Prologue of Ohrid

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June 2

1. SAINT NICEPHORUS, CONFESSOR AND PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINIOPLE

Nicephorus was a nobleman of Constantinople. His father Theodore, a high- ranking official of the imperial court, was wealthy and pious. Nicephorus served at the court for several years in the same profession as his father. Seeing all the vanity of the world, he withdrew to the shores of the Bosphorus and founded a monastery. The monastery was quickly filled with monks and he governed it but was not willing to receive the monastic tonsure under the pretext that he was not worthy, even though, in all things he served as a model to all. Before that, he participated in the Seventh Ecumenical Council [Nicea, 787 A.D.] as a layman at the wishes of the emperor and the patriarch and the Council benefited greatly by his superior knowledge of Sacred Scripture. When Patriarch Tarasius died, Nicephorus was elected patriarch against his will. Immediately following his election in the year 806 A.D., he received the monastic tonsure and in succession all other ecclesiastical ranks. He was enthroned as patriarch in the Church of the Divine Wisdom of God [Hagia Sophia]. This took place during the reign of Emperor Nicephorus who immediately, after that, went to war against the Bulgarians and was slain. His son, Stauracius, reigned only two months and died. After him, the good Emperor Michael, surnamed Rangabe, ruled but he reigned for only two years until he was overthrown by Leo the Armenian and banished into exile. When Leo was crowned, the patriarch sent him a book of the Orthodox Confession of Faith to sign (according to the custom of all Byzantine emperors which was considered an oath that they will uphold and defend the True Faith). The emperor did not sign it but rather postponed it until after the coronation. When the patriarch crowned him, Leo refused to sign the book and quickly proved himself to be a heretic; an iconoclast. The patriarch attempted to advise him and to restore him to the True Faith, but in vain. The emperor forcibly banished Nicephorus into exile to the island of Proconnesus where he remained for thirteen years enduring every kind of misery and privation and entered eternity in the year 827 A.D. As patriarch he governed the Church of Christ for nine years.

2. THE NEO-MARTYR CONSTANTINE

Constantine was born of Muslim parents on the island of Mitylene. Having been healed of a grave illness with the help of holy water in the church and witnessing other miracles of the Faith of Christ, he was baptized on Mt. Athos in the Scete of Kapsokalyvia. Later on Constantine fell into the hands of the Turks who hanged him in Constantinople on June 2, 1819 A.D. after forty days of cruel tortures.

3. THE HOLY NEO-MARTYR JOHN OF SOCHAVA

John was a nobleman from Trebizond. He was accused by an envious Latin and suffered for Christ in the city of Akerman in the year 1492 A.D. After being tortured for refusing to embrace the Persian religion (for the mayor of this town was an adherent of that faith), St. John was tied to the legs of a horse and dragged throughout the town. An evil Jew, upon seeing him, ran up to John and slaughtered him. That night, many saw a fiery pillar over his body and three light-bearing men around it. Later, the Moldavian commander, Joalexander, with great homage translated his honorable body to the town of Sochava and buried it in the metropolitan church where it reposes even today and miraculously saves men from various pains and illnesses. John suffered honorably and was glorified on June 2, 1492 A.D.

4. THE PRIESTLY-MARTYR ERASMUS OF OHRID

This saint was born in Antioch and lived during the reign of Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. He lived a strict life of asceticism on Mt. Lebanon and was endowed by God with the great gift of working miracles. As a bishop, he went out to preach the Good News. Arriving at the town of Ohrid, Erasmus, by his prayers, resurrected the son of a man named Anastasius and baptized him. At this time, Erasmus baptized many other pagans and destroyed the altars of the idols in Ohrid. For that he was denounced before Emperor Maximian who, at that time, was residing in Illyria. The emperor brought him before a copper idol of Zeus and ordered him to offer sacrifice and to worship the idol. St. Erasmus manifested so great a power that a horrible dragon came out from the idol, which frightened the people. Again the saint manifested great power and the dragon died. The saint then preached Christ and baptized twenty thousand souls. The embittered emperor ordered that all twenty thousand be beheaded and subjected Erasmus to severe tortures and then cast him into prison. An angel of God appeared to Erasmus as once to the Apostle Peter and led Erasmus out of the prison. After that, this servant of God departed for Campania where he preached the Gospel to the people and then again returned to the town of Hermelia where he retreated to a cave and desired to live a life of asceticism until his death. Before his death, he bowed down three times toward the east and with uplifted arms prayed to God that He forgive sins and to grant eternal life to all those who, with faith, would invoke his name. At the completion of his prayer a voice from heaven was heard: "So let it be as you prayed, my little healer Erasmus!" Completely joyful, the saint gazed up at the heavens once more and saw a wreath of glory as it was descending upon him and saw the choirs of angels, prophets, apostles and martyrs who came toward him to receive his holy soul. Finally he cried out: "O Lord, receive my spirit!" and died about the year 303 A.D. The cave with a small church dedicated to St. Erasmus, exists today not far from Ohrid and, from it, even today the great power of the chosen one of God, Erasmus the priestly-martyr, is manifested.

HYMN OF PRAISE

SAINT NICEPHORUS

Great was Nicephorus, great among the saints,

Great was Nicephorus, as a giant among men.
 
And [Leo] the emperor with the name of a lion, was too small,
 
In spite and malice was his [Leo's] entire glory.
 
To lead the affairs of the State, the emperor is there,
 
And not the dogmas of the Orthodox Faith, to judge.
 
The dogmas to him, Patriarch Nicephorus interpreted,
 
But the arrogant little emperor pretended to be wise.
 
Even though emperor he became, a simple shudra he remained,
 
Not wanting to hear the counsels of the servant wise
 
The emperor banished the patriarch to a desolate distance
 
And himself, divine truth, began to interpret.
 
Great was Nicephorus, great in exile,
 
As on the throne in his dignity.
 
From within, was all of his greatness
 
And not false and accidental from today until tomorrow.
 
Nicephorus, by faith and purity, a saint became,
 
With a strong faith, fasting and humble simplicity.
 
And Emperor Leo they terribly slew,
 
Perhaps he would have repented but it was too late.
 
REFLECTION
 
The veneration of icons is an integral part of Orthodoxy from which it cannot be separated. That the veneration of icons appears to some people the same as idolatry is no proof against icons. To the Jews, it seemed that Christ worked miracles by the power of Satan and not God, and to the Romans it seemed that Christian martyrs were ordinary sorcerers and magicians. Saint Nicephorus said to Leo the Armenian the iconoclastic emperor: "The icon is a divine thing and not to be worshipped." Following this, he explained "how God commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and to raise it in the wilderness even though, just before this, He had commanded: "Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image" (Exodus 20:4). He commanded this in order to save the chosen people from the idolatry of the Egyptians and He commanded that He, the One and Most High God, would manifest His power through a visible thing. In the same manner He manifests His power through icons. That is His holy will and our aid for salvation. If icons are things of little significance or even idolatry, why would many of the holiest and most spiritual men and women in the history of the Church have suffered to the death for icons?

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the miraculous healing of the leper: "And behold, there came a leper and worshipped him saying, Lord, if You will, You can make me clean" (St. Matthew 8:2):

1. How the leper implored the Lord to heal him and how the Lord touched him with His hand and he was healed;

2. How I, too, am leperous from sin and how the Lord can touch my soul and heal it if I pray to Him.

HOMILY

About how wisdom proclaims itself everywhere

"Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the open squares she raises her voice; down the crowded ways she calls out, at the city gates she utters her words" (Proverbs 1:20-21).

The Wisdom of God is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, through Whom all that was created, was created. All that was created manifests its Omniscient Creator, both that which is in the field as well as that which is in the city. In a field is a pure and bright nature but in the city is man with his trades and skills. The Wisdom of God cries out and does not whisper throughout all of nature and through all beneficial trades and skills of man. She [Wisdom] covered all the fields, she filled the entire city and she is above the earth and under the earth, in the heights of the stars and in the depths of the seas. He who wants to hear her can hear her in every place; he who wants to learn from her and to be delighted by her can be taught and delighted in every place; he who wants to be corrected and built up by her can be corrected and built up by her in every place.

Thus, the Wisdom of God is obvious and evident in all created things in the world from its very beginning. But, the Wisdom of God is more obvious and more evident in the prophets and in other men of God who were made worthy to approach her [Wisdom] outside created nature. Through their mouths, the Wisdom of God was proclaimed in the fields, in the cities, on the streets of the cities and at the doors of men.

But, the Wisdom of God is most audible and most obvious in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God was manifested in the flesh and demonstrated to men in its miraculous power and beauty. This Wisdom of God does not speak through things nor through men, but speaks of itself and from itself alone, personally and directly. By His wisdom the Lord filled the entire world through His Holy Church, so that it can be said that just as twenty centuries ago in Palestine so, He today, through the servants of the Word, cries out in the fields, on the streets, to the greatest throngs in the world, throughout all the cities and before all doors.

O my brethren, let us open the doors of our souls to the Wisdom of God Incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ!

O Lord Jesus, Wisdom and Power of God, open our souls and abide in them.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
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