Prologue of Ohrid

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October 19

1. The Holy Prophet Joel
Joel is second in the line of the minor prophets. St. Joel was the son of Phanuel, from the tribe of Reuben. He lived eight hundred years before Christ. Joel prophesied the misfortunes of the people of Israel, and the Babylonian Captivity because of the sins they had committed in the sight of God. He called the people to fasting and the priests to tearful penitential prayer, that God would have mercy on them: Sanctify ye a fast … and cry unto the Lord (Joel 1:14); Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar (Joel 2:17). Joel also foretold the Descent of the Spirit of God upon the apostles and the pouring out of the grace of the Spirit of God upon all Christians: Then afterward I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28). He prophesied and described the Dread Judgment of God, and also prophesied the glory of God's Holy Church.


2. The Holy Martyr Varus


Varus was a Roman officer in Egypt and also secretly a Christian. When seven Christian teachers were cast into prison, Varus visited them, supplying them with necessities and ministering to them zealously. He was amazed at these martyrs and grieved that because of his fear he could not become a martyr for Christ. The men of God encouraged him, and Varus decided that he would go with them to be tortured. One of these men of God died in prison, so that when the wicked eparch had the martyrs brought before him, there were only six remaining. He inquired as to the seventh. Varus said to him: ``I am the seventh.'' The enraged governor tortured Varus first. He commanded that he be flogged with dry rods naked, and after that had him tied to a tree and sliced apart piece by piece until the saint gave his holy soul to God. His body was thrown on a dung heap. A Palestinian woman named Cleopatra, the widow of an officer, was there with her son John. She secretly took Varus's holy relics from the dung heap and buried them in her house. Then she begged permission from the eparch to take the body of her deceased husband from Egypt to Palestine. As she was the wife of an officer, the eparch immediately gave his permission. However, the blessed Christian Cleopatra did not take the body of her husband but the relics of the Holy Martyr Varus instead. Thus, she brought the martyr's relics to Edras (the village of her birth) near Mount Tabor, and buried them with honor there. Afterward, she built a church to St. Varus and he often appeared to her from the other world, resplendent as an angel of God.


3. The Venerable Prochorus of Pchinja


St. Prochorus was a contemporary and friend of Saints John of Rila and Gabriel of Lesnov. According to his prayer, God showed him the place where he would live a life of asceticism. This place was a wooded area near the River Pchinja. Here Prochorus labored in asceticism to his old age and repose. Only the One All-seeing God knows the extent of Prochorus's labors and the temptations he endured in the course of his asceticism. But one can judge by his myrrh-gushing relics and his numberless miraculous healings-which have continued up to today-the greatness of his asceticism and the greatness of God's grace which was given to him because of his great labors. St. Prochorus entered into rest and took up his abode in the Kingdom of God in the eleventh century.


HYMN OF PRAISE
The Venerable Prochorus of Pchinja


From his early youth, holy Father Prochorus
Hid from the world and from vanity,
Diligently working with fasting and sweat,
Until his soul was raised up and bound to God.
His companions were beasts of the forest;
Resplendent angels were his protection;
The saints of God were astonished at him,
For St. Prochorus attained all that they had attained.
God gave him abundant grace:
Great and powerful authority over demons,
Power over infirmity and varied sufferings,
Help for the sorrowing by his prayers.
By labors, Prochorus seized heaven,
And of the Heavenly Kingdom he became worthy.
He made himself worthy, and helps others
Who seek to enter into the Kingdom.
The temporal he cast off; the eternal he embraced;
And he paid a small price for the precious treasure.
The wonderworker Prochorus is in Paradise-
In heavenly splendor, now entirely aglow.
And he helps those who pray to him,
Those who believe in and love Christ our God.


REFLECTION


An appearance of the Holy Martyr Varus: When the devout widow Cleopatra built a church to him, she summoned the bishop and priests to consecrate it. A large number of Christians gathered for this celebration, for the entire countryside venerated St. Varus as a great healer and miracle-worker. Following the divine services, this pious benefactress went before the relics of St. Varus and prayed: ``I beseech you-you who endured much suffering for Christ-implore God for that which is pleasing to Him; and for me and my only son, ask that which is beneficial.'' Cleopatra's son John was ready for the army. Just as she left the church, John became ill. He was seized with a burning fever that grew steadily worse until, around midnight, John died. The grief-stricken, furious mother came before the tomb of St. Varus and spoke sharply: ``O saint of God! Is this the way you help me?'' and she said much more in her bitter lamentation until, utterly exhausted, she fell into a light sleep. St. Varus appeared to her with her son John. Both were radiant as the sun in garments whiter than snow, bound with golden girdles, and had magnificent wreaths on their heads. God's saint said to her: ``Did you not pray to me to implore God for whatever was pleasing to Him, and beneficial to you and your son? I prayed to God and He, in His unspeakable goodness, took your son into His heavenly army. If you so desire, here he is: take him and place him in the army of the earthly king.'' Hearing this, the young John embraced St. Varus and said: ``No, my Lord, do not listen to my mother and do not send me back into the world-full of unrighteousness and iniquity-from which you have delivered me.'' Awakening from the dream, Cleopatra felt great joy in her heart and left the church. She lived near the church for seven years, and St. Varus often appeared to her with John. 


CONTEMPLATION


Contemplate Saul's wondrous conversion to the Christian Faith (Acts 9):
1. How Saul set out to persecute Christians in Damascus;
2. How a light shone down from heaven and He heard the voice of Christ.


HOMILY
on the soul's thirst for God


My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God: When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:2).
When only a spark of love for God shines in the heart of man, he should not extinguish it but let it burn, and he will see a miracle. That spark will flare up into a torch of unseen radiance, and the light and its warmth will be very great. In the light of his love for God, a man will feel his life in this world to be as darkness; and from the warmth of his love for God, he will feel an unquenchable thirst for God, a thirst to be closer to God, a thirst for seeing God. David, the lover of God, compares this thirst to the thirst of a deer who races to springs of water. My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God. Is not everything around us infirm? Does not everything around us quickly decay? We grab at shadows, we embrace corpses. We pay today for tomorrow's stench-we pay with gold and silver, sometimes with our honor and conscience, and at times even with our life-for the stench of tomorrow's decay! This is not love but animal lust. A great soul seeks a subject worthy of love, seeks a subject not susceptible to destruction, decay, decomposition and the filth of transient bodies. That is why King David, the lover of God, emphasizes the Living God. For who, in truth, is mighty and alive save God? God endowed His angels and saints with strength and life: yet all of it is His, and from Him. When shall I come and appear before God? Here is the irresistible yearning of true love for God. Shame on all who say that they believe in God, and love God, while the very thought of death-of leaving this world-drives them wild with fear.
O Lord our God, holy, mighty and living-the Source of holiness, the Source of strength, the Source of life-illumine us and warm us with love for Thee.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.



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