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Prologue from Ochrid - August 21 [September 3]

1. The Holy Apostle Thaddaeus.

One of the Seventy, he was not that Thaddaeus who was one of the Twelve. St Thaddaeus first saw and heard John the Baptist, and then saw the Lord Jesus and followed Him. The Lord included him among His seventy, lesser apostles, whom He sent two and two before His face (Luke 10:1). After His glorious Resurrection and Ascension, the Lord sent Thaddaeus to Edessa, Thaddaeus's birthplace, in fulfilment of His promise to Avgar, which He made when He sent him the napkin with the imprint of His face. By kissing this napkin, Avgar was healed of his leprosy, though not entirely; a little of the leprosy remained on his face. When St Thaddaeus visited Avgar, the latter received him with great joy. Christ's Apostle instructed him in the true Faith and then baptised him. When the baptised Avgar came up out of the water, the remaining leprosy fell from him and he was completely healed. Glorifying God, Prince Avgar desired that his people should come to the knowledge of the true God and glorify Him. The prince called together all the citizens of Edessa before the holy Apostle Thaddaeus, to hear him preach about Christ. Hearing the Apostie's words and seeing their miraculously-healed prince, the people cast away their idols and their unclean living, embraced the Christian faith and were baptised, and the city of Edessa became resplendent with the Christian faith. Prince Avgar brought much gold and offered it to the Apostle, but Thaddaeus said to him: 'Having abandoned my own, do I accept another's?' St Thaddaeus preached the Gospel throughout Syria and Phoenicia, and entered into rest in the Lord in the Phoenician city of Beirut.

2. The Holy Martyr Bassa and her children: Theognius, Agapius and Pistus.

Bassa was the wife of a pagan priest, but she was secretly a Christian and brought her sons up in a Christian spirit. Her husband hated her for her faith, and handed her over to the judge for torture, together with her sons. After harsh torture, her sons were beheaded (it is thought, in Edessa in Macedonia). Bassa was filled with joy to see her sons thus gloriously finish their martyrs' course for Christ, and herself went with yet greater desire from torture to torture. When she was thrown into the sea, angels appeared to her and took her to an island in the Sea of Marmara, where she was slain with the sword under Maximian. Thus holy Bassa was in a twofold manner made worthy of the Kingdom of Christ: as a martyr and as the mother of martyrs.

3. Our Holy Father Abraham of Smolensk.

Born in the town of Smolensk at the prayers of his parents, he early embraced the monastic state and gave himself to strict asceticism, emulating the holy fathers of the desert. He later founded the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Smolensk. He underwent many temptations from demons and from men, enduring them with great fortitude and thanksgiving to God. At a time of great drought, he brought rain by his prayers. Living fifty years in asceticism, he entered peacefully into rest in the Lord in about 1220.

4. Our Holy Forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

They are also commemorated on the Sunday of the Forefathers before Christmas, as righteous and pleasing to God.

Reflection

Magnanimous forgiveness of slanderers and prayer for them is a characteristic of Christian saints who do not ascribe all the slanders against themselves to men but rather to demons, the main instigators of every slander as well as every sin in general. St. Abraham of Smolensk was slandered by envious priests to the prince and the bishop as a deceiver, magician and hypocrite. The slanders sought nothing less than to have him burned. The prince and the bishop believed the slanderers and Abraham was banished from Smolensk and was forbidden to exercise his priestly functions. During the entire time of his investigation and trial, Abraham repeated the prayer of St. Stephen, the first martyr: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts of the Apostles 7:60). Later it was established that all of the accusers against Abraham lied and slandered. The infuriated prince wanted to severely punish the slanderers and the bishop wanted to excommunicate them from the Church but the holy Abraham fell on his knees before the bishop and, with tears, begged him to forgive them. Abraham did not want to return to his monastery nor to begin again to exercise his priestly functions until his slanderers were shown mercy and released.

Contemplation

To contemplate David and Saul, a man with the spirit of God and a man without the spirit of God (1 Samuel 18 1 Kings 18):

  1. How Saul feared David because of his virtues and how David was obedient to Saul in everything;
  2. How Saul hypocritically rewarded David but sent him among the Philistines so that he would be killed;
  3. How an apostate from God always fears the most godly man.

Homily

About the wondrous stone in Zion

"Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation: he that believes in it shall not be ashamed" (Isaiah 28:16).

Brethren, this wondrous stone is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. For if the prophet thought of it as an ordinary stone, he would not have mentioned faith in it [the stone], otherwise he would have prophesied idolatry. The Prophet Daniel also speaks about a stone which rolled down the hill and smashed the great idol and grew as a great mountain and filled the whole earth: "Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were made of iron and clay and broke them into pieces…and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34-35). The prophecy about the stone in Daniel is for pagans and the prophecy about the stone in Isaiah is for Jews. The Lord Jesus Christ is that stone which is laid first, in the foundation of God's entire creation, for He is the Word of God and the Wisdom of God; second, as the foundation of the Old Testament as the preparation and third, as the foundation of the New Testament as the fulfillment. The "corner-stone", that is the firmest and the strongest stone which connects and joins other stones and holds the walls of various directions [angels] in oneness and in wholeness. If we observe the Lord Christ within us, He is the "corner-stone" which binds and ties our various spiritual capabilities in unity and wholeness so that all work toward one goal, in the direction of God and the Kingdom of God. If we observe Christ the Lord in the history of mankind, He is the "corner-stone" which ties and binds Judaism and paganism in one House of God, in the Church of God. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 3:11) says the apostle of the New Testament in agreement with the prophet of the Old Testament. Whoever has, until now, believed in that Stone of Salvation was not ashamed. Neither will anyone ever be ashamed who would believe in it. For this stone is a "sure foundation" and truly a "chosen stone", a "precious and honorable stone".

O Lord Jesus, our Stone of Salvation, strengthen the faith in us, that holy and salvatory faith in You, our only Savior.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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