Prologue of Ohrid

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August 18

1. THE VENERABLE JOHN OF RILA

This great ascetic and saint of the Orthodox Church was born near Sophia, Bulgaria in the town of Skrino during the reign of King Boris. He was of poor but honorable parents. After the death of his parents, John was tonsured a monk and withdrew to a mountain wilderness and, began to live a life of strict asceticism in a cave. There, he endured many assaults, both from demons and men, from robbers and his relatives. After this, he moved to the Rila mountain and settled in a hollow tree. He fed only on herbs and broad beans, which, according to God's Providence began to grow in the vicinity. For many years, he did not see a man's face until again, by God's Providence, he was discovered by sheepherders who were seeking their lost sheep. Thus, the saint was heard of among the people and they began to come to him seeking help in sickness and in sufferings. The Bulgarian King Peter himself visited John and sought counsel from him. Many who were zealots for the spiritual life settled in the proximity of John. There, a church and monastery was quickly built. St. John rested peacefully in the Lord on August 18, 946 A.D. at the age of seventy. After his death, he appeared to his disciples. At first, his relics were translated to Sophia, then to Hungary, then to Trnovo and finally to the Rila monastery where they repose today. Throughout the centuries, the Rila monastery was a beacon of light, a place of miracle-working power and a spiritual comfort for the Christian people of Bulgaria especially during the difficult times of bondage under the Turks.

2. THE HOLY MARTYRS FLORUS AND LAURUS

Florus and Laurus were brothers in the flesh, and in spirit and in vocation. Both were zealous Christians and, by occupation, stonecutters. They lived in Illyria. A pagan prince hired them for the building of a temple to the idols. It happened that during their work, a piece of stone flew and struck the eye of the pagan priest's son who was observing the work of the builders with curiosity. Seeing his son blind and bloody, the pagan priest began to shout at Florus and Laurus and wanted to beat them. Then, the holy brothers said to him that if he would believe in the God in whom they believed, his son would be healed. The pagan priest promised. Florus and Laurus prayed with tears to the one, living, Lord God and traced the sign of the Cross over the child's injured eye. The child was immediately healed and his eye became whole just as it had been. Then the pagan priest Merentius and his son were baptized and, shortly after that, both suffered for Christ by fire. When they completed the temple, Florus and Laurus placed a cross on it, summoned all Christians and consecrated it in the name of the Lord Jesus with an all-night vigil of hymn singing. Hearing of this, the Illyrian deputy burned many of those Christians and threw Florus and Laurus alive in a well and then filled it with dirt. Later, their relics were revealed and translated to Constantinople. These two wonderful brothers suffered and were martyred for Christ and were glorified by Christ in the second century.

3. THE PRIESTLY-MARTYR EMILIAN, BISHOP OF TREVI

Emilian was born in Armenia. According to his wishes and seeking martyrdom, he traveled to Italy to preach Christ during the reign of Diocletian. He was elected bishop of Trevi. As a result of the many miracles during the time of his torture, approximately one thousand pagans believed in Christ. He was slain by the sword together with Hilarion, his spiritual father and two brothers, Dionysius and Hermippus.

HYMN OF PRAISE

THE HOLY MARTYRS FLORUS AND LAURUS

To two sons, two saints, a mother gave birth,

Blessed is such a mother that pleases God.

Wonderful Florus and Laurus, cut the stones,

Along with that, by the Cross, the souls of men corrected;

What a chisel is to stone, a Cross is to the soul,

By the Cross chisled out, for the Cross they perished.

The pagan priest, the unseen miracle saw:

The eye knocked out - the eye healed!

A miracle unseen! For him, that was enough

And with the Cross was baptized and a martyr became.

Wonderful Florus and Laurus, temple of the idols built,

But, in their heart, glorify Christ the God.

The brothers, a new pagan temple built,

But, on it a Cross placed and behold - a Christian temple!

Still, with hymns of praise to Christ, they filled it

And with the beauty of candles and incense pure.

Man to man resembles it in the same way,

But one is humble and the other is flamboyant.

Behold, very similar are they, in body and attire,

But very different in mind and spirit.

In one is Christ and holiness pure,

In the other is the diabolical suffering and emptiness.

That may our body God grant it

To be temples of the Living God, the Spirit

Through the powerful prayers of God's chosen ones.

The brothers Florus and Laurus, holy martyrs.

REFLECTION

It is not a rare occasion, especially in our time, that parents become the culprits for the spiritual death of their children. Whenever a child has an aspiration for the spiritual life, asceticism, monasticism and the parent curtails this aspiration instead of encouraging it, such a parent becomes the murderer of his child. And, such children, as a punishment to their parents, often turn to the opposite side and become perverted. A boy named Luke, the nephew of St. John of Rila, hearing about his uncle and drawn by the desire for the spiritual life, visited his uncle in the mountain. John received Luke with love and began to instruct and to strengthen him in the mortification of asceticism. However, one day Luke's father appeared at the cave of John and furiously began to scold the saint for keeping his son in that wilderness. John's words and counsels were of no avail. The father dragged the son home by force. However, on the way home a serpent bit the boy and Luke died. The cruel father saw in this the punishment of God and repented but it was all too late. He returned to John mourning and condemning himself. But the saint only said to him to bury the child and to return from wherever he came.

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate God's wondrous choosing of David as king (1 Samuel 16 1 King 16):

1. How the Lord instructed Samuel to go to the home of Jesse and anoint one of his sons as king;

2. How the Lord instructed Samuel to anoint David, a herder of sheep, the eighth and youngest son of Jesse;

3. How Samuel anointed David and how the Spirit of God descended upon David.

HOMILY

About peace between the wolf and the lamb

"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid" (Isaiah 11:6).

Thus, the true prophet foretold the truth. And he further added: "The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; …and the lion shall eat straw like the ox" (Isaiah 11:6-7). And the child will place his hand in the hole of a poisonous snake [asp] and the snake will not harm him. Brethren, when will this wonder occur? This has already occurred when Christ the wonder-worker appeared on earth. This is a reality of Paradise, which was restored among men with the coming of the Savior upon earth. The prophet speaks enigmatically but, nevertheless, clearly; enigmatically, for the prophet does not speak about wild beasts but of men; for his prophecy was clearly fulfilled in Christ's Church. Men, who by their habits, were as wolves, wildcats, lions, bears, oxen, lambs, kids and serpents all stand before the Child of Bethlehem equalized by faith, tamed by grace, illumined by hope and softened by love.

The prophet further fortells why this will take place. "For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). When viewed physically, every man is earth. The man who believes in Christ and, in truth follows after Christ, becomes full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea, which is filled with water. Such were many individuals. Such were even entire companies of ascetics in Egypt, on the Holy Mountain [Athos], on Cyprus, in Russia, in Armenia and in other places. But this is not all. The knowledge of the Lord has spread today throughout the earth. Holy Scripture is distributed throughout all nations. There are few corners of the earth where the Gospel of Christ is not read, where the name of God is not known and where the Bloodless Sacrifice of the Lord is not offered. Some deny Christ, others embrace Him, some abandon the true Faith and others embrace the true Faith. And thus continues the one struggle throughout the entire world in the sign of the Lord Jesus. The overly filled waters pour out and flow into empty valleys; the empty valleys become filled and are made equal with the high waters. Everything is not glowing in the world as we Christians wish it to be, but the prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah was gloriously fulfilled most clearly and was accomplished. O how wonderful is the vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos, the true prophet. O, miracle-working Lord, tame the beastly nature of those men and people who are not tamed by the power of Your love. That we all may be fruitful from Your abundance. That we all may be glorious from Your Glory and alive Lord, alive from Your Immortal life.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
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