Prologue of Ohrid

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May 5

1. THE HOLY GREAT FEMALE MARTYR IRENE

Irene lived in the Balkans during apostolic times in the town of Magedon. Her father Licinius was of lesser royal nobility. Some think that she was a Slav. Irene was born a pagan of pagan parents. Penelope was her pagan name. She learned about the Christian Faith from her teacher Appelianus. St. Timothy, the disciple of the Apostle Paul, baptized her and her court attendants and provided her with the epistles of the Apostle Paul to read. Refusing to marry, she enraged her father and he wanted to torture her but, in a miraculous manner, she converted her father to Christianity. Irene was subjected to various tortures by four kings, not counting her father but, God through His angels, spared her. King Sedechias buried her up to her neck in a ditch filled with snakes and scorpions but an angel of God made these venomous and repulsive creatures ineffective and saved the holy virgin from harm. King Sedechias then wanted to saw her in half but the saw rebounded from her body as from stone. After that, the same king tied her to a wheel under a water mill and released the flow of water hoping, in this manner, to kill her. But the water refused to flow, rather stood still and the virgin remained alive and well. King Sapor, the son of King Sedechias, shod her feet with nails, loaded a sack of sand on her, harnessed her and ordered that she be led like an animal far outside the town. "Truly, I am a beast before You, O Lord!" said the holy martyr, running bridled behind her torturers. However, an angel of God shook the earth and the earth opened up and swallowed her torturers. Surviving all tortures, by which she converted a countless number of pagans to Christianity, Irene entered the town of Callipolis [Gallipoli] where she preached the Faith of Christ. The local king Numerian wanted to kill her in this manner: he tossed her into three flaming hot metal oxen; one after the other. But the virgin was saved and remained alive. Many witnessed and believed. The Eparch [governor] Vaudon took her to the town of Constantina where he thought to kill her in this manner: he placed her on red-hot grates. But that did not harm St. Irene and she converted many to the True Faith. Finally, Irene arrived in the town of Mesembria where she was slain by King Sapor but God restored her to life. The king, with many of the people, upon witnessing this, believed in Christ and were baptized. Thus, St. Irene, by her suffering and miracles converted over one-hundred thousand pagans to the Faith of Christ. Finally, she lay down in a grave and ordered Appelianus to close the grave. After four days, when they opened the grave, she was not in the grave. Thus, God glorified forever the virgin and martyr Irene, who sacrificed all and endured all so that God may be glorified among men. (*)

2. SAINT MARTIN AND SAINT HERACLIUS

Martin and Heraclius were both Slavs. They were persecuted by the Arian heretics in Illyria. Banished into exile, these two knights of Orthodoxy completed their earthly lives in the fourth century and took up habitation with the Lord.

HYMN OF PRAISE

SAINT IRENE

Penelope, daughter of the king, at the balcony was,
When, in a row, three birds to her quickly flew.

The first a dove, white as milk, with an olive branch,

After that an eagle, in its bony beak, a wreath of flowers

Finally, a raven, with a bitter serpent, swooped and entered.

Penelope, asked the servants, could they recall what this means?

The servants remain silent. No one knows. With amazement, everyone is struck.

We are all mortal men, Appelianus the Elder said:

But harken to me Penelope, harken, beautiful child,

The Spirit of God, through these signs, to you clearly prophesies;

The dove, your serenity signifies, Irene you will be called,

The Grace of God you, the olive branch signifies

The eagle, the conqueror signifies, passions you will conquer,

The flowery wreath, glory and heavenly sweetness signify;

The raven with a serpent, the demon with his maliciousness, that is

But, by our endurance, overcome him, you will.

This, Irene heard all, and in her heart quivered,

And to the saving Faith decided to give herself completely;

What she decided, that she carried out and God helped her.

Through her holy prayers, O God, save even us.

REFLECTION

Prayer consisting of words alone does not help if the heart does not participate in prayer. God hears only a fervent prayer. Abba Zoilus of Thebaid was once returning from Mt. Sinai and met a monk who complained to him, that they are suffering much from drought in the monastery. Zoilus said to him: "Why don't you pray and implore God?" The monk replied: "We have prayed and have implored, but there is no rain." To this, Zoilus replied: "It is evident that you are not praying fervently. Do you want to be convinced that it is so?" Having said this, the elder raised his hands to heaven and prayed. Abundant rain fell to the earth. Seeing this, the astonished monk fell to the ground and bowed before the elder, but the elder, fearing the glory of men, quickly fled. The Lord Himself said: "Ask and it will be given you" (St. Luke 11:9). In vain are mouths full of prayer if the heart is empty. God does not stand and listen to the mouth but to the heart. Let the heart be filled with prayer even though the mouth might be silent. God will hear and will receive the prayer. For God only listens to a fervent prayer.

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the ascended Lord Jesus:

1. How, by His Ascension, He signified the triumphant end of His entire work on earth in the course of some thirty-three years;

2. How, by His Ascension, He teaches us that we should direct all of our aspirations toward heaven and not toward earth.

HOMILY

About the divine marriage of the souls of men

"Turn, O backsliding children, says the Lord; for I am married to you" (Jeremiah 3:14).

The soul of man is the bride and the Living and All-powerful God is the bridegroom of the soul of man. His bride, the soul, the Lord clothes in light and nourishes it with His Grace. And the soul, from God the groom, gives birth to good children and many children in the form of many and beautiful virtuous works. The soul, on its own, cannot give birth to one virtuous work. Only the soul made fertile by God, gives birth to virtuous works. However, the soul, made fertile by the world, either remains barren or produces sin and vice. That is why the Lord speaks to men: "I am married to you", so that the soul of man may know to whom it is betrothed and with whom it is wed in order that it would not stray and by adultery deaden itself and turn itself into ash.

God is a faithful groom of the human soul of men. He never betrays the bride, the soul. His love toward the soul never cools as long as the soul does not turn away from Him and does not commit adultery. But, even then, God does not abandon the soul immediately, but pursues it and returns it from the path of destruction. "Turn O backsliding children" the Lord then speaks to the souls of men. Repent and I will forgive you. Return and I will receive you. Penitents would know to say, how great is the mercy of God. They would be able to confirm how persistent the love of God is toward sinners, even to the last hour. God is faithful in His love and He is not swift to seek vengeance on the adulterous soul. He constantly tries to restore to the adulterous soul, the lost shame of sinning. Shame produces repentance and repentance leads to restoration and restoration leads to original love and fidelity.

O Lord, All-powerful, help us, that from your eternal love our souls may produce the good and abundant fruit.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

(*) Archbishop Philaret in his "Lives of the Saints" thinks that St. Irene was of Serbian descent.

 

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