Prologue of Ohrid

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April 12

1. VENERABLE ISAAC THE SYRIAN II

(Isaac the Syrian I, is commemorated on January 28.) St. Gregory the Dialogues writes about this Isaac II. He came to Italy at the time of the Goths, and entered a church to pray in the city of Spoleto. He implored the verger to allow him to remain locked in the church overnight. And so he spent the entire night in prayer, remaining in the same place. The same thing happened the next day and even the second night. The verger called him a hypocrite and struck him with his fist. Instantly, the verger went insane. Seeing that the verger was bitterly tormented, Isaac leaned over him, and the evil spirit departed from him and the verger was restored to health. Upon hearing of this incident, the entire populace of the city thronged around this amazing foreigner. They offered him money and property, but he declined all, accepted nothing and withdrew into the forest, where he built a cell for himself, which was rapidly transformed into a large monastery. Isaac was known for working miracles and especially for his special "gift of discernment." On one occasion he ordered the brethren to carry all the hoes into the vineyard and to leave them there. The next day Isaac, along with the brethren, went out into the vineyard and brought along lunch. The brethren were puzzled. Who was this lunch for, since there were no laborers? Upon arriving at the vineyard, there were as many men digging as there were hoes. This is what happened: these men came as thieves to steal the hoes, but by the power of God, they were kept there and made to dig all night. On another occasion, two partly-clad men came to Isaac and sought clothing from him. Isaac sent a monk to a hollow tree along the road to retrieve what he would find there. The monk departed, found some clothing and brought it to the monastery. The abbot took these clothes and gave them to the beggars. The beggars were extremely ashamed when they recognized their own clothes, which they had hidden in this tree. Once a man sent two beehives to the monastery. A monk hid one along the way, and the other he brought to the monastery and turned it over to the abbot. The saint said to him: "Be careful upon your return. For a poisonous snake has slithered into the beehive that you left along the way. Be careful, therefore, that it does not bite you."

2. SAINT BASIL THE CONFESSOR

At the time of the Iconoclastic controversy, this devout man was bishop in the town of Parius in Asia Minor. He refused to sign an imperial document against the veneration of icons. For that, Basil was greatly persecuted and severely tortured. But he remained as firm as a diamond in His Orthodoxy. He died at the beginning of the eighth century and was translated to the Lord.

3. THE VENERABLE ACACIUS

Acacius was from the village of Gollitsa in Epirus. He was a great Athonite ascetic, spiritual father and possessed the "gift of discernment." Acacius had many heavenly visions. He gave his blessing to several monks who chose the ascetic feat of martyrdom. Acacius died in his ninety-eighth year, in the year 1730 A.D.

4. THE VENERABLE ATHANASIA

Athanasia was born on the island of Aegina, of wealthy and benevolent parents. She distributed her wealth to the poor and retreated to a convent. There she took upon herself greater and more difficult ascetic labors. Athanasia took food only once a day and then only bread and water. During the Honorable Fast [the Lenten Season], she ate once every other day. She tasted oil and fish only on the Feasts of the Nativity and the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even though she was the abbess of this convent, Athanasia was a servant to the other sisters and shied away from having anyone serve her. Athanasia was made worthy of the great gift of working miracles, both during her life and after death. She died in the Lord in the year 860 A.D.

HYMN OF PRAISE
 
SAINT ATHANASIA
 
Athanasia fulfilled good counsel;
 
On earth, she shone like a bright star,
 
By the spirit, bodily weakness overcame;
 
While still young she came to God.
 
Through fasting and vigils, her body she withered,
 
Only to attain salvation for her soul.
 
Property much, to the poor she distributed,
 
Herself fully, to the will of God, she gave.
 
A vision she saw in the church, holy:
 
A heavenly light, the darkness penetrated,
 
And a voice to her came: "Athanasia,
 
Meekness and humility--this is pleasing to God.
 
This practice, above all else,
 
As long as your heart beats and your spirit breathes."
 
Athanasia, a wonderful soul,
 
All pride in herself she crushed,
 
Her will to God, she totally sacrificed,
 
As obedient to God as the blazing sun.
 
Love, with Love, the Lord returned,
 
And with grace He rewarded her labors.
 
And when her time on earth was over,
 
He granted her life, immortal and paradisal.

 

REFLECTION

The wicked Emperor Constantine Copronymos had a virtuous daughter, the maiden, Anthusa: "A beautiful branch on a wicked tree." Despite all the pressure placed on her by her father to marry, Anthusa remained adamant, for she was firmly attached, with a sincere love, to Christ the Lord. When her father died, Anthusa distributed her entire estate to the poor, entered a convent and was tonsured a nun. As much a cause for astonishment as are the many noble men who have left the vanity of this world and followed the narrow path of Christ, twice as much a cause for astonishment are the many women who have despised youth, riches and the transitory attractions of this world for the love of Christ. The Lord Himself said that it is hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Matthew 19:23). Difficult yes, but not impossible. For him who despises himself, it is easy to despise the riches of the entire world.


CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the resurrected Lord Jesus:

1. How He entered through closed doors among His disciples and gave them peace;

2. How His glorified body did not have any material obstacles to His appearing wherever He wanted.


HOMILY

About the city which is being built

"For here, we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come" (Hebrews 13:14).

Brethren, where are the great cities of Babylon and Nineveh? Today, only lizards lie in the dust of their towers. Memphis and Thebes, were they not the pride of the pharaohs and the princes of mankind? Today, it is difficult to find the exact place where these two cities had been located.

However, let us leave these cities of stone and brick. Let us look at the cities of blood, flesh and bones. Men fashion the cities of their bodies more slowly and more painstakingly than they fashion fortresses and cathedrals. Men spend about eighty to a hundred years in fashioning the cities of their bodies and, in the end, see that their efforts are in vain. That which took them decades to fashion, with care and constant fear, collapses into the dust of the grave in the twinkling of an eye. Whose bodily city is not toppled over and turned into dust? No one's.

But let us leave the cities of the body. Let us look at the cities of happiness, which men have built from generation to generation. The materials from which these cities are built are merriment, pleasure, property, authority, honor and glory. Where are these cities? Like a cobweb they are woven around man in an instant, and like a cobweb they break and vanish, making the fortunate more unfortunate than the unfortunate.

Truly, we have no city here that will remain. This is why we seek the city which is to come. This is the city built of Spirit, Life and Truth. This is the city whose one and only Architect is the Lord Jesus Christ. This city is called the Kingdom of Heaven, Eternal Life, the dwelling place of the angels, the haven of saints and the refuge of martyrs. In this city there is no dualism of either good or evil, but everything is a harmony of good. Everything that is built in this city is built to last forever. Every brick in this city will remain and endure without end; these bricks are living angels and men. In this city the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ sits on the throne and reigns.

O resurrected Lord, redeem us from beneath the ruins of time, and lead us mercifully into Your eternal city of Heaven.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

 

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