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Prologue from Ochrid - September 16 [September 29]

1. The Holy and Great Martyr Euphemia.

Born in Chalcedon, her father was the senator Philophronus and her mother's name was Theodorisia, both devout Christians. Euphemia was a girl beautiful in both body and soul. When the Proconsul, Priscus, celebrated a festival of sacrifice to Ares in Chalcedon, forty-nine Christians absented themselves from the festivities and hid themselves. But they were discovered and brought before Priscus, holy Euphemia being among them. When the furious Priscus asked them why they had not carried out the imperial command, they replied: 'Both the Emperor's commands and yours must be obeyed if they are not contrary to the God of heaven. If they are, they must not only not be obeyed; they must be resisted.' Then Priscus put them to various tortures for nineteen days, from day to day. On the twelfth day, he held Euphemia apart from the others and began to flatter her beauty, hoping to bring her thus to idolatry. When all his flattery proved fruitless, he ordered that she be tortured. First, she was put on a wheel, but an angel of God appeared and broke it. Then he had her thrown into a fiery furnace, but she was preserved by God's power. Seeing this, two soldiers, Victor and Sosthenes, came to faith in Christ, for which they were thrown to the wild beasts and thus finished their earthly course with glory. After that, Euphemia was thrown into a pit filled with water and all kinds of poisonous reptiles, but she made the sign of the Cross over the water as she went into the pit, and remained unharmed. She was finally thrown to the wild beasts and, with a prayer of thanksgiving, gave her soul into God's hands. Her parents buried her body. She suffered in the year 303, and entered into eternal joy. (St Euphemia is also commemorated on July 11th).

2. Our Holy Father Dorotheus.

An Egyptian hermit of the fourth century, he lived in asceticism for sixty years in a cell in the Thebaid. He was distinguished by a rare love of labour and by wonderworking power. By day he built cells for the new monks and by night plaited mats, never interrupting his prayer and psalmody.

3. St Cyprian, Metropolitan of Kiev.

Born in Trnovo and given a Serbian* upbringing on the Holy Mountain, he devoted himself especially to the translation and writing of books. His patron was Patriarch Philotheos of Constantinople, who came to know him on the Holy Mountain, took him into his service and then sent him to Kiev as Metropolitan. He lived through all this with greatness of soul and, by his fruitful labours, brought much benefit to the Russian Church, spending almost thirty years as Metropolitan. At the time of his death, he wrote a Farewell which was read at his graveside. He entered into rest on September 16th, 1406, and his wonderworking relics are preserved in the Church of the Dormition in Moscow.

*Author's note: Metropolitan Philaret writes that Cyprian was a Serb. See his 'Lives'.

4. The Holy Martyr Ludmilla.

The grandmother of the Czech King Vatslav (Wenceslas) and wife of the Czech Prince Borivoy, she was very zealous for the Christian faith and was greatly instrumental in freeing the Church from paganism. Her daughter-in-law hated her, and sent men to kill the aged Ludmilla in Techino in 927. Vatslav buried her in the Church of St George in Prague, and many miracles were wrought over her relics. Holy Vatslav, a great zealot for the Orthodox faith, was murdered by his brother Boleslav.

Reflection

Often unexpected misfortune befalls us, and in vain we ask "why?" The Church of Christ alone knows how to explain the cause of every misfortune. The Church basically classifies misfortunes into two groups. Some misfortunes befall the sinner because of old, unrepented sins. Other misfortunes assault the righteous and serve, according to the words of St. John Chrysostom, "as a means of receiving a wreath, as was the case with Lazarus and Job." The Empress Eudocia secretly agreed with the Eutychian heresy, having heeded the counsel of the perfidious eunuch Chrysaphius. But misfortune unexpectedly befell her. One day her husband, Emperor Theodosius, brought her an apple of unusual size. The empress sent the apple to the ailing senator Paulinus and he, out of love for the emperor, sent this same apple to Emperor Theodosius. This gave the emperor reason to suspect an illicit relationship between his wife and the senator. The emperor asked his wife to show him the apple he had given her. The empress lied and said: "I ate it!" This made the emperor's suspicion even stronger, and he banished Eudocia to Palestine. In time Eudocia cured herself of heresy, and through the counsels of the great Palestinian spiritual fathers returned completely to Orthodoxy. The misfortune that befell the empress did not arise from an illicit relationship with Paulinus-in this, she was completely innocent-but because of her heretical disposition. A second but different case: When he was still a military commander, the future Emperor Marcian was traveling near Philipopolis and saw the corpse of a murdered man on the road. Out of pure compassion, he got off his horse and started to bury the corpse. Just then someone came by and saw him burying the corpse, and reported him to the court as a murderer. Marcian would have been punished by death, had God not shortly revealed the true murderer. This kind of misfortune falls into that second category-"for the receiving of a wreath." Shortly after this, General Marcian was chosen to be emperor.

Contemplation

Contemplate God's wondrous judgment with regard to men (I Kings 14):

  1. How Jeroboam's son became ill and died, for the punishment of his apostate father and for his own salvation;
  2. How the rest of Jeroboam's men perished, and were eaten by dogs in the city and by birds in the field.

Homily

On the Lord, the holder of power

I have power to lay it [My life] down and I have power to take it again(John 10:18).

The divine power of our Lord Jesus Christ manifested itself in His complete power over Himself. If divine power could be separated from divine love, then it could be said of Christ that He would have been able to incarnate, or not incarnate; or again, that He would have been able die, or not die. But, He became incarnate according to His divine love for men and, according to this same inexpressible love, He gave Himself up to death as a Good Shepherd for His sheep (John 10:11). A man who kills himself does not truly have power over his life, for he does not kill himself by his own power, but rather by the power of sin, or by the power of the devil, or by the power of some other grave circumstance. So also, a man whom others kill has no power over his life, nor can he speak for his life before his murderers: he cannot say I have power to lay it down, for he must lay it down unwillingly. Only our Lord Jesus Christ could say in the presence of his murderers, the Jews: I have power to lay it down. Having that power, He could, by a miracle that would have been easy for Him, have made all the Jews perish before they crucified Him on the Cross. Yet He foresaw the saving fruits of His death, and that is why He willingly gave Himself up to be slain.

And I have power to take it again. With these words He foretold His Resurrection. Therefore, the Lord both died and resurrected by His divine power.

O Almighty and man-loving Lord, how beautifully Thou didst plan the salvation of men by Thy divine power and love. Help us, O help us, that we might embrace that salvation!

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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