witness] of Me" (St. John 15:26).
Brethren, unfathomable are the depths of the being of God. But God has neither hidden all from us nor did He reveal all to us. As much as our weakness can bear, that much has been revealed to us; as much as is necessary for our salvation, that much has He revealed to us. Concerning the Holy Spirit, it has been revealed to us that He "proceeds from the Father" and is sent by the Son. Let no one seek more so as not to fall into error. Since He "proceeds from the Father", that means that He is of one being [essence] with the Father; since He is being sent by the Son to continue the work of the Son, that means that He is equal to the Son. The Lord said earlier: "The Father...bears witness of Me" (St. John 8:18) and now He says about the Spirit of Truth: "He will testify [witness]of Me." Both these witnesses are the same, that is why the Lord cites at one time the one and another time, the other. And the One who witnessed and the One who will witness are equal in being [essence] for the Lord would not have the witness for the future to be less than the witness from the past. Thus, we speak humanly in terms of time, in reality the Three witness eternally in heaven and according to the words of the Evangelist: "For there are three that bear witness in heaven: The Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit; and these Three are One" (1 St. John 5:7).
There are men who assert that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Who revealed this to them and when? We know that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, for that was revealed to us by the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why we reject those additions to our Orthodox Faith, which do not agree with the words of the Lord Himself. But, in order that the words of the Most Pure Lord could be received, great purity of heart is needed. Therefore, we must make more of an effort to cleanse our heart from passions rather than curiously sail our mind into the endless depths of God's being with an unclean heart, for he who did that fell into heresy and lost his soul.
O, Lord God, great and mighty, we thank You that You appeared to us through our Savior Jesus Christ and that we know that we are not the children of darkness but rather the sons of light.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK