Prologue of Ohrid

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December 7

1. Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Mediolanum (Milan)
This great holy father of the Orthodox Church was of eminent birth. His father was the imperial deputy of Gaul and Spain and was a pagan by faith, but his mother was a Christian. While he was still in the cradle, a swarm of bees settled on him, poured honey onto his lips, and flew away. And while still a child, he extended his hand and spoke prophetically: ``Kiss it, for I will be a bishop.'' After his father's death, the emperor appointed him as his representative in the province of Liguria, of which Milan was the chief city. When the bishop of Milan died, a great dispute arose between the Orthodox Christians and the Arian heretics concerning the election of a new bishop. Ambrose entered the church to maintain order, this being his duty. At that moment, a child at its mother's bosom exclaimed: ``Ambrose for bishop!'' All the people took this as the voice of God, and unanimously elected Ambrose as their bishop, contrary to his will. Ambrose was baptized, passed through all the necessary ranks and was consecrated to the episcopacy, all within a week. As bishop, Ambrose strengthened the Orthodox Faith, suppressed the heretics, adorned churches, spread the Faith among the pagans, wrote many instructive books, and served as an example of a true Christian and a true Christian shepherd. He composed the famous hymn ``We Praise Thee, O God.'' This glorious hierarch, whom men visited from distant lands for his wisdom and sweetness of words, was very restrained, diligent and vigilant. He slept very little, labored and prayed constantly, and fasted every day except Saturday and Sunday. Therefore, God allowed him to witness many of His miracles and to perform miracles himself. He discovered the relics of the Holy Martyrs Protasius, Gervasius, Nazarius and Celsus (October 14). Meek toward lesser men, he was fearless before the great. He reproached Empress Justina as a heretic, cursed Maximus the tyrant and murderer, and forbade Emperor Theodosius to enter a church until he had repented of his sin. He also refused to meet with Eugenius, the tyrannical and self-styled emperor. God granted this man, so pleasing to Him, such grace that he even raised the dead, drove out demons from men, healed the sick of every infirmity, and foresaw the future. Ambrose died peacefully on the morning of Pascha in the year 397.


2. The Venerable Gregory the Hesychast


Gregory was a Serb by birth. He was the founder of the Monastery of St. Nicholas on the Holy Mountain, known as ``Gregoriou'' after him. His cell, where he prayed in silence and repented, can be found about a quarter of an hour distance from the monastery. In the year 1761, there was a great fire in the monastery, and on this occasion some of the monks took his relics and translated them to Serbia. This man of God entered peacefully into rest in the year 1406.


3. The Venerable Nilus of Stolbensk


Nilus was a farmer and was born in Novgorod. Withdrawing into the wilderness, he fed on plants. At the instruction of a voice from on high, he settled on the island of Stolbensk. Once, some robbers entered his cell in order to plunder it, and they were immediately blinded. He dug a grave for himself close to his cell and wept over it every day. Nilus entered into rest peacefully and took up his habitation in the Kingdom of Christ in the year 1554. His miracle-working relics rest in the place where he fasted.


HYMN OF PRAISE
Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan


Ambrose, converted late in life,
Ambrose, soon consecrated,
A pillar of truth, a light of piety,
A soldier of Christ, a persecutor of impiety,
He divinely served the Church of God,
And the Church repaid its shepherd.
In hymns and with love, the Church glorifies him,
And angels are among those who glorify him.
The Church glorifies him as a father,
As a shepherd, and as a miracle-worker;
And as a wise man equal to Solomon,
The whole universe recognizes him,
The invisible as well as the visible,
And to the Living God it renders praise.
Thee, O God, we also glorify,
And to Thy power we bow down-
To Thy might and Thy mercy,
Eternal justice, wondrous wisdom.
Most beautifully Thy glory shone
Through Thy wonderful St. Ambrose.
O how merciful art Thou, O God,
O how wondrous art Thou in Thy saints!


REFLECTION


Brethren, God returns a loan a hundredfold, when it is lent to Him through the poor. At one time, there was a Christian woman married to a pagan, and they lived together in love and poverty. When the husband, with much difficulty, saved up fifty silver pieces, he told his wife that this money should be given to someone as a loan with interest. Otherwise, he stated, they would spend their savings coin by coin, and again they would be left with nothing. His wife replied: ``If you want to loan it out, lend it to the Christian God.'' ``And where is the Christian God?'' the husband asked. His wife led him to the church and told him to distribute the money to the beggars in front of the church, saying to her husband: ``The Christian God will accept this from them, since all of them are His.'' They distributed all fifty silver pieces to the poor and returned home. After a period of time, they were left without any bread in the house. Then the wife told her husband to go to the church, and he would receive the money that he loaned to God. The man went to the church and saw only beggars there, and in his perplexity as to who would give him money, he walked around the church. Suddenly he saw a silver coin in front of him. He took it, purchased a fish with it, and brought the fish home. He complained to his wife that he had not seen anyone and no one had given him anything, but that he accidentally had found a silver coin. His wife replied: ``God is invisible and works in an unseen manner.'' When the wife cut open the fish, she found a glittering stone in it. She gave this stone to her husband and he took it to a merchant to see what he could get for it. The merchant offered him five silver pieces, and the man began to laugh, thinking that the merchant was joking by offering him such a high price. However, the merchant, thinking that the man was laughing because of the small price he had offered him, then offered him ten, then fifteen, then thirty, then fifty silver pieces. The man, realizing that it was a precious stone, began to hesitate. The merchant raised the price higher and higher until he reached the price of three hundred silver pieces. Then the man accepted the three hundred silver pieces and went home joyfully. ``Do you see how good the Christian God is?'' his wife said to him. The amazed husband was immediately baptized and, together with his wife, glorified God.


CONTEMPLATION


Contemplate the sinful fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3):
1. How God drove Adam and Eve out of Paradise;
2. How He placed the Cherubim with a flaming sword before the gate of Paradise;
3. How Paradise remained closed to men until the advent of Christ the Lord on earth.


HOMILY
on how all that God created was very good


And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).
Brethren, when all the parts of a building are good, then the building in its entirety is very good. Every single brick is good, and every stone, the mortar and the lime, and the beams and the pillars-but man is moved to admiration only when he views the entire structure. Oftentimes, a certain detail in the building seems unintelligible and inappropriate to him, but he forgets about this in a moment when he turns his gaze upon the whole. And, indeed, there are many details in this world, as well as in things and in events, that are unintelligible and inappropriate to us. Only when the entire thing as a whole is revealed to us do we understand and are reassured. We consider many of the sufferings and deprivations in our lives as truly ugly and senseless at the time they occur. However, when days and years pass, those very sufferings and deprivations shine as precious stones in our memory, illumining the later path of our life. Therefore, if something in God's creation offends you, look at the whole; if something in life embitters you, wait patiently with faith and hope for new days and years. And if this entire life seems painful and sorrowful to you, raise your spiritual eyes to the other world, and you will have peace and joy. For this entire visible world is not a perfect whole-the other world also exists. For it is said: God created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Even an artist directs the viewer to look at his painting from a distance, so that he may see it in all its beauty.
O Lord, O Immortal Artist, how very good is everything that Thou hast created!
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.



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