Prologue of Ohrid

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August 29

1. THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST [ST. MATTHEW 14:1-12]

Herod Antipas, son of the elder Herod, who was the slayer of the children of Bethlehem at the time of the birth of the Lord Jesus, was ruler of Galilee at the time when John the Baptist was preaching. This Herod was married to the daughter of Aretas, an Arabian prince. But Herod, an evil sprout of an evil root, put away his lawful wife and unlawfully took unto himself Herodias as his concubine, the wife of his brother Philip, who was still living. John the Baptist stood up against this lawlessness and strongly denounced Herod who then cast John into prison. At the time of a banquet in his court in Sebastia in Galilee Salome, the daughter of Herodias and Philip, danced before the guests. The drunken Herod was so taken by this dance that he promised Salome that he would give her whatever she asked of him, even though it be half of his kingdom. Being persuaded by her mother, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist. Herod gave the order and John was beheaded in prison and his head brought to him on a platter. John's disciples took the body of their teacher by night and honorably buried it and Herodias pierced the tongue of John with a needle in many places and buried the head in an unclean place. What later happened to John the Baptist's head can be read on February 24. However, God's punishment quickly befell this group of evil doers. Prince Aretas, in order to cleanse his daughter's honor, attacked Herod with his army and defeated him. The defeated Herod was sentenced by the Roman Caesar, Caligula, to exile at first to Gaul and later to Spain. As exiles, Herod and Herodias lived in poverty and humiliation until the earth opened up and swallowed them. Salome died an evil death on the Sikaris (Sula) river. The death of St. John occurred before the Pascha [Passover] but its celebration on August 29 was established because, on that day, a church which had been built over his grave in Sebastia by Emperor Constantine and Empress Helena was consecrated. In this church the relics of John's disciples, Eliseus and Audius, were also placed.

2. VENERABLE THEODORA OF THESSALONICA

As the wife of a wealthy and devout man, they lived on the island of Aegina. But when the Arabs menaced Aegina, they settled in Thessalonica. There they gave up their one and only daughter to a convent who, in monasticism, received the name of Theopista. Soon after, Theodora's husband died and she also became a nun. She was a great ascetic. She often heard angelic singing and often spoke to the sisters: "Do you not hear how beautifully the angels sing in the heavenly sanctuary?" She died at the age of seventy-five in the year 879 A.D. From her relics flowed healing myrrh by which many were healed.

3. THE HOLY FEMALE MARTYR VASILISSA

Vasilissa suffered for Christ in Srem [Serbia].

4. THE HOLY MARTYR ANASTASIUS

Anastasius was a young man from Radoviste, the Diocese of Strumica. He learned a trade in Thessalonica. The Turks tried to force him to become a Muslim, which he adamantly rejected and for this he was tortured and finally hanged on August 29, 1794 A.D.

HYMN OF PRAISE

SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

O Saint John, wonderful Baptizer,

Of the Savior, you were the glorious Forerunner,

You, with your purity, touched human souls

And, as an awesome trumpet, from the Jordan resounded

From sleep and idle vices, awakening men,

When the axe was near to the root.

To you I bow, to you I pray:

Every temptation, help me to resist.

Prophet most powerful, to you I bow,

And before you kneel and before you I weep:

From your heart, grant me the strength of a lion,

From your spirit, grant me angelic whiteness.

Grant me your strength that by practice to attain

To God be submissive and to rule over myself,

To baptize by fasting, to purify by all-night vigils,

To sweeten by prayer and heavenly vision,

And to every martyrdom, walk without fear

With your courage and with a strong faith.

O Saint John, God's chosen one,

And glorious martyr for supreme justice,

You, of whom the godless armies are afraid

To my prayers, do not turn a deaf ear,

But, strengthen me by your prayers,

That as a true candle before the Lord, I stand.

REFLECTION

If you observe how men die, you would see that the death of a man usually resembles his sin. As it is written: "For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (St. Matthew 26:52). Every sin is a knife and men usually are slain by that sin which they most readily committed. An example of this is given to us by Salome, the foul daughter of Herodias who asked for and received from Herod the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Living in Spain in the town of Lerida [Loredo] with the exiled Herod and Herodias, Salome set out one day across the frozen river Sikaris. The ice broke and she fell into the water up to her neck. Icebergs squeezed around her neck and she wiggled, dancing with her feet in the water as she once danced at the court of Herod. However, she was unable either to raise herself up or to drown until a sharp piece of ice severed her head. The water carried her body away and her head was brought to Herodias on a platter as was the head of John the Baptist at one time. Behold how terrible a death resembles the sin committed.

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the righteousness of David (2 Samuel 3 2 Kings 3):

1. How Abner the commander, an opponent of David, gave himself over to David trusting him;

2. How Joab, David's commander, slew Abner;

3. How David cursed the house of Joab and wept much for Abner.

HOMILY

About the healing of mankind by the wounds of Christ

"And by His stripes [wounds] we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

We are healed by the wounds of Christ. Thus, the prophet of God prophesies and we now know that his prophecy is true. By the suffering of Christ, we have been saved from eternal suffering; by His All-pure blood, we are cleansed of the leprosy of sin and are enlivened. Our blood and body became impure from sinful passions; but our spirit, the nest and source of bodily impurity, first became impure. Can the unclean be cleansed by the unclean? Can a dirty linen be washed with dirty water? It cannot.

Only that which is clean can wash that which is unclean. Even the pagans feel that mankind is impure. But, they [the pagans] want to cleanse the impure by the impure first, by invoking impure spirits and worshipping them. And second, by offering impure sacrifices, be they human or animal sacrifices. One drop of the blood of the All-pure Christ can cleanse mankind more than all of the idolatrous sacrifices from the beginning of the world. Why? Because the blood of Christ is pure and all else is impure. Physicians take one drop of a strong remedy and diluting it, vaccinate many people with it in order to protect them from disease. We even dilute the blood of Christ in the Chalice [Cup]with water and then we take it and drink it, for it is said that when they pierced the body of the Lord with a spear "there came out blood and water" (St. John 19:34). Such is the power from one drop of His blood that, the world could be burned by it. That is the sinless blood, the only sinless blood; the blood most-pure, the only pure blood in the world.

O, if men would only know what is the power of absolute purity! All the impure ones from sin would rush to cleanse themselves by the All-pure Christ and all the helpless ones would rush to partake of the Blood and Body of Christ [Holy Communion]; and all the unbelieving would believe in Christ. For there is three and all three are pure and all three purify: pure spirit, pure blood and pure body, and only the pure can purify the impure; and that which is healthy can heal the unhealthy; and that which is powerful can raise the helpless.

O Lord, our omnipotent Lord, cleanse us sinners by Your bloody wound, by Your innocent and all-pure wound.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
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