Prologue of Ohrid

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January 16

1. SAINT PETER THE APOSTLE (THE CHAINS OF ST. PETER)

Saint Peter is commemorated on this day because of the chains by which he was shackled by the lawless Herod and which during the appearance of an angel in prison fell from him, "Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, `Get up quickly.' The chains fell from his wrists" (Acts of the Apostles 12:7). The chains were preserved by Christians as much for the memory of this great apostle as well as for their healing power, for many of the sick were healed by touching them as well as with the towel of the Apostle Paul, "then when the face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them" (Acts of the Apostles 19:12). St. Juvenal, the Patriarch of Jerusalem gave these chains as a gift to the Empress Eudocia, the exiled wife of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger. She divided them into two and sent one half to the Church of the Holy Apostle in Constantinople and the other half to her daughter Empress Eudoxia in Rome, the wife of Valentian. Eudoxia built the Church of St. Peter and deposited these chains in it, together with those chains with which Peter was shackled before his death under Emperor Nero.

2. THE HOLY MARTYRS SPEUSIPPUS, ELEUSIPPUS, MELEUSIPPUS AND THEIR GRANDMOTHER LEONILLA.

The three brothers, triplets, Speusippus, Eleusippus, Meleusippus all suffered for Christ in France during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161 A.D. -180A.D.). At first, only Leonilla was a Christian while her grandsons were heathens. After prolonged counseling on the part of their pious grandmother and of the local priest, these three brothers received baptism. Having been baptized and with youthful zeal, they began to live a devoted life for their Faith and with this passion destroyed all the idols in the whole vicinity. Accused and brought before the tribunal, they acknowledged their act and openly confessed their faith in Christ. The judge had them thrown into prison and summoned Leonilla, the grandmother, and directed that she, too, go to the prison and counsel her grandsons to deny Christ and to worship the idols. Without a word, Leonilla went to the prison, but instead of counseling her grandsons to deny the True Faith, she began to encourage them not to waver but to endure all torments to the end and to die for Christ. When the judge, again, questioned them and realized their even stronger steadfastness in the Faith, he condemned them to death. At first, all three of them were hanged on a tree where they hung "as strings on a gulsa"* after which, they were flogged and finally burned in fire. A certain woman, Jovilla, enthusiastic at the courage of these martyrs cried out: "I am a Christian also!" They immediately apprehended her who, together with the elderly Leonilla, was beheaded.]

3. THE VENERABLE MARTYR DAMASKIN OF GABROVO

Damaskin led a life of asceticism in Hilendar [Mt. Athos] where he became the abbot. When he sought from some Turks payment of a debt due to the monastery, they persuaded a Muslim woman to enter the house where Damaskin lived. Then, those same Turks came and, finding this woman, dragged Damaskin before the Cadi [Muslim Judge] who then proposed to him: either be hanged or convert to Islam. To this Damaskin decisively responded, "It would be insanity if I for this transient life would purchase eternal death." He was hanged in the year 1771 A.D. in Svishtov. Thus, Damaskin sacrificed his body in order to save his soul. God's punishment immediately befell his murderers. While crossing the Danube river, in a row boat, a storm arose and capsized the boat and drowned them.

4. THE VENERABLE ROMIL

Romil was born in Vidin. He was a disciple of St. Gregory Sinaite. He lived a life of asceticism in several monasteries. Together with him in the Monastery Ravanica [Serbia] lived Constantine Camblak. St. Romil died in the Lord about the year 1375 A.D. in the Monastery Ravanica.

HYMN OF PRAISE

SAINT LEONILLA

Leonilla, grandmother aged,

By the spirit, powerful as a lioness,

When her grandsons for God, she prepared,

Herself, a martyr became.

To Leonilla, the tribune screamed,

And from bitter anger, hissing:

Proceed, grandmother, to the dungeon,

And your grandsons, to counsel.

Counsel your grandsons to deny

The so-called Christ the Lord,

Either Christ to renounce

Or their young lives.

Leonilla, in the dungeon

To her grandsons, speaks:

Of worldly powers, do not be afraid,

Even though they burn you alive.

Adhere to the glorious Christ

And His Good News,

For you, He prepared

Eternity of radiance and joy.Of bitter wounds, do not be afraid,

Neither of death, for they are transitory:

The faithful to Christ, death cannot

Either conceal or crush.

Three grandsons, in the midst of fire

To God offered praise,

While the evil one their dear grandmother

Leonilla beheaded.

REFLECTION

Nothing crushes human pride as does habitual obedience toward elders. In ancient Sparta, obedience was considered a great virtue. It is said a Spartan soldier, who rushed into battle armed with a sword, caught up with his enemy and at the precise moment when he was about to slay him, the trumpet sounded to end the fighting and the Spartan replaced his sword in the sheath. When someone who saw this asked him: "Why did you not slay the enemy?" He replied: " It is better to obey the commander than to slay the enemy." Christian obedience differs from this Spartan obedience in that it is voluntary and has as its goal the salvation of the soul; i.e., it is not for the preservation of the earthly kingdom but rather for obtaining of the heavenly kingdom. St. John the Short [Colobus] began his ascetical life with a certain elder of Thebes. In order to teach his disciple obedience, the elder planted a withered tree in the ground and ordered his disciple to water it daily. For three years, John without murmuring watered this withered tree until it finally turned green and brought forth fruit. This is the fruit of resigned obedience. The Crucified Lord Himself "became obedient to death" (Philippians 2:8).

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the peace of the Lord Jesus:

1. The peace which He carried in His soul: The only, perfect Peace-bearer;

2. The peace which He created among men: The only, perfect Peace-maker;

3. The peace which He gave to His disciples: The only, perfect Peace-giver.

HOMILY

About how we all are free only if we are slaves of Christ

"For the slave called in the Lord is a freed person in theLord, just as the free personwho has been called is aslave of Christ" (I Corinthians 7:22).

The great news that Christianity daily announces to the world is that nothing is evaluated at full value according to its external appearance but by its essence. Do not evaluate things according to its color and shape but by its meaning. Do not evaluate a man by his position and property but by his heart - by his heart in which are united his feeling, his reason and his will.

According to this, for the world always a new teaching; he is not a slave who is outwardly enslaved; neither is he free who possesses outward physical freedom. According to secular understanding, the slave is one who enjoys the world the least and a free man is one who enjoys the world the most. According to Christian understanding, a slave is one who least enjoys from the living and sweet Christ and the free man is one who enjoys most from the living and sweet Christ. Further, according to secular understanding, the slave is one who carries out his own will less frequently and who carries out the will of others more frequently, and a free man is one who carries out his will more often and even less often the will of others. However, according to Christian understanding, the slave is one who carries out his will more often and even less often the will of God, and the free man is one who carries out the will of God more frequently and who carries out even less frequently, his own will. To be a slave to the Lord is the only true and worthy freedom of man and, to be a slave to the world and to one's self, sin and vice is the only fatal slavery. Of the kings on the throne, a man would think: Are there any more free men on earth than those? However, many kings were the most base and the most unworthy slaves of the earth. Of shackled Christians in the dungeons, a man would think: Are there any more miserable slaves on earth than they? However, the Christian martyrs in the prisons felt as free men and were filled with spiritual joy; they chanted Psalms and raised up prayers of gratitude to God. Freedom which is tied to grief and sorrow is not freedom but slavery. Only freedom in Christ is tied with unspeakable joy. Lasting joy is the mark of true freedom.

O Lord Jesus, the only Good Lord, Who grants us freedom when You tie us stronger to Yourself, make us Your slaves as soon as possible that we would cease to be slaves of cruel and unmerciful masters.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
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