Prologue from Ochrid - August 28 [September 10]
1. Our Holy Father Moses the Negro.
An Ethiopian, he was at first a robber and the leader of a robber band, but he then became a penitent and a great ascetic. As a slave, Moses escaped from his owner and became a robber. Because of his great physical strength and recklessness, the robbers chose him as their leader. Suddenly his conscience was filled with remorse and repentance for the crimes he had committed. He left the band, went to a monastery and gave himself entirely to obedience to his spiritual father and to the rule of the monastery. He made great use of the teaching of Saints Macarius, Arsenius and Isidore. Later, he withdrew to solitude in a cell, where he gave himself utterly to physical labour, prayer, vigils- and pondering on God. Tormented by the demon of lust, he confessed to his spiritual father, Isidore, and received from him the advice to fast as much as possible, and never to eat his fill. When this proved to be of no help, he, at the elder's advice, began to keep night-vigils and to pray standing; he then got into the way of carrying water from a distant well for the older monks. After six years of terrible striving, St Isidore finally healed him miraculously of the lustful thoughts, imaginings and dreams visited on him by the demon. He was ordained priest in old age. He founded a monastery of his own, and had seventy-five disciples, himself living to the age of seventy-five. He foresaw his own death, and one day told his disciples to flee, as barbarians were coming to attack the monastery. When his disciples urged him to flee as well, he told them that he must perish in the attack, for he had himself at one time done violence, according to the words: 'all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword' (Matt. 26:52). So he stayed, with six of his brethren. The barbarians came and ran them through. One of the brethren, hiding nearby, saw seven shining wreaths descend upon the seven martyrs.
2. Our Holy Father Sava of Pskov and Krypetsk.
A Serb by birth, he lived first in asceticism in the monastery of the holy Mother of God in Pskov, and was abbot of that monastery. But he was praised, so he fled from the glory of men and withdrew to an island in the lake of Krypetsk, where he founded a new community dedicated to St John the Theologian. However, he was not able here, either, to hide from praise and eminence. Prince Yaroslav of Pskov visited him with his wife. Sava would not allow the woman to enter the monastery, but blessed her and prayed for her outside it, healing her of an infirmity. This godly saint entered into rest in 1495, and his relics had wonderworking power. Of those he received at Krypetsk, Abbot Dositheus is the best-known.
3. The Assembly of all the Men of God of the Kiev Caves.
A true Christian avoids the praise of men; not only avoids, but has a true fear of it. St. Sava of Pskov left the office of abbot, the monastery and the good brotherhood of the monastery and fled to a desolate place to escape the praise of men, for praise of men robs our heart. A devout prince, upon hearing of the mortification of St. Moses Murin [the Black], went with his retinue into the desert to see him. Informing Moses that the prince was coming to his monastery, Moses quickly ran out and began to flee and to hide somewhere, but he unexpectedly encountered the high-ranking visitors. "Where is the cell of Abba Moses?" the servants of the prince asked not suspecting that this was Moses himself. Moses opened his mouth and said: "What do you want him for? He is an ignorant old man, very untruthful and completely impure in life." Hearing this, the visitors were astonished and continued on. When they arrived at the cell of Moses, they inquired about the elder and the monks said that he was not there. Then they began to relate what a monk on the road had said about Moses. The monks were saddened and asked them: "How did he look, this old man, who spoke to you mocking words about this holy man?" and when they said that he was very dark in the face, tall and in a miserable garment; the monks cried out loudly: "but that was indeed the Abba Moses!" By this incident, the prince benefited greatly spiritually and rejoicefully returned to his home.
To contemplate the nobility of David (2 Samuel 1 - 2 Kings 1):
- How a messenger arrived and informed David about the death of Saul and Jonathan thinking to receive a reward for that;
- How David bitterly mourned and lamented for Saul who wished him [Daivd] nothing but death.
About the forms of the Messiah
"And we saw that He had no form nor comeliness" (Isaiah 53:2).
This, the prophet speaks about Christ the Lord as a man: "He had no form nor comeliness!" How is it that He Who gave form to every created thing and who created the beautiful angels of heaven and all the beauty of the universe, that He did not have form and comeliness [beauty]? Brethren, this need not confuse you. He was able to appear in the manner in which He willed. But he did not want to appear in angelic beauty as He did not want to appear in royal power and in the luxury of the wealthy. He who enters a house of sorrow does not dress in the most beautiful clothes, neither does a doctor dress in his best clothes when he visits the gravely ill. But the Lord entered a house of sorrow and into a hospital. The body is the garment of the soul. He dressed in a simple garment to impress us, not by His dress but rather by the power of the spirit. We do not know exactly what His appearance was. According to tradition, His face was swarthy and His hair was of a chestnut color. When King Abgar sent Ananias his artist to paint the face of the Lord, he was not able to draw even a line on the cloth for, it is said that, Christ's face shown with an unusual light.
After all, even if Christ had clothed Himself in the most beautiful body, such a body as only He is able to fashion, what would that physical beauty of His be in comparison to the immortal beauty of His Divinity? The greatest earthly beauty is merely only a shadow of the heavenly beauty. The Prophet Daniel was a young and handsome man but when an angel of God stood before him, he himself said:
" there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness turned in me into corruption" (Daniel 10:8). What is the face of man from earth in comparison to the likeness of an immortal angel of God? As darkness in comparison to the light! Of course, even the prophet looking at Christ the Immortal King in the flesh of man and comparing His earthly likeness with His Immortal likeness, had to cry out: "He had no form nor comeliness."
O Gentle and All-gentle Lord, Who for our sake was clothed in our miserable physical garment to serve us and not to frighten us, to You be glory and thanks, to You be glory and thanks.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK