Prologue of Ohrid

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April 4

1. VENERABLE JOSEPH THE HYMNOGRAPHER

Joseph was born in Sicily of pious and virtuous parents, Plotinus and Agatha. After the death of his parents, Joseph moved to Thessalonica where he was tonsured a monk. As a monk, he was a model to all in fasting, extreme restraint, ceaseless prayer, chanting of the Psalms, vigils and labor. The bishop of Thessalonica ordained him a priest [Heiromonk]. While visiting Thessalonica the distinguished Gregory Decapolis was so impressed with Joseph, because of his rare character, that he invited him to his monastery in Constantinople. When the flame of the Iconoclastic heresy erupted again under Leo V, the Armenian, Joseph was sent to Rome to call upon the Pope and the Roman Church to battle for Orthodoxy. While enroute, Joseph was captured by pirates and taken to Crete where the heretics detained him in prison for six years. Joseph rejoiced that he was made worthy to suffer for Christ and, for that, he continually praised God, considering the iron chains on him as an adornment of gold. Early in the morning on Christmas day, in the sixth year of Joseph's imprisonment, the wicked Emperor Leo was slain in church while attending Matins. At that same moment, St. Nicholas appeared to Joseph in prison and said to him:" Arise and follow me!" Joseph felt himself being elevated in the air and, all at once, found himself before the gates of Constantinople. All true believers rejoiced at his coming. He composed canons and hymns for many saints. He possessed the "gift of discernment" for which Patriarch Photius appointed him the spiritual father and confessor for priests recommending him as, "A man of God, an angel in the flesh and father of fathers." In extreme old age, Joseph gave up his soul to the Lord Whom he faithfully served both in words and in hymns. He died peacefully on the eve of Holy and Great Thursday in the year 883 A.D.

2. THE HOLY MARTYR PHERBUTHA, HER WIDOWED SISTER AND THEIR SLAVE

During the reign of the Persian Emperor Saborius, St. Simeon, the bishop, was slain. At the wish of the empress, Pherbutha, the sister of Bishop Simeon, was taken to the palace. Pherbutha was exceptionally beautiful and because of that many suitors thronged to her among whom were many pagan priests and soothsayers. Pherbutha rejected them all and provoked much anger against herself. At that time, the empress became ill and all the pagan priests explained to the emperor that the empress was poisoned by Pherbutha and, as a cure for the ailing empress, they recommended the following: that Pherbutha, her sister and their slave, as Christians, be sawn and that three parts of their bodies be placed on one side and three parts on the other side and that the empress should be borne between them. The emperor agreed to the recommendation of these blood-thirsty pagan priests. Pherbutha, together with her sister and their slave, suffered for Christ in the year 343 A.D., thereby earning the incorruptible wreath in the eternal kingdom of their Lord.

3. THE VENERABLE ZOSIMUS

Zosimus was a monk of the Jordanian monastic community during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Younger. It was he who discovered, administered Holy Communion to and buried the body of St. Mary the Egyptian. He died in the Lord in his hundredth year in the sixth century.

4. THE VENERABLE MARTYR NICETAS

Nicetas was a Slav from Albania. As a monk of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos), he went to Serres where he debated with the Mullahs about religion. Being that they could not overcome him with reason, the Turks subjected him to torture under which Nicetas, the holy one, died and gave up his soul to his God in the year 1808 A.D.

HYMN OF PRAISE

THE HOLY FEMALE MARTYR PHERBUTHA

The handmaiden of the Lord, the virgin Pherbutha,

As an innocent lamb, to the slaughter, remained silent,

Neither says she: Woe! Nor says, woe is me!

But with joy received and endured the suffering.

She despised earthly illusions and falsehoods,

For to her, the Lord was more dear than the whole world,

In the royal court: sickness and emptiness

Without wondrous faith in the Son of God;

Among the soothsayers; the cursed darkness

Without the knowledge of the Creator and the heavenly world.

The beauty of the flesh - a stumbling block,

Without God's love, faith and hoping

Therefore, Pherbutha totally sacrificed herself for Christ,

To the world she surrendered all, except her pure soul.

Her bodily cage, the tormentor crushed

But the living soul, he cannot enslave;

The cage [her body] was cut up; the soul to Paradise flees,

Into true freedom from false freedom.

The blood splattered upon the earth, and the body became earth,

And, in eternity, Pherbutha remained alive.
 
REFLECTION

He who glorifies God, God also glorifies him. This was clearly and abundantly shown in the lives of the saints. St. Joseph the Hymnographer, indeed, glorified God in works, in sufferings and in hymns. God glorified him both in this life and after death. During his life, the Holy Father Nicholas appeared to him in prison and freed him. When St. Joseph wondered whether he should compose a Canon to the Apostle Bartholomew, this apostle appeared to him in radiant vestments and said to Joseph that it is well-pleasing to God that he compose this Canon. When St. Joseph died, a citizen of Constantinople learned of the glory by which God glorified His chosen one. This man had come into the church of St. Theodore Phanariot to beseech the saint to reveal to him where one of his escaped servants had hidden. Because St. Theodore was known among the people as a saint who reveals where something is that had been lost or stolen, he was called Phanariot, which means The Revealer. For three days and three nights, this man prayed and when he received no response from the saint, wanted to leave. At that moment, St. Theodore appeared to him in a vision saying: "Why do you become angry O man? Joseph the Hymnographer's soul was being separated from his body and we were with him. When he died this night, all of us whom he glorified in hymns, translated his soul to the heavens and placed it before the Face of God. That is why I was tardy in not appearing to you."

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus:

1. How His soul returned again from Hades into His body;

2. How He, through His Divine Power, by which He resurrected other dead bodies, resurrected His own body. 

HOMILY

About the Church as the Body of the Lord

"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" (St. John 2:19).

Thus spoke the Lord to the wicked Jews about "the Temple of His body" (St. John 2:21). But since it was not given to the wicked to understand anything, so also the Jews did not understand and mocked Him. The Lord did not rebuke them for that but that which He spoke, occurred. The Jews destroyed His body but He restored it again and raised it in glory and power. The wicked punished God with destruction but God reprimanded the wicked by restoration. It is satisfying to the wicked ones to be able to show their power by killing but, to God, there was joy to show His power by giving life. There is nothing as short-lived as the triumph of evil nor nothing as lasting as the triumph of truth.

"Destroy this temple." The Lord referred to His body as the Church. Destroyed, that Church was crowded into a dark tomb and by means of a heavy stone prevented light from having access to it. But, that Church was not in need of the light of the sun. It had its own light, its own Sun of Righteousness, Who shone from within. The tender Heavenly Hand removed the stone from the tomb and the Lord resurrected in glory and in power. That which once occurred to the All-Pure Body of Christ, occurred many times later to the Church of the holy ones on earth. The enemies of the Church cruelly persecuted and tormented it, demolished it and buried it in darkness. But, the Church after such bruises and confinement, resurrected again with greater glory and power. Just as the Church of His Body resurrected, so it will at the end of time, the Church of His holy ones will resurrect in fullness and perfection.

O resurrected Lord, do not give us over to decay and eternal death, but resurrect us to life eternal.
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