Prologue from Ochrid - September 4 [September 17]
1. The Hieromartyr Babylas.
This `great and wonderful man, if one can call him a man', as St John Chrysostom expresses it, was archbishop in Antioch in the time of the wicked Emperor Numerian. This Numerian made a peace treaty with some barbarian king, who was of better character and a greater lover of peace than himself. As a sign of his sincere desire for a lasting peace, the king gave his little son to be brought up at Numerian's court. One day, Numerian butchered the boy and offered him as a sacrifice to the idols. Still hot from his wicked shedding of innocent blood, this evildoer went to a Christian church to see what was happening there. Holy Babylas was at prayer with the people. He heard that the Emperor was coming with his retinue and intended to enter the church. Babylas stopped the service, went out in front of the church and told the Emperor that, as an idolater, he was not permitted entry to the holy church where the one, true God was worshipped. Speaking of Babylas, Chrysostom says: 'Who else in the world would he fear, having with such authority withstood the Emperor? By this he taught kings not to spread their power further than the measure given them by God, and also showed the clergy how to use their authority.' The shamed Emperor turned back, but planned revenge. The following day, the Emperor summoned Babylas, and began to berate him and bid him offer sacrifice to idols, which the saint, naturally, steadfastly refused to do. The Emperor then bound him with chains and threw him into prison. He also tortured three children: Urban, aged twelve, Prilidian, aged nine and Hippolinus, aged seven. Babylas was their spiritual father and teacher, and they had stayed near him out of love for him. They were the sons of a Christian woman, Christodoula, who herself suffered for Christ. The Emperor first ordered that each child be beaten with the number of blows that totalled his age, and then had them thrown into prison. Babylas, in bonds, was present at the beheading of the children, giving them courage, and then laid his honoured head under the sword. He was buried by Christians, in the chains in which he was bound at his death, in one grave with the three children. Their holy souls flew off to the company of heaven, and their wonderworking relics remained to be of support to the faithful, along with the enduring witness of their heroism in the Faith. They suffered in about 283.
2. The Holy Prophet Moses, who beheld God.
A great leader and lawgiver of Israel, he was born in Egypt in about 1550 B.C. He spent forty years in Egypt at Pharaoh's court, forty years as a shepherd in meditation on God and the world, and his last forty years he led the people through the wilderness to the Promised Land, which he saw but did not enter, having at one time sinned against God (Numbers 20:12). He entered into rest at the age of a hundred and twenty. He appeared from the other world on Tabor at the Lord's Transfiguration, and, according to the testimony of St John of the Ladder, appeared to the monks of Sinai.
3. The Holy Martyrs Mareellus and Cassian.
The Emperor Maximian Hercules (285-305) ordered that all the army offer sacrifice to idols. Marcellus was a soldier at this time, and Cassian a notary. Marcellus, as a Christian, said: 'If a soldier's calling is tied up with the offering of sacrifice to idols, I cannot be a soldier', and he took off his military belt and weapons and threw them from him. He was immediately condemned to death. Cassian had to put this death-sentence into writing, and he refused to do so. They were beheaded together, and their souls went to the heavenly Kingdom.
A saint's power after his death is often many times greater than in life. "That is why God left us the relics of the saints," says St. John Chrysostom in his unsurpassable homily on St. Babylas. St. Babylas was buried in the city of Antioch. At that time, Emperor Gallus-the brother of Julian the Apostate-was reigning together with Constantius, the son of Constantine the Great. Inspired by piety, Gallus translated the relics of St. Babylas to the outskirts of Daphne and built a small church, placing the relics of the martyr in it. There was a famous temple of Apollo in Daphne, built on the spot where, according to a pagan legend, a virgin had turned into a laurel tree in order to be saved from the "god" Apollo, who was pursuing her out of unrestrained fleshly passion for her. There stood the idol of Apollo, which allegedly could foretell anyone's future. But, as the relics of Babylas now rested in the vicinity of the temple, the demon from the idol fell silent and ceased making prophesies. Later, when Emperor Julian the Apostate set out on his catastrophic war with the Persians, he visited the temple of Apollo and consulted the idol about the outcome of his impending war. The idol responded with trepidation that it could not render a clear response "because of the dead" buried in its proximity. Of course, that pertained to Babylas, the presence of whose body had silenced the demon. Julian ordered that the relics of Babylas be transported back to Antioch. However, as soon as the relics of the martyr were removed, fire fell from heaven and consumed the temple of Apollo, destroying it forever. Julian set out against the Persians and his blasphemous life came to a horrible end. Such was the power of Christ's martyr after death: he silenced the demon, brought down fire from heaven, destroyed the idolatrous temple, and punished the apostate emperor with a dishonorable death.
Contemplate God's punishment of David for his sins (II Samuel 15):
- How Absalom, David's son, raised a rebellion against his father;
- How David fled from Jerusalem before his son, and went barefoot and wept.
On the changing of water into wine
This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee (John 2:11).
Our God is Almighty; and His power has no limit and is beyond description. He created all that was created by His Word: By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made(Psalm 33:6). By His Word, He created the body of man. By the Word of God, lifeless earth is transformed into the bodies of men, animals and plants. By the Word of God, flowing water is changed into vapor, and vapor into ice and snow. By this same Word, the water in a vine is changed into wine, wine that maketh glad the heart of man (Psalm 104:15). Therefore, how difficult a miracle was it for the Word of God Incarnate-Christ our Lord-to change water into wine in Cana? For us men, darkened by sin, this is a great miracle; for our nature, weakened by sin, it is an unattainable miracle. Yet, isn't the working of miracles the usual occupation of the Creator? When the servants filled the six large vessels with water, the Lord Christ said to them: Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast (John 2:8). He did not even say, "Let the water become wine," he merely thought it. For God's thoughts have the same power as His words.
Why is it said that this was the "beginning of miracles," when it appears that, long before this miracle, the Lord worked other miracles? Because, brethren, the changing of water into wine is the fundamental miracle of Christ, and is the essence of all His miracles. Human nature was diluted with its own tears, and it was necessary to change it into wine. The divine spark in man was extinguished, and it was necessary to rekindle it. Infirmity is like water, health is like wine; the impurities of the evil spirits are like water, purity is like wine; death is like water, life is like wine; ignorance is like water, truth is like wine. Hence, whenever the Lord made the sick whole, the impure pure, the dead alive, and prodigals enlightened, He essentially turned water into wine.
O Lord our God, Thou miraculous Transformer of water into wine: bring Thy divine flame to our extinguished hearth. Transform the water of our being into divine wine, that we may be like unto Thee-and that we may thus abide with Thee in Thine Immortal Kingdom, with Thy radiant angels.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK