Prologue of Ohrid

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September 9

1. SAINTS JOACHIM AND ANNA

St. Joachim was of the lineage of Judah and a descendant of King David. Anna was the daughter of Matthan the priest, from the lineage of Levi, as was Aaron the high priest. Matthan had three daughters: Mary, Sophia and Anna. Mary married, lived in Bethlehem and gave birth to Salome; Sophia married, also lived in Bethlehem, and gave birth to Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Forerunner; Anna married Joachim in Nazareth, and in old age gave birth to Mary, the Most-holy Theotokos. Joachim and Anna had lived together in marriage for fifty years, and yet had remained barren. They lived devoutly and quietly, and of all their income they spent one third on themselves, distributed one third to the poor and gave the other third to the Temple, and they were well provided for. Once when in their old age they came to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice to God, the high priest Issachar reprimanded Joachim, saying: "You are not worthy that a gift be accepted from your hands, for you are childless.'' Others, who had children, pushed Joachim behind them as one unworthy. This greatly grieved these two aged souls and they returned home in great sorrow. Then the two of them fell down before God in prayer, that He work a miracle with them as He once had with Abraham and Sarah, and give them a child as a comfort in their old age. Then God sent His angel, who announced to them the birth of "a daughter most-blessed, by whom all nations on earth will be blessed and through whom the salvation of the world will come.'' Anna straightway conceived, and in nine months gave birth to the Holy Virgin Mary. St. Joachim lived for eighty years and Anna lived for seventy-nine, at which time they reposed in the Lord. 

2. THE COMMEMORATION OF THE THIRD ECUMENICAL COUNCIL

This Council met in Ephesus in 431 at the time of Emperor Theodosius the Younger. There were two hundred Holy Fathers present at this Council. This Council condemned Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, for his heretical teachings concerning the Most-holy Virgin Mary and the birth of the Lord. Nestorius did not want to call the Holy Virgin the Theotokos (Birth-giver of God), but rather the Christotokos (Birth-giver of Christ). The Holy Fathers condemned the teachings of Nestorius and confirmed that the Holy Virgin be called the Theotokos. Besides this, the Council confirmed the decisions of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils-especially as regarding the Nicaean-Constantinopolitan Creed, commanding that no one take from or add to the Creed.

3. THE HOLY MARTYR SEVERIAN

Severian was a nobleman from Sebaste. During the martyrdom of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (March 9), he visited them in prison, encouraging and ministering to them. After their glorious repose he too was arrested, beaten and tortured for Christ. Finally, he was hanged from a tree with a heavy stone around his neck and another dangling from his feet. Giving thanks to God for everything, Severian gave up his spirit. This was during the reign of Emperor Licinius, in the year 320.

4. SAINT THEOPHANES THE CONFESSOR AND FASTER

After a God-pleasing life and much suffering, Theophanes reposed peacefully in the year 299.

5. SAINT NICETAS THE GOD-PLEASER

Nicetas lived in Constantinople in the twelfth century. He so pleased God by his life that the church doors opened of themselves before him, and the icon lamps lit by themselves. Such was the power of his prayer. At the wish of Deacon Sozon, and by the prayer of Nicetas, a priest appeared from the other world, from whom Sozon had been estranged and had remained unreconciled. There first appeared a row of priests vested in white and then another row of priests in red vestments. Sozon recognized his former opponent among them, and made peace with him. This occurred at night, in the Blachernae Church.

HYMN OF PRAISE
 
SAINTS JOACHIM AND ANNA
 
Be glad, O barren one;
Be glad, O aged Anna.
You will conceive and give birth
To a wondrous child, a chosen one-

As once did the aged Sarah,
And the mother of Samson,
And the mother of Samuel, 
And the mother of John-

Yet you will be more glorious than all,
For you will give birth from the womb
To the wonderful Virgin, the only
Wonderful Mother of the Most-high King.

Be glad, O Joachim,
Father of the unprecedented mother,
Of whom the Creator desires
To be clothed with glory.

The Law loses its power
When God wills, and where He wills.
Who can gainsay God?
Can there be any dispute with God?

Not by disputation, but by love
Does God change His laws.
Before love, all laws
Are as if nonexistent.

When men hunger, the Lord
Makes the dry field fertile;
And because of the spiritual hunger of the world,
He makes the barren one fertile.

For the salvation of men, the Lord
Arranges all for the best.
That is why all the Church of the saints
Cries out to Him: Glory! Glory!

REFLECTION

One should not give alms with pride but rather with humility, considering the one to whom the alms are given to be better than oneself. Did not the Lord Himself say: Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me (Matthew 25:40)? Theophanes the Confessor possessed a mind illumined by the light of Christ, even as a child. Once, while walking along the street, he saw a naked child freezing. He quickly removed his clothes, clothed the child and thus warmed him and brought him back to life. He then returned home naked. His startled parents asked him: "Where are your clothes?'' To this Theophanes replied: "I clothed Christ.'' This is why he was given the grace of Christ, and was later a great ascetic, a sufferer for the Christian Faith and a miracle-worker. Often, when we give alms, either in someone else's name or in our own name, we cannot avoid pride which, as soon as it appears in the heart, destroys all the good deeds performed. When we give to the beggar as to a beggar and not as to Christ, we cannot avoid pride or disdain. What value is there in performing an act of mercy, while taking pride in ourselves and disdaining the man? Virtue is not a virtue when it is mixed with sin, just as milk is not milk when it is mixed with gasoline or vinegar.

CONTEMPLATION

Contemplate the wisdom of Solomon (I Kings 3):

1. How two women disputed over a child, and each said that the child was hers;

2. How Solomon ordered that the child be cut in two; and one half be given to each woman;

3. How the real mother cried out for the child, and thus made it known that the child was hers.

HOMILY

on God's testimony of Himself

If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true (John 5:31).

This is how the Lord spoke to a false and lying people. He spoke these words to the elders of the Jews, not as an instruction, but rather as a reproach. They did not believe one man when he spoke for himself, but rather sought two witnesses. Brethren, do not even think that what the Lord says of Himself is not true-but rather, that the Jews did not consider it as true. From this, according to the interpretation of our Holy Fathers, the words 'My witness is not true' must be understood to mean that this witness was not true in the eyes of the Jews. That every word that the Lord Jesus spoke about Himself is true He expressed in another place, saying: "Though I bear record of Myself, yet My record is true" (John 8:14). Here the Lord teaches, there He reproaches; here He confirms how a thing is; there, how the thing seemed to be to the Jews. The Jews did not believe His witness about Himself, but sought other witnesses. Therefore, He cited three great witnesses-the witness of His own works: "The same works that I do, bear witness of Me" (John 5:36); the witness of His Heavenly Father, Who bore witness to Him as His Son at the Jordan and on Mount Tabor: "And the Father himself, which hath sent Me, hath borne witness of Me" (John 5:37); and finally, the witness of the Holy Scriptures: "Search the scriptures … they are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39). With a bit of understanding, what other kind of witness would a man require? But the understanding of the Jewish elders was darkened to so great an extent that they were unable to see or understand anything. When the Lord, the Lover of Mankind, did all that was necessary to save the Jewish elders, and when they rejected all the witnesses about Him, thereby rejecting even their own salvation, He then said to them: "Though I bear record of Myself, yet My record is true" (John 8:14).

O my brethren, let us not be stony-hearted as were those blind elders, and let us not reject our only salvation. We do not seek any other witnesses, but rather believe that which the Lord Jesus alone says of Himself. He said of Himself, "I am … the Truth" (John 14:6), and it is by this Truth that we are nourished and saved.

O Lord Jesus, the Living Truth, the Eternal Truth-do not withdraw from us, but enlighten us and save us.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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