Prologue from Ochrid - September 3 [September 16]
1. The Hieromartyr Anthimus.
Born in Nicomedia, he was brought up from childhood as a true Christian. 'His body was mortified, his spirit humble; jealousy was uprooted, anger tamed, sloth banished. ... he had love for all and was at peace with all, had a good understanding with all, was filled with zeal for the glory of God and was open to all.' It is not surprising that a man of such virtues was made a bishop. St Anthimus worked as a bishop in Nicomedia at the time of a harsh persecution of Christians under the two wicked Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. Streams of Christian blood were spilled, especially in Nicomedia. One year, on the feast of the Nativity of Christ, twenty thousand martyrs were burned in one church (see Dec. 28th). This happened during Anthimus's episcopate. The persecution did not end with this, but continued, and many Christians were thrown into prison and kept there for torture and death. St Anthimus withdrew to a village, Omana, not to escape death but to be able thence to strengthen his flock in the path of martyrdom, that none should draw back through fear. One of his letters to the Christians in prison was seized and taken to the Emperor Maximian. The Emperor sent twenty soldiers to find Anthimus and take him. The grey-beard, discerning this, went out to meet the soldiers, brought them into his house as his guests and only then revealed that he was Anthimus. The soldiers, amazed at his kindness, urged him to hide, and said that they would tell the Emperor that they had been unable to find him, but Anthimus replied that he dared not allow God's Law to be violated by a lie in order to save his life. So he set out with the soldiers. On the way, all the soldiers came to faith in Christ and were baptised by Anthimus. Brought before the Emperor, Anthimus was submitted to harsh and long-drawn-out torture, and was finally beheaded with an axe. He glorified God and entered into rest in the Lord at the beginning of the fourth century.
2. The Holy Martyr Vasilissa.
A nine-year-old girl, she suffered in Nicomedia not long after the death of Anthimus. The torturers covered her whole body with wounds, but she remained faithful to Christ. God preserved her unharmed in fire and before wild beasts. Her torturer, Alexander, seeing these wonders, repented and became a Christian. Vasilissa went out into a field, fell on her knees and prayed to God, thanking Him for her endurance under torture, and, while thus praying, gave her soul into God's hands. This was in the year 309.
3. St Joannicius, Archbishop and First Patriarch of Serbia.
Born in Prizren, he served at first as secretary to King Dusan. He became Archbishop in 1339, and in 1346 was raised to the rank of Patriarch. He was a zealous pastor, and brought order to the Serbian Church, being 'a great upholder of the Church's laws'. He entered into rest on September 3rd, 1349, and his relics are preserved at Pec.
4. Our Holy Father Theoctistus.
A faster and fellow-ascetic of St Euthymius the Great, Theoctistus was abbot of Euthymius's monastery six miles from Jerusalem, on the road to Jericho. He was in all things a disciple of Euthymius, governing the monastery under his guidance to the age of ninety. He led a godly life, and entered into rest in the middle of the fifth century, in the time of Patriarch Anastasius of Jerusalem.
He who desires to be saved must be absolutely obedient to spiritual authority. Without this obedience, a man can perish even with the greatest desire for salvation. The great saints, who prescribed obedience as the condition for salvation, also fulfilled the act of obedience to perfection. When St. Simeon chose the pillar for his ascesis, it struck the other ascetics as some kind of novelty. Because they did not know if this form of asceticism was of the Spirit of God or of the spirit of pride, the desert fathers sent spiritual men to determine the answer. The monks were to command Simeon in their name to come down from the pillar. If he did not want to come down, it would have meant that his elevation on the pillar was from the spirit of pride. But if he obeyed the command and began to descend, they were to leave him as he was, for his readiness to obey would show that his asceticism was from the Holy Spirit. When those sent arrived and told Simeon that the council of the holy fathers of the desert commanded him to descend from the pillar, Simeon immediately began to climb down the ladder. Seeing his obedience, they cried out to him rejoicing: "Do not come down, holy Father, but remain where you are. We see now that your asceticism is of God."
Contemplate God's punishment of David for his sins (II Samuel 13):
- How Amnon, David's son, defiled David's daughter, Tamara;
- How Absalom, David's son, slew Amnon his brother because of this;
- How David wept bitterly.
On the Word of God revealed in the flesh
And the Word was made flesh (John 1:14).
Here, brethren, is a new, blessed and salvific beginning for us-the beginning of our salvation. Adam was in the flesh when he fell under the authority of sin and death. Now the Creator of Adam has appeared in the flesh, to deliver Adam and Adam's posterity from the power of sin and death. The Son of God-the Word, Wisdom, Light and Life-descended among men in human flesh and with a human soul. He was incarnate but not divided from His Divinity. He descended without being separated from His Father. He retained all that He had been and would be for all eternity, and yet He received something new: human nature. His eternal attributes were not diminished by the Incarnation, neither was His relationship to the Father and the Spirit changed. Lo, the Father testified to this, both on the Jordan and on Mount Tabor: This is my beloved Son! He did not say: "This was my Son," but "This is my Son." The Holy Spirit was with Him at His bodily conception and throughout His mission on earth. The divine and human nature were united in Him, but not intermingled. How? Do not ask, you who do not even know how to explain yourself to yourself, and cannot say how your soul and body are united in you. Only know this: God came to visit the earth, bringing unspeakably rich treasures for mankind-royal gifts, incorruptible, eternal, priceless and irreplaceable gifts. Know this and let your heart dance for joy. Strive to cleanse your hands, purify your senses, wash your soul, whiten your heart, and set your mind straight, that you may receive the royal gifts. For they are not given to the unclean.
O Lord Jesus Christ, help us to cleanse and wash ourselves by Thy blood and Thy Spirit, that we may be made worthy of Thy royal gifts.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK