Prologue of Ohrid

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May 1

1. THE HOLY PROPHET JEREMIAH

Jeremiah was born about six hundred years before Christ in the village of Anathoth not far from Jerusalem. He began to prophesy at the age of fifteen during the reign of King Josiah. He preached repentance to the king and noblemen, false prophets and priests. During the reign of King Josiah, Jeremiah barely escaped death from the murdering hands of the enraged nobles. Concerning King Jehoiakim, he prophesied that the king's burial would be like the burial of an ass, i.e., his dead body would be tossed outside Jerusalem and that his body would be dragged along the ground without benefit of burial: "He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:18). Because of this, Jeremiah was cast into a prison. Not being able to write in prison, Jeremiah invited Baruch [the son of Neriah], who stood near the small window of the prison and dictated to him. When this prophecy was read to the king, the enraged king grabbed the paper and threw it into a fire. Divine Providence saved Jeremiah from prison and the word of the prophet was fulfilled in Jehoiakim. Concerning King Jeconiah [son of Jehoiakim, King of Judah], Jeremiah prophesied that Jeconiah would be taken to Babylon with his entire family and that he would die there. All of which came about shortly: ". . . after that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had carried away captive Jeconiah, the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah" (Jeremiah 24:1). ". . . when he carried away captive Jeconiah, the son of Jehoiakim, the king of Judah from Jerusalem to Babylon, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 27:20). Under King Zedekiah, Jeremiah placed a yoke around his own neck and walked through Jerusalem prophesying the fall of Jerusalem and bondage under the yoke of the Babylonians. "Thus said the Lord to me; Make thee bonds and yokes and put them upon thy neck" (Jeremiah 27:2). "I spoke also to Zedekiah, king of Judah, according to all these words saying, bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live" (Jeremiah 27:12). To the Hebrew captives in Babylon, Jeremiah wrote telling them not to hope for a speedy return to Jerusalem for they would remain in Babylon for seventy years, which came to pass. "This whole land shall be a ruin and a desert. Seventy years these nations shall be enslaved to the king of Babylon" (Jeremiah 25:11). In the valley of Topheth near Jerusalem [the Valley of Slaughter], where the Jews offered children as a sacrifice to the idols, Jeremiah took a potter's clay vessel in his hands and shattered it before the people prophesying the impending humbling of the kingdom of Judah. "Even so, I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter's vessel that cannot be made whole again" (Jeremiah 19:11). The Babylonians shortly captured Jerusalem, slew King Zedekiah, plundered and destroyed the city, and beheaded a great number of Jews in the Valley of Topheth on the same spot where children were slaughtered for sacrifice to the idols and where the Prophet Jeremiah smashed the potter's vessel of clay. Jeremiah, with the Levites, removed the Ark of the Covenant from the Temple to Mt. Nebo where Moses died and there he hid the Ark in a cave. However, he hid the fire from the Temple in a deep well. Jeremiah was forced by some Jews to accompany them to Egypt where he lived for four years and was then stoned to death by his countrymen. To the Egyptians, Jeremiah prophesied the destruction of their idols and the arrival of the Virgin and the Christ-Child to Egypt. There is a tradition which states that King Alexander the Great visited the tomb of the Prophet Jeremiah. By order of King Alexander, the body of Jeremiah was translated and buried in Alexandria.

2. THE VENERABLE MARTYR ACACIUS, THE SANDAL-MAKER

Acacius was from the village of Neochorion near Thessalonica. Mistreated greatly by his master craftsman in Serres, Acacius converted to Islam. Later [he returned to the Faith] and as a penitent and monk, he lived in the Monastery Hilendar [Mt. Athos]. His needy and Christ-loving mother counseled him: "As you willingly denied the Lord, so now you must willingly and bravely accept martyrdom for the Sweet Jesus." The son followed the advice of his mother and with the blessings of the fathers of the Holy Mountain, Acacius traveled to Constantinople where the Turks beheaded him on May 1, 1816 A.D. His head is preserved in a reliquary in the Russian monastery, St. Panteleimon on Mt. Athos.

3. THE VENERABLE PAPHNUTIUS OF BOROVSK

Paphnutius, the son of a Tartar nobleman, later embraced the Christian Faith. At age twenty, Paphnutius was tonsured a monk and continued to live his life in a monastery until his ninety-fourth year, when he reposed in the Lord. Paphnutius was a virgin and an ascetic. Because of this, he became a miracle-worker and discerner. He died in the year 1478 A.D.

HYMN OF PRAISE
 
THE PROPHET JEREMIAH

Jeremiah, chaste one and prophet,

To men, the will of God he proclaims

When in sin, men decay

And the laws of God, they trampled.

The prophet cries out, weeps and threatens,

As a live flame, his words are,

Illumines the righteous, burns the sinners;

As the tears of a mother, his tears are

Over her dying offspring.

The prophet foresees it, punishment is coming,

A punishment, one-hundred fold deserved.

The mercy of God, into justice changes.

The prophet cries out, weeps and threatens,

The sinful people, calls to repentance.

To what the leaders say, the people listen,

And the leaders, at the prophet laugh,

And his words, as a lie they proclaimed!

But himself to be wearied, the prophet does not allow:

With sufferings, his words he seals;

Nefarious men, slew the prophet,

And forever, made him famous.

All the words of the prophet were fulfilled,

The kingdom fell; the prophet glorified.

REFLECTION

The Venerable Paphnutius of Borovsk said to his disciples that a man's soul and his hidden works can be known by the look in his eyes. To his disciples, this seemed unbelievable until this man of God confirmed this in reality on more than one occasion. Discerning the fate of others, Paphnutius also discerned his own fate. A week before, while still in good health, he prophesied that he would depart from this world on the following Thursday. When Thursday dawned, he cried out rejoicefully: "Behold, the day of the Lord, rejoice O you people; behold, the awaited day came!" Behold, this is how a man meets death; a man who, during his entire life, contemplated about separation from this world and about the encounter with God.

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the Ascension of the Lord Jesus:

1. How two angels appeared to the disciples while they were still gazing after the ascended Lord;

2. How the angels proclaim that the Lord will come in the same manner as the disciples saw Him ascending into heaven.

HOMILY
 
About the power of the Lord's word

"Is not My word like the fire, says the Lord, like a hammer shattering rocks " (Jeremiah 23:29).

Yes Lord, Your word is indeed like fire; like fire which warms the righteous and burns the unrighteous. And, indeed, Your word is like a hammer; a hammer which softens the stony hardness of the heart of a penitent and pulverizes the hearts of the unrepentant sinners into dust.

"Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us" (St. Luke 24:32), the apostles asked after talking with the resurrected Lord? When the heart in man is correct, it burns from the word of the Lord and it melts from pleasure and expands with love. But, when the heart in man is not correct and hardened by sin, then the heart bakes from the word of the Lord and becomes even harder. "And pharaoh's heart was hardened" (Exodus 8:19).

In vain do sinners fortify themselves in the fortresses of stone, in their fortresses of iron, in their fortresses of silver and gold and reject the armor of God's justice. As a powerful and irresistible hammer, such is the word of the Lord when He pronounces judgment upon these fortresses of stone in which sinners fortify themselves.

In vain does the unbeliever fortify his house with impregnable stones and the statesman fortifies the State, hardened with the wisdom of the world, and not hoping in the Living God. The word of the Lord comes down like a hammer upon all that was built apart from God or against God; as a powerful and irresistible hammer.

O brethren, let us not trust in our creations of stone, neither of marble nor of gold or of silver stones nor of the godless stones of our individual thoughts. All of these are weaker before the power of God than dust before the power of the wind.

O Lord Almighty, help us to receive Your word and, that on Your word, we may build our entire life both in this world and in the next world.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

(*) The Egyptians almost deified St. Jeremiah. That is why they buried him as a king. Even after his death, they considered him a miracle-worker. They removed dust from his tomb as a cure against snake bites. Even today, many Christians invoke Jeremiah against serpents.
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