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Prologue from Ochrid - September 10 [September 23]

1. The Holy Martyrs Menodora, Metrodora and Nymphodora.

They were three sisters from some place in Asian Bithynia. Brought up in a Christian spirit, they withdrew from the city into the desert, desiring to lift up their minds to God and free themselves from the illusory world, and thus to live their lives in purity and virginity as true brides of Christ. They gave themselves to fasting, prayer and toil, and God adorned them with the gift of wonderworking. When people began to bring the sick to them for healing, they became known against their will. A certain governor, Fronton, heard of them and brought them to trial. Seeing them, the governor was amazed at their beauty, for, although they were nuns and their bodies were withered, their faces were radiant, illumined by an inner peace and the grace of God. The governor at first flattered them and promised to send them to the Emperor, who would give them in marriage to his nobles, but, when he realised that his flattery and promises were having no effect on these brides of Christ the Lord, he ordered that Menodora be put to torture and her sisters be thrown into prison. After harsh torture, the governor cried to Menodora, all wounded and covered in blood: 'Offer sacrifice to the gods!' To this the holy martyr replied: 'Don't you see that I am doing nothing but offer myself in sacrifice to my God?' When she expired under torture, the governor brought out her two sisters and stood them beside Menodora's dead body, and, pointing to it, urged them to deny Christ. As they remained steadfast, he tortured them to death. At that, a thunderbolt fell from the sky and killed the soul-less Fronton and his servants. Christians buried the bodies of these holy martyrs, who suffered some time between 305 and 311, in the time of Galerius, and entered into rest in the Kingdom of Christ.

2. St Pulcheria the Empress.

Daughter of the Emperor Arcadius, she vowed to remain in perpetual virginity, and, as an earnest of this vow, had a table of gold and precious stones made for the cathedral. She reigned together with her brother Theodosius the Younger, and was greatly zealous for the Orthodox faith. It was at her instigation that the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus was summoned, which condemned the Nestorian heresy. She built the famous church of the Mother of God at Blachernae in Constantinople. After Theodosius's death, she married Marcian, who was chosen as Emperor, and lived with him as a brother. It was she who found the relics of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. She entered into rest in the Lord on September 10th, 453, at the age of fifty-five.

3. Ss Apollos, Lucius and Clement.

Apostles among the Seventy: Apollos (Acts 18:24-25) was bishop in Smyrna before St Polycarp. St Lucius (Rom. 16:21) was bishop in Laodicea and St Clement was bishop in Sardis.

4. The Three Holy Women of Constantinople.

A noblewoman of Constantinople with her two handmaids, they scorned the vanity of the world and withdrew to solitude, where, after eleven years of asceticism, they entered into rest in the Lord.

Reflection

Examples of courage and patience displayed by martyred Christian women-thousands upon thousands of them-have shone with radiant glory on all the pages of the history of the Christian Church. However, as amazing as these examples of voluntary martyrs are, the examples of ascetics, known and unknown, are not a bit less amazing, for asceticism is nothing less than prolonged martyrdom. Paul, the Bishop of Monemvasia, has given to posterity an instructive example of women ascetics. While he was still a layman and a collector of the royal tax, it happened that he stayed in a certain monastery. Seeing ravens landing on the fruit trees, breaking off branches with fruit and carrying them away, Paul wondered at this, and followed them with the monks to see where they were taking the fruit. Going thus, they came upon an impassable forest. The ravens landed at the bottom, deposited the broken fruit branches, and quickly returned. Paul and the monks investigated, and discovered a cave in which three women ascetics were living. The oldest one related their life story to them: She was of noble birth, from Constantinople. When her husband died, another nobleman wanted to take her as his wife by force. However, she decided that after the death of her first husband she would spend the remainder of her life in chastity. Therefore she distributed her wealth to the poor and fled to this deserted place with two of her maidservants. They lived there for eleven years in fasting and prayer, seeing no one and seen by no one but God. God the Provider arranged for the birds to bring them fruit for nourishment. Then they asked the abbot to bring them Holy Communion. Three days after they had received Holy Communion, all three of these holy women reposed, and the monks honorably buried them.

Contemplation

Contemplate the riches and glory of Solomon (I Kings 5:5-10):

  1. How Solomon built a majestic Temple to God and then built cities and ships;
  2. How the neighboring rulers were amazed at Solomon; how Hiram served him and the Queen of Sheba visited him;
  3. How Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed as gloriously as a lily of the field.

Homily

On how sinful men prefer to receive an evildoer rather than a doer of good

I am come in My Father's name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive(John 5:43).

Who is this "other" who will come in his own name, and whom sinful men will prefer to receive rather than Christ the Lord? It is he who does not carry the cross and does not walk the narrow path; he who is not a lover of man but rather a hater of man; he who does not struggle against sin but rather struggles for sin; he who loves impurity and spreads impurity; he who is a soldier of eternal death and not of eternal life; he who flatters the godless and loves every passion and vice: he is Antichrist. He will come in his own name and not in the name of God, and all those who did not receive Christ will receive him. He will be more dear to them, for he will embrace all their crooked and sinful paths. He will be more dear to them than Christ, for alongside the difficult path of Christ he will build a path smooth as ice, over which men will easily slide, not thinking about the abyss to which it leads them. The Lord Jesus Christ came in the name of the eternal salvation of men, eternal life, eternal truth and eternal justice. Antichrist will come in his own name, that is, in the name of eternal destruction, death, falsehood and injustice. When the Antichrist comes among his own, his own will gladly receive him. In fact, all those for whom Christ is difficult will gladly receive Antichrist, for he and his path will appear easy to them. Only when it is too late will the foolish see that they were deceived, but there will be no salvation for them. When they begin to slide into eternal night, into the jaws of the fetid serpent, then it will be too late; repentance will not be accepted and there will be no salvation. The foolish banquet of earthly sinners and Antichrist will be over quickly, in the blink of an eye, and the house of impure joy will turn into a hopeless prison of remorse and misery. Then it will be too late.

O man-loving Lord, the only friend of man, Thee only do we know and recognize. Thee, only Thee, do we receive as our Savior and salvation.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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