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Prologue from Ochrid - August 29 [September 11]

1. The Beheading of St John the Baptist.

Herod Antipas, son of the Herod who slew the young children in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of the Lord Jesus, was ruler of Galilee when John the Baptist was preaching. This Herod was married to the daughter of Aretas, an Arabian prince. But Herod, an evil branch of evil stock, put away his lawful wife and took Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, to live with him while Philip was still alive. John the Baptist stood up against this lawlessness and strongly denounced Herod, at which Herod threw him into prison. At the time of some feast at his court in Sebastia in Galilee, Salome, the daughter of Herodias and Philip, danced for the guests. Herod, in his cups and carried away by her dancing, promised her whatever she asked, even to the half of his kingdom. Instructed by her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist. Herod commanded that John be beheaded in the prison and his head brought on a platter. John's disciples took the body of their teacher by night and buried it, but Herod tore out John's tongue with a needle and then buried his head in an unclean place. What later happened to John's head is recorded and can be read under February 24th.

God's punishment was quickly visited upon this group of evildoers. Prince Aretas, to avenge his daughter's honour, attacked Herod with his army and brought him to his knees. The defeated Herod was condemned by the Roman Caesar, Caligula, to exile first in Gaul and then in Spain. As exiles, Herod and Herodias lived in need and debasement until the earth opened and swallowed them up. Salome, Herodias's daughter, came to a bad end in the river Sikaris (Sula).

The death of John took place before the Passover, but its commemoration on August 29th was instituted because it was on this day that a church, that had been built over his grave in Sebastia by the Emperor Constantine and the Empress Helena, was consecrated. In this church were also placed the relics of John's disciples, Eliseus and Audius.

2. Our Holy Mother Theodora of Salonica.

A wealthy and devout woman, she lived on the island of Aegina, but, when the Arabs over-Tan the island, she moved to Salonica. There, she gave her only daughter to a monastery, where she received the monastic name Theopista. Her husband Theodorinus died very soon, and then Theodora became a nun. She was a great ascetic. She often heard angelic singing, and would say to her sisters: 'Don't you hear how wonderfully the angels are singing in heavenly light?' She entered into rest in 879, and a healing myrrh flowed from her body, which gave healing to many.

3. The Holy Martyr Vasilissa.

She suffered for Christ in Srem.

4. The Holy Martyr Anastasius.

A young man from Radoviste in the diocese of Strumica, he learned a trade in Salonica. The Turks tried to force him to become one of them, but he refused firmly. For this he was tortured and finally hanged, on August 29th, 1794.

Reflection

If you observe how men die, you would see that the death of a man usually resembles his sin. As it is written: "For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (St. Matthew 26:52). Every sin is a knife and men usually are slain by that sin which they most readily committed. An example of this is given to us by Salome, the foul daughter of Herodias who asked for and received from Herod the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Living in Spain in the town of Lerida [Loredo] with the exiled Herod and Herodias, Salome set out one day across the frozen river Sikaris. The ice broke and she fell into the water up to her neck. Icebergs squeezed around her neck and she wiggled, dancing with her feet in the water as she once danced at the court of Herod. However, she was unable either to raise herself up or to drown until a sharp piece of ice severed her head. The water carried her body away and her head was brought to Herodias on a platter as was the head of John the Baptist at one time. Behold how terrible a death resembles the sin committed.

Contemplation

To contemplate the righteousness of David (2 Samuel 3 2 Kings 3):

  1. How Abner the commander, an opponent of David, gave himself over to David trusting him;
  2. How Joab, David's commander, slew Abner;
  3. How David cursed the house of Joab and wept much for Abner.

Homily

About the healing of mankind by the wounds of Christ

"And by His stripes [wounds] we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

We are healed by the wounds of Christ. Thus, the prophet of God prophesies and we now know that his prophecy is true. By the suffering of Christ, we have been saved from eternal suffering; by His All-pure blood, we are cleansed of the leprosy of sin and are enlivened. Our blood and body became impure from sinful passions; but our spirit, the nest and source of bodily impurity, first became impure. Can the unclean be cleansed by the unclean? Can a dirty linen be washed with dirty water? It cannot.

Only that which is clean can wash that which is unclean. Even the pagans feel that mankind is impure. But, they [the pagans] want to cleanse the impure by the impure first, by invoking impure spirits and worshipping them. And second, by offering impure sacrifices, be they human or animal sacrifices. One drop of the blood of the All-pure Christ can cleanse mankind more than all of the idolatrous sacrifices from the beginning of the world. Why? Because the blood of Christ is pure and all else is impure. Physicians take one drop of a strong remedy and diluting it, vaccinate many people with it in order to protect them from disease. We even dilute the blood of Christ in the Chalice [Cup]with water and then we take it and drink it, for it is said that when they pierced the body of the Lord with a spear "there came out blood and water" (St. John 19:34). Such is the power from one drop of His blood that, the world could be burned by it. That is the sinless blood, the only sinless blood; the blood most-pure, the only pure blood in the world.

O, if men would only know what is the power of absolute purity! All the impure ones from sin would rush to cleanse themselves by the All-pure Christ and all the helpless ones would rush to partake of the Blood and Body of Christ [Holy Communion]; and all the unbelieving would believe in Christ. For there is three and all three are pure and all three purify: pure spirit, pure blood and pure body, and only the pure can purify the impure; and that which is healthy can heal the unhealthy; and that which is powerful can raise the helpless.

O Lord, our omnipotent Lord, cleanse us sinners by Your bloody wound, by Your innocent and all-pure wound.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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