Prologue of Ohrid

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August 2

1. THE FINDING AND THE TRANSLATION OF THE RELICS OF ST. STEPHEN, THE ARCHDEACON AND PROTO-MARTYR

When the wicked Jews slew St. Stephen by stoning, they left his body for the dogs to consume. However, God's Providence intended otherwise. The martyr's body lay in an open place at the foothill of the city for one night and two days. The second night Gamaliel, Paul's teacher and secretly a disciple of Christ, came and removed the body and took it to Caphargamala on his estate and there he honorably buried it in a cave. Gamaliel also buried his friend Nicodemus who died weeping over the grave of Stephen in the same cave. Gamaliel also buried his baptized son Abibus there and according to his will, was buried there also. Since that time, many centuries passed and no one living knew where the body of St. Stephen was buried. However, in the year 415 A.D. during the reign of John, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Gamaliel appeared three times in a dream to Lucian, the priest at Caphargamala and, at length, related everything to him concerning the burial of all the afore-mentioned showing him the exact spot of their forgotten graves. Excited by this dream Lucian informed the patriarch and with his blessing went with a group of men and exhumed the four graves. Gamaliel had already told him in the dream whose grave was which. A strong sweet-smelling fragrance from the relics of the saints permeated the entire cave. The relics of St. Stephen were then solemnly translated to Zion and honorably buried there and the relics of the remaining three were moved to a hill above the cave and were placed in a church. That day, many healings of the sick occurred by the relics of St. Stephen. Later on, St. Stephen's relics were translated to Constantinople. Thus the Lord crowned him with much glory who, for His Name, shed his blood.

2. THE PRIESTLY-MARTYR STEPHEN, THE POPE OF ROME AND OTHERS WITH HIM

Stephen was Pope of Rome between the years 253-257 A.D. He struggled against the heretic Novatian. He cured Lucilla, the daughter of Nemesius, the tribune and baptized them both. Stephen, with twelve of his clerics, suffered during the reign of Valerian. He was beheaded during the celebration of the Liturgy.

3. THE HOLY AND BLESSED BASIL, "FOOL FOR CHRIST" OF MOSCOW

Basil's father was named Jacob and his mother Anna. At age sixteen, he dedicated himself to a life of asceticism as a "Fool for Christ" and in this difficult mortification persevered for seventy-two years. Altogether, he lived to be eighty-eight years old. He traveled barefooted, bareheaded and in rags. He did not have any permanent dwelling place. He admonished sinners, reprimanded the noblemen, prophesied the truth and had visions of distant places. Having suffered greatly from hunger, frost and from the insults of men, Blessed Basil presented his holy soul to God. Tsar Ivan, with the Metropolitan, attended his funeral. He is buried in Moscow in the Church of the Most-holy Birth-giver of God, later named after him.

HYMN OF PRAISE

GAMALIEL

In the middle of the dark night, Gamaliel appeared,

To Lucian the wondrous mystery revealed;

Gamaliel appeared, elder dignified,

A hidden smile on his radiant face,

A long gray beard and gray are his hairs,

His garment white, with a red cross adorned.

And Gamaliel, four hives placed

In a cave, along side four graves.

Three were of gold, the fourth of silver,

Each one, with beautiful flowers, was filled.

The first was full of red flowers,

The remaining three with white [flowers] from the Spring of Paradise.

That golden hive, Gamaliel said,

With flowers red, from which a fragrance flows,

Before the grave of Saint Stephen, that one stands,

Who, for the Living Christ, shed his blood.

And the other two golden ones, with flowers all white

With holy Nicodemus, I, Gamaliel share

Here, his body and here, my body

And the fourth one pure white silver

And with flowers white, here, Abibus rests,

My only son, whom alive, I see.

His hive is white and his flowers are white.

For a pure soul and body, had he,

Baptized and young he died, as an early bloom,

My son I buried, along side Saint Stephen

For the saint, my son Abibus, to help

As he helps every Christian.

REFLECTION

We must be patient and merciful toward the sinner if we wish that a long-suffering [patient] God be merciful to us. The great compassion of Blessed Alexander, the Patriarch of Antioch, had become proverbial. One of his scribes stole several gold pieces and fled to Thebaid. However, some robbers captured him in the wilderness and they took him with them. Learning of this, Alexander sent the robbers eighty-five gold pieces as a ransom. That is why it was said: "The mercy of Alexander cannot be overcome by any sin." St. John the Merciful One writes: "The long-suffering [patience] of God is unchangeable and His mercy is kind…How many criminals are there who go out to kill and rob that He conceals in order that they may not be captured and placed under tortures? Pirates sail the sea and God does not order the sea to drown them. How many falsely swear by Holy Communion and He tolerates not repaying them for that with evil? Robbers steal on the road and He does not give them over to the beasts to tear them to pieces…Libertines go off with prostitutes and He tolerates them. Why all of this? Because He waits for repentance and conversion. Truly, God does not want the destruction of a sinner…That is why, brethren, let us be ashamed before the most lenient Lord God."

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate God's miraculous assistance to the repentant Israelites (Judges 11):

1. How the penitents cry out to God: do with us whatsoever You please, only deliver us now (Judges 10);

2. How the Spirit of the Lord descended upon Jepthah and he destroyed the Ammonites and liberated Israel;

3. How, even today, repentance of men brings peace with God and brings down the help of God in danger.

HOMILY

About God's grievance against the unfaithful people

"Hear, O heavens and listen, O earth, for the Lord speaks: sons have I raised and reared but they have disowned me!" (Isaiah 1:2).

The wrath, wrath of God! God turns from the chosen people in wrath and grieves to His other creations; He grieves to the heavens and the earth. Harken my holy and rational angels and harken all you irrational earthly creatures! I wanted to make this people holy and rational and they have lowered themselves beneath irrational creatures with their impurity and ungratefulness. I have called them my sons and exalted them and they turned their backs on me and went after foul idols. Wrath, wrath of God, the wrath of Love, that even a thousand times does good to a leper and that even a thousand times was spat upon by the leper. When and if all the elements could speak, they could, with all the living things, witness all the great miracles which the One Living God performed for the people of Israel in Egypt and in the wilderness, only that they turn away from idolatry and believe in the One Living and Almighty God. This could be attested by water and blood, by stone and wood, by darkness and fire, by frogs and flies, by birds and serpents, by sickness and death and clouds and smoke, by winds and manna, and copper and iron together with pharaoh and the countless numbers of peoples miraculously defeated by the hand of God and removed from the path of the people of Israel. But still, they turned from God and went after idols.

This is the dreadful vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos, the prophet of God. O, my brethren, just imagine what kind of vision the Prophet Isaiah would have concerning us if he would appear today among our people!

O Lord, the only living, the only Omnipotent, affix our mind and our heart to You the true God and safeguard us; safeguard us from apostatizing from You.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
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