Prologue of Ohrid

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March 23

1. THE HOLY PRIESTLY-MARTYR NICON

Nicon was born in Naples of a pagan father and Christian mother. Nicon was a Roman officer in Naples and was not baptized, even though his mother tutored him secretly from his father in the Faith of Christ. Once, when Nicon was sent into battle with his troops, his mother counseled him to make the sign of the cross and to call upon Christ for help if any misfortune would befall him. And, indeed, while in battle, Nicon's troops were completely surrounded; and, toward the end of the battle, Nicon made the sign of the cross in his heart and cried out to Christ. Immediately, he was filled with unusual strength and pursued his enemies. Some he slew and others he forced to flee. Returning to his home, Nicon continuously cried out in amazement, "Great is the Christian God." Since he had made his mother happy with the news of his victory with the help of the Cross of Christ, he secretly sailed to Asia where Theodosius the Bishop of Cyzicus baptized him. Following his baptism, he secluded himself in a monastery where he devoted himself to study and asceticism. Before his death Theodosius had a vision in which he was told to ordain Nicon as his successor. Immediately the aged Theodosius summoned Nicon and ordained him a deacon; after that, a priest, and then, a bishop. Shortly thereafter, according to God's Providence, Nicon came to Naples where he discovered that his mother was still living. Following his mother's death, Nicon, with nine disciples, his former war companions, withdrew to Sicily and there dedicated himself to preaching the Gospel. However, at that time there was a terrible persecution of Christians. Prince Quintianus captured Nicon with his companions and inflicted great pain and suffering upon them. His one-hundred ninety disciples and companions were beheaded. The tormentor tied Nicon to the tail of a horse, hurled him from a steep wall into a gorge, beat him, and skinned him; but Nicon survived all of these tortures. Finally, he was beheaded and took up habitation with the Lord. His body was left in the fields to be devoured by the birds. A certain herdsman, with a rabid evil spirit, tripped and fell over the dead body of Christ's martyr and immediately the herdsman was healed. Proclaiming the news about Nicon's body, Christians came forth and honorably buried the body of Nicon. St. Nicon suffered during the reign of the Emperor Decius.

2. THE VENERABLE NICON OF THE MONASTERY OF THE CAVES IN KIEV

Nicon was a companion of St. Anthony of the Caves and a spiritual father to the Venerable Theodosius. Because of the monastic tonsuring of the Boyar Barlaam and of the eunuch Ephrem, Nicon was threatened by Prince Izjaslav; but his wife, the princess, turned the anger of the prince into the fear of God. Then Nicon, the holy one, was left in peace. Wanting to adorn the church with icons, Nicon implored God for assistance. As a result of his prayers, certain Greek iconographers unexpectedly came to Kiev from Constantinople. St. Anthony and St. Theodosius appeared to these iconographers in a vision and directed them to Nicon in Kiev.(*) Nicon was praised because of his courageous asceticism and spiritual wisdom. Against his will, Nicon, in his old age, became the abbot of Pecer. He presented himself to the Lord in the year 1066 A.D. His incorruptible relics are persevered in the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev.

(*) In the Greek Synaxarion and the Athonite Patericon, the Neo-martyr Luke, who was born in Jedren is commemorated on this day. As a child he was captured in Constantinople by the Turks and was circumcised. Because of this, he had bitter pangs of conscience. He considered circumcision the devil's mark on him which could only be destroyed through martyrdom for Christ. Tonsured a monk on Mt. Athos, he went with his Elder Bessarion to Mytilene and there was hanged by the Turks on March 23, 1802. Hanging in the air, the body of the martyr emitted a fragrant oil [Chrism].

HYMN OF PRAISE

SAINT NICON

In the dungeon, Nicon languished,

And day and night he prayed to God.

For his defense, did not pray to God,

Nor to revenge Quintianus, the wicked,

But for strength, to endure sufferings.

Nicon's sighings, God heard.

One time Nicon dreamed in prayer:

To him, the Virgin appeared in light,

Than the sun, more beautiful and brighter.

Than a lamb, whiter and gentler,

At her side, two archangels are,

Their faces, radiant and joyful,

With their height, to the heavens they reach,

The river they point out, one to the other:

That is the wavy river Psimif!

Then, one archangel to the Virgin says,

To Quintianus, were we sent to slay

In the waves of the raging Psimif.

But, behold, we are looking over the river

And nowhere Quintianus do we see?

As honey flowing from her mouth, the Virgin spoke:

To the river, soon, he will come,

Through the waves, he will attempt to cross,

But, beneath him, his horse will become enraged,

His face, by his teeth, will he disfigure,

Him, the river will drown,

And thus, your task, you will complete.

That is the end of the evil torturer of Nicon, my saint.

All of this took place as the Virgin said,

Everything that Nicon dreamed became a reality.

REFLECTION

St. Paphnutius prayed to God to reveal to him, who it is that he [Paphnutius] resembled. He heard a voice which spoke to him, "You are similar to a merchant who seeks good pearls; arise and do not be idle!" But why would not God say to everyone of us that we are similar to a merchant who seeks good pearls? Because many of us do not seek pearls, rather we gorge ourselves with heavy layers of cheap dust. Not everything which the net raises up from the bottom of the sea is a pearl; sometimes, it is only mud and sand. The ignorant vie for that mud and sand as though it were a pearl. Only the merchant who recognizes a true pearl casts the net into the sea untold number of times. He hauls it up, sifts it of mud and sand, until he finds one seed of pearl! Why does God compare Paphnutius to a merchant? Because Paphnutius gave away all of his possessions, invested all of his effort and all of his time, in order to find that one seed of the true pearl. That true pearl is the heart cleansed of all passions and of evil thoughts and warmed by the flame of love toward God. Arise also, you man, and do not be lazy! Your marketing day is approaching its twilight.

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the Lord Jesus crucified on the cross:

1. How His compassionate love for mankind did not diminish because of His sufferings;

2. How, with love, He offers comfort to His mother, commending John to her, as a son, in place of Himself;

3. How, with love, He prays to the Father for mankind: " Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" (St. Luke 23:24).

HOMILY

About the weakness of man before the majesty of God

"When I caught sight of Him,I fell down at His feet asthough dead" (Revelation 1:17).

It was St. John who fell as though dead when he saw the Lord Jesus in glory. St. John, the Beloved Disciple of Jesus, The Evangelist, The Chaste One, The one who loved the Lord, and a zealot for holiness - could not stand on his feet nor compose himself when he saw his Teacher in His heavenly glory and power! But, "fell, as though dead." How will they, therefore, endure the presence of the Lord and His eyes "a fiery flame," they who sin against Him, they who rise up against Him, they who ridicule His Name, they who despise His love and sacrifice, they who mock His cross, they who trample upon His commandments, they who persecute His Church, they who shame His priests, and they who kill His faithful? What will happen to them before the face of the Lord when St. John fell as dead when he caught sight of Him? What will happen to the literate who corrupt? What will happen to teachers who destroy the Faith in young souls? What will happen to skeptics who through their doubt poison the minds of men? What will happen to thieves and robbers and what will happen to the immoral and what will happen to the child-killers? What will happen to the enemies of Christ when the friend of Jesus falls, as though dead, before His indescribable, glistening glory? Such is the glory, power, authority, beauty, lordship, light and majesty of the Lord Jesus, resurrected and ascended, that His closest companions who for three years on earth gazed upon His face without fear, now fall as though dead when they see His face in the heavens following His passion, death and victory!

O Lord All-glorious and Almighty illuminate us and enliven us by Your power and glory.
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