Prologue of Ohrid

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April 1

1. SAINT MARY THE EGYPTIAN

The biography of this wonderful saint was written by St. Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Once, during the Honorable Fast [Lenten Season], a certain priest-monk (Heiromonk), the Elder Zosimus, withdrew into the wilderness beyond the Jordan, a twenty-day trek. Suddenly, he caught sight of a human being with a withered and naked body whose hair was as white as snow and who began to flee from the sight of Zosimus. The elder ran for a long while until this person crouched down in a brook and cried out: "Abba Zosimus forgive me for the sake of the Lord. I cannot face you for I am a naked woman." Zosimus then tossed his outer garment to her which she wrapped around herself and then showed herself to him. The elder was frightened upon hearing his name spoken from the mouth of this woman he did not know. Following his prolonged insistence, the woman related her life story. She was born in Egypt and at the age of twelve began to live a life of debauchery in Alexandria where she spent seventeen years in this perverted way of life. Driven by the adulterous flame of the flesh, one day she boarded a boat which was sailing for Jerusalem. Arriving at the Holy City, she wanted to enter the church in order to venerate the Honorable Cross but some invisible force restrained her and prevented her from entering the church. In great fear, she gazed upon the icon of the All-Holy Mother of God in the vestibule and prayed that she be allowed to enter the church to venerate the Honorable Cross, all the while confessing her sinfulness and uncleanness and promising that she would go wherever the All-Pure One would direct her. She was then permitted to enter the church. Having venerated the Cross she again entered the vestibule and, before the icon, gave thanks to the Mother of God. At that very moment she heard a voice saying: "If you cross over Jordan you will find real peace!" Immediately she purchased three loaves of bread and started out for the Jordan where she arrived that same evening. The next day she received Holy Communion in the Monastery of St. John and crossed over the Jordan river. She remained in the wilderness for forty-eight years in great torment, fear and struggle with passionate thoughts as though with wild beasts. She fed on vegetation. Afterward, when she stood for prayer, Zosimus saw her levitate in the air. She begged him to bring her Holy Communion the following year on the shore of the Jordan where she would then come to receive it. The following year, Zosimus arrived on the shore of the Jordan in the evening with Holy Communion. He wondered how this saint would cross the Jordan. At that moment, in the light of the moon, he saw her as she approached the river, made the sign of the cross over it and walked upon the water as though upon dry land. After Zosimus administered Holy Communion to her, she begged him to come the following year to the same brook where they had first met. Zosimus came and discovered her lifeless body on that spot. Above her head in the sand was written: "Abba Zosimus, bury the body of the humble Mary on this site; render dust to dust. I died on April 1, the same night of the saving-suffering of Christ, after having received Communion of the Divine Mysteries." From this inscription Zosimus first learned her name and the other and awesome miracle was that, she, on that same night the previous year, when she received Holy Communion, arrived at this brook which took him twenty days to travel. Thus, Zosimus buried the body of this wonderful saint, Mary the Egyptian. When he returned to the monastery Zosimus related the entire history of her life and the miracles which he had personally witnessed. Thus, the Lord knows how to glorify penitent sinners. St. Mary is also commemorated on the Fifth Sunday of the Honorable Fast (Fifth Sunday in Lent). The Church holds her up as an example to the faithful during these fast days as an incentive for repentance. She died about the year 530 A.D.

2. SAINT MELETION, THE BISHOP OF SARDIS IN ASIA MINOR

Meletion was a celebrated shepherd of the second-century Church. Governing with great ability, he endeavored to gather all the books of Sacred Scripture into a single Codex. By his meekness and piety, Meletion again labored to restore peace in the Church of Laodicea, which arose over the controversy regarding the celebration of Pascha (The Feast of the Resurrection). Besides this, he defended Christianity against the pagans. He traveled to Rome about the year 170 A.D. and submitted to Emperor Marcus Aurelius a written Apologia (Defense) of the Faith and of the Christian Church. St. Meletion, this learned, pious and zealous man, died peacefully in the Lord in the year 177 A.D.

3. VENERABLE PROCOPIUS, THE CZECH

Procopius was born in Hotish, today's Czech Republic. He was ordained a priest and retreated to a mountain to live according to the model of eastern hermits. The Duke (Herceg) Ulrich accidentally came upon Procopius and assisted him in establishing the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner by the Sazava river. This holy man died in the year 1053 A.D.

HYMN OF PRAISE

SAINT MARY THE EGYPTIAN

Penitent wonderful, self-tormentor,

Mary hid herself from the face of men.

Oh yes, sinful me,

By passion, darkened.

Passions are beasts which eat at our heart,

In us as serpents, secretly they weave a nest.

Oh yes, sinful me,

By passion consumed!

In order to save sinners, You suffered O Christ,

Now, do not loathe impure me!

Hearken to the cry of Mary,

Of all, the most-sinful!

The Lord showed compassion, Mary He healed,

Her darkened soul, He whitened as snow.

Thanks be to You, O All-Good One,

Oh Lord, most dear!

An impure vessel You cleansed and,

With gold you gilded it,

Filled it to overflowing with Your grace -

That is true mercy,

To you O God, be glory!

And Mary became radiant with the Spirit

As an angel of God, by strength girded,

By Your power, O Christ

Mercy, Most pure!

What smells so in the awesome wilderness,

As beautiful incense in a chest of the temple?

That, Mary breathes -

With holiness, she exudes!


REFLECTION


Why is it that much is said and written about the sufferings of holy men and holy women? Because the saints, alone, are considered victors. Can anyone be a victor without conflict, pain and suffering? In ordinary earthly combat, no one can be considered victorious nor heroic who has not been in combat, tortured much or suffered greatly. The more so in spiritual combat where the truth is known and where self-boasting not only does not help at all but, indeed, hinders it. He who does not engage in combat for the sake of Christ, either with the world, with the devil or with one's self, how can he be counted among the soldiers of Christ? How, then, can it be with Christ's co-victors? St. Mary spoke about her savage spiritual combat to the Elder Zosimus: "For the first seventeen years in this wilderness I struggled with my deranged sexual desires as though with fierce beasts. I desired to eat meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also desired to drink wine and here, I did not have even water to drink. I desired to hear lustful songs. I cried and beat my breasts. I prayed to the All-Pure Mother of God to banish such thoughts from me. When I had sufficiently cried and beat my breasts, it was then that I saw a light encompassing me on all sides and a certain miraculous peace filled me."


CONTEMPLATION


To contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:

1. How the lifeless body of Him lay in the grave, Who, while living, gave life to the dead;

2. How even in death, the hatred of His enemies rage against Him;

How His disciples locked themselves in a house "for fear of the Jews" (St. John 20:19).


HOMILY


About the fulfillment of the great prophecy

"Like a lamb led to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7).

Throughout the many centuries of time the discerning Prophet Isaiah foresaw the awesome sacrifice on Golgotha. From afar he saw the Lord Jesus Christ led to the slaughter as a lamb is led to the slaughter. A lamb permits itself to be led to the laughter as it is led to the pasture: defenseless, without fear and without malice. Thus, Our Lord Christ was led to the slaughter without defense, without fear and without malice. Neither does He say: "Men, do not do this!" Neither does He question: "Why are you doing this to Me?" Neither does He condemn anyone. Neither does He protest. Neither does He become angry. Neither does He think evilly of His judges. When blood poured out over Him from the thorny wreath, He was silent. When His face was soiled from being spat upon, He was silent. When His Cross became heavy along the way, He endured. When His pain became unbearable on the Cross, He did not complain to men but to the Father. When He breathed His last, He directed His gaze and sigh toward heaven and not toward earth. For the source of His strength is heaven and not earth. The source of His consolation is in God and not in men. His true homeland is the Heavenly Kingdom and not the earthly kingdom.

"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (St. John 1:29). This was the first cry of St. John the Baptist when he saw the Lord. And, behold, now on Golgotha that prophecy was fulfilled. Behold, under the weight of the sins of the entire world, the Lamb of God lay slaughtered and lifeless.

O brethren, this is a costly sacrifice even for our sins. The blood of this sinless and meek Lamb was destined for all times and all generations, from the first to the last person on earth. Christ also felt the pains on the Cross for our sins even those of the present day. He also wept in the Garden of Gethsemane for our wickedness, our weakness and our sinfulness. He also destined His blood for us. Brethren let us not then despise this indescribable costly price by which we have been redeemed. Because of these sacrifices of Christ we, indeed, have some worth as people. Without these sacrifices, or if we disavow these sacrifices, our worth, by itself alone, is equal to nothing. It is equal to smoke without a flame or a cloud without light.

O Lord, unequaled in mercy, have mercy on us also!

 

April 2

1. VENERABLE TITUS, THE MIRACLE-WORKER

From his youth, Titus loved Christ the Lord and detested the vanities of the world. Because of this, he retreated from the world, entered a monastery and received the Great Angelic Habit [The Great Schema-The Angelic Face]. Not feeling any remorse, he dedicated himself to the somber and narrow path of monasticism. Through great patience, he attained two basic virtues: that of humility and obedience. In these virtues, he surpassed "not only the brethren, but also all men." From his youth he preserved the purity of his soul and body. At the time of the Iconoclastic heresy he proved himself to be an unwavering pillar of the Church of God. Because of his great humility and purity, God bestowed upon him the gift of performing miracles, both during his life-time and after his death. When he was translated to the Lord he left behind a countless number of disciples. He died peacefully in the ninth century.

2. THE HOLY MARTYRS AMPHIANUS AND EDESIUS

These two young men were blood brothers from the city of Patara of distinguished but pagan parents. While they were studying the secular sciences in the city of Beirut, they were enlightened by the Spirit of God, and acknowledging the falsehood of paganism, discerned the truth of Christianity. When they returned home they could no longer live with their pagan parents and kinsmen and secretly fled to Caesarea in Palestine to the presbyter Pamphilius, renown for his sanctity and spiritual learning. With Pamphilius, they studied the Law of God day and night and practiced Christian asceticism. It is said of Pamphilius that he was twenty years old according to the flesh but, in understanding and generosity, he was a hundred years old. When a persecution began during the reign of Maximian, many Christians fled the city and hid themselves. Others, willingly and rejoicefully, gave themselves into the hands of the persecutors in order to suffer for the Name of Him, Who first suffered for them. Amphianus was among the latter. Unafraid, he entered a pagan temple where Prince Urban was offering sacrifices to the idols, grabbed the prince by the hand which was holding the sacrifice and cried to him to refrain from serving and making sacrificial offerings to dead idols and to acknowledge the True God. Some of the pagans who heard these words and witnessing the great courage of Amphianus, repented and embraced the Faith of Christ. The enraged prince subjected Amphianus to torture. Among the other tortures, they wrapped the legs of Amphianus with cotton and set them on fire. When he remained alive, they tossed his body into the sea with a stone around his neck. The sea became turbulent and hurled his martyred body back into the city. At first, Edesius was sent to a cooper mine in Palestine and was later taken to Egypt. In Alexandria, Edesius was filled with holy zeal against a certain Prince Hierocles who, in the market place, assembled Christian nuns, maidens and virtuous women and handed them over to the most shameful perverts for derision. Edesius, filled with holy zeal, struck the disgraceful prince. For that, he was tortured and drowned in the sea as was his brother Amphianus. As two innocent lambs, they were sacrificed for Christ about the year 306 A.D. and were translated to the glorious mansions of the Lord.

HYMN OF PRAISE

SAINT AMPHIANUS AND EDESIUS

As a sacrifice, two brothers offered themselves to God,
Despising the decaying world; a dead corpse,
Amphianus and Edesius, blood brothers both,
In sufferings, wonderful brothers, pleasing to Christ.

He who has faith in God, does not value the world,
To a dead soul, the world can replace God.

Whoever has love for Christ; of death, he is not afraid,
Among the immortal and even before death, he is already numbered.

Whoever considers death as the gloomy end; the end of the inglorious,
That one must consider himself a slave of despair.

Death; the martyrs considered the veil of heaven,
An example they gave; that to fear death is not necessary.

That there is no heaven, O man, do not fear
But, fear the Dreadful Judgment which heaven prepares.

For a sinner it would be easier if heaven did not exist,
That is why the sinner with anger questions:

But heaven, where is it?

O sinner, heaven is not there, where you are,
Together, you and heaven will never be.

REFLECTION

"It is better to be a simpleton and to approach God with love than to be a know-it-all and, at the same time, be an enemy of God." These are the words of the priest-martyr, St. Iraneaus of Lyon. The truth of these words have been confirmed at all times and is also confirmed in our time. One thing must be added to this, namely, that the lovers of God are not simpletons because they know God well enough that they are able to love Him. Of all human knowledge, this knowledge is more important and greater. To this must be added that the enemies of God cannot be more knowledgeable, even though they consider themselves as such, because their knowledge is unavoidably chaotic, for it does not have a source and does not have order. For the source and order of all knowledge is God. Some of the saints, such as Paul the Simple, did not know how to read or write yet with the strength of their spirit and divine love surpassed the entire world. Whosoever approaches God with love, that person is not capable of crime. Knowledge without love toward God is motivated by the spirit of criminality and war. St. Euthymius the Great taught: "Have love; for what salt is to food, love is to every virtue." Every virtue is tasteless and cold if it is not seasoned and warmed by divine love.

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the Lord Jesus in Hades:

1. How His plan for salvation is all abundant, encompassing all generations and all ages from the beginning to the end;

2. How He came to earth in the flesh, not only for the sake of those who lived on earth then but also for the sake of those who will live and for those who have lived;

3. How He, while His lifeless body lay in the tomb, descended into Hades with His soul and announced salvation and redemption to the fettered.

HOMILY

About the Living God and about His living children

"So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8).

Whose are we while we live? We are the Lord's. Whose are we after we die? We are the Lord's. Whose are the righteous? They are the Lord's. Whose are the sinners? They are the Lord's. The Lord embraces all, both the living and the dead, those of the past, those of the present and those of the future. No one is so all-embracing as is the Lord Jesus. Who, of those so-called philanthropists of mankind, teachers, leaders or enlighteners ever attempted to perform any good for the dead? This can be decisively answered: never and no one! This thought alone would be ridiculous even in the eyes of the world - to do something good for the dead? This is amusing to all those who think that death is mightier than God and that which death swallows up is destroyed for ever. To be concerned about the dead, to do good for the dead ceased to be amusing since the revelation of the Lord Jesus, Who revealed that He is God, the God of the living; Who revealed in His works, by descending into Hades to redeem and to save the souls of the righteous from the time of Adam to the time of His death on the cross.

All-embracing is our All-glorious Lord, Who, by His discerning thoughts, reflects about everyone and sees everyone born of women; those who are above the graves and those who are in the graves. So it is with His love, for He embraces all the souls of the righteous regardless of the time and place which conceals them. Finally, even by His labors, for He labors for all of them, to redeem all of them, to save them, and to lead them into the kingdom and to glorify them before the face of His Heavenly Father, the Life-giving Spirit and the myriads of holy angels.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

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