Prologue of Ohrid

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February 23

1. THE HOLY PRIESTLY-MARTYR POLYCARP, BISHOP OF SMYRNA

Polycarp, this great apostolic man, was born a pagan. St. John the Theologian converted him to the Faith of Christ and baptized him. In his childhood, Polycarp became an orphan and according to a vision in a dream Callista, a noble widow, took him as her own son, raised and educated him. From his childhood Polycarp was devout and compassionate. He strove to emulate the life of St. Bucolus, then the Bishop of Smyrna, as well as the holy Apostles John and Paul, whom he knew and heard. St. Bucolus ordained him a presbyter and before his death, Bucolus designated him as his successor in Smyrna. The apostolic bishops, who gathered at the funeral of Bucolus, consecrated Polycarp as bishop. From the very beginning, Polycarp was gifted with the power of working miracles. He expelled an evil spirit from the servant of a prince and through prayer stopped a terrible fire in Smyrna. Upon seeing this, many pagans regarded Polycarp as one of the gods. He brought down rain in times of drought, healed illnesses, discerned, prophesized and so forth. He suffered during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Three days before his death, St. Polycarp prophesized: "In three days, I will be burned in fire for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ!" And on the third day when the soldiers arrested him and brought him to trial, he cried out: "Let this be the will of the Lord my God." When the judge counseled him to deny Christ and to acknowledge the Roman gods, Polycarp said: "I cannot exchange the better for the worse!" The Jews especially hated Polycarp and endeavored to have Polycarp burned alive. When they placed him bound at the stake, he prayed to God for a long while. He was very old, grey and radiant as an angel. The people witnessed how the flame encircled him but did not touch him. Frightened by such a phenomenon, the pagan judges ordered the executioner to pierce him with a lance through the fire. When he was pierced, so much blood flowed from him that the entire fire was extinguished, and his body remained whole and unburned. At the persuasion of the Jews, the judge ordered Polycarp's lifeless body be incinerated according to the custom of the Hellenes. So the evil ones burned the dead body of the lifeless one whom they could not burn while alive. St. Polycarp suffered on Great and Holy Saturday in the year 167 A.D.

2. THE VENERABLE DAMIAN

Damian, a monk of the Monastery of Esphigmenou on Mt. Athos, was a contemporary and companion of the great Cosmos of Zographou. He lived a life of asceticism on Mount Samareia between Esphigmenou and Hilendar. He died peacefully in the year 1280 A.D. When he died, a pleasant and sweet-smelling aroma emitted from his body for forty days.

HYMN PF PRAISE

SAINT POLYCARP

His holy ones, God preserves

That until their appointed time, they do not perish,

Until they complete their task, they perish not.

The Elder Polycarp and saint of God

With his deacon, journeyed,

In a road inn, spent the night.

The Elder prays while the deacon sleeps.

Until an angel of God appeared to the Elder

And commanded that they immediately arise,

And from this road inn to depart,

For the inn is soon to be destroyed.

The young deacon, the Elder awakes,

But the deacon fatigued, slept on.

In that, the angel appeared again,

And again, the same warning gave,

Again, the Elder, his deacon awakes,

But, a heavy sleep, the deacon, overpowered

One moment he awakes, the next moment he is drowned in sleep.

And a third time, the angel appeared,

And a warning he issues for the third time.

That this was not a deceit, the Elder perceived,

But a warning from God, verily.

The saint jumped and the deacon he lifted,

And from the road inn, walked out.

And as soon as they walked out from the inn,

To the foundation, the entire house was destroyed,

All who were in it perished

Because of certain kinds of secret transgressions.

With fright, the young deacon was filled,

But in prayer, the saint was silent.

To the Most High God, they offered thanks,

They continued their way, under the stars.

REFLECTION

St. Polycarp writes the following to the Philippians about a priest Valentine who fell into the sin of avarice and secretly hid money belonging to the church: "I was deeply saddened because of Valentine who, at one time, was a presbyter among us, who had forgotten the rank [the priesthood] bestowed upon him. That is why I beg you, beware of greed and remain pure and just. Restrain yourself from every vice. He who cannot restrain himself, how will he be able to teach others restraint. He who submits to avarice pollutes himself with idolatry and numbers himself among the ranks of pagans. Who is not aware of God's judgement? As Paul teaches: "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?" (1 Corinthians 6:2). In other words, I have not noticed anything similar among you neither have I heard anything among you; among those whom Blessed Paul lived a life of asceticism and about whom he speaks with praise at the beginning of his Epistle to the Philippians. He boasts of you throughout the churches, which, at that time, knew God, and we did not yet know him, i.e., Polycarp and the inhabitants of Smyrna. Brethren, that is why I am very saddened because of Valentine and his wife. May God grant them true repentance. "And you, be prudent in that and `not count him as an enemy' (2 Thessalonians 3:15), but endeavor to correct them as suffering and prodigal members, that your entire body be sound. Acting thusly, you build yourselves up." Thus, the saints dealt with sinners: cautiously and compassionately; cautiously to prevent others from a similar sin and compassionately in order to correct and save sinners.

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the Lord Jesus in conversation with the woman of Samaria

(St. John, Chapter 4):

1. How at first, the mind of the woman was smothered completely by carnal sophistry;

2. How the meek Lord gradually leads her mind toward a loftier and spiritual reasoning;

3. How this encounter culminated in the conversion of many to Christ;

4. How the scattered seeds of the Lord, at first, seemingly decays in the physical mind, and how later it resurrects, grows, ripens and brings forth much spiritual fruit.

HOMILY

About the works of Christ

"For the works which theFather has given Me to finish -the very works that I do, bearwitness of Me, that the Fatherhas sent Me" (St. John 5:36).

Brethren, what are those works of Christ? Those are the works of the Householder Who had returned from a journey and found the home robbed and desolate. Those are the works of the Physician Who entered into the most contaminated hospital and brought medicines and began to heal. Furthermore, those are the works of the King Who returned to his country and found it divided and ruined and his subjects as slaves in a strange land. Those are the works of the elder Brother who journeyed to a distant land to seek his younger brothers who, wandering and prodigal impoverished and became wild. Those are also the works of the Healer, Shepherd, Hero and Provider. Truly, these are not minor works! The average man with the greatest worldly knowledge, skill and courage would not be able to accomplish even in three-thousand years; those works which Christ completed in three years. Not only one man, but all men of all times, together, would not be able to complete the works of Christ for all eternity.

How did the Lord complete so many works? He completed them with the aid of five main miracles:Humility, Words, Deed, Blood and Resurrection.

What do the works of Christ witness? First, the works witness that the earth did not send Him, but Heaven;Second, that an angel did not send Him, but the Heavenly Father Himself; Third, that, for such works no one is sufficient except Him Who is as great as God, Who is as wise as God, as almighty as is God, as merciful as God; Yes, Who Himself is equal to God.

O, how all of our works are insignificant compared to the works of Christ! With only one kernel of Christ's goodness and zeal, diligence and truthfulness can we complete our work perfectly. Grant us that kernel, O Lord Jesus, for we cannot either find this kernel on earth nor deserve it.
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