Prologue of Ohrid

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December 9

1. The Conception of the Most-holy Theotokos by Saint Anna 
The righteous Joachim and Anna were childless for fifty years of their married life. In their old age the Archangel Gabriel appeared to each one of them separately, telling them that God had heard their prayers and that they would give birth to a daughter, Mary. Then St. Anna conceived by her husband and after nine months bore a daughter blessed by God and by all generations of men: the Most-holy Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. (For more details, see September 9.)


2. Saint Hannah, Mother of the Prophet Samuel


Hannah was the wife of Elkanah from Ramathaim Zophim or Arimathea (I Samuel 1:1-2). Hannah had not given birth to any children because she was barren, and this caused her to weep and grieve bitterly. But the Merciful God showed pity on her and removed her barrenness because of her ceaseless sighs and prayers. Hannah bore a son, Samuel, and dedicated him to God from his childhood. Samuel was a great leader of the nation of Israel and a prophet, who anointed two kings, Saul and David. St. Hannah sang a hymn of thanksgiving to God, a hymn wonderful both in its wisdom and its beauty, which is used even to this day in the services of the Church (I Samuel 2:1).


3. The Venerable Stephen the New Light


This God-pleaser was born and brought up in Constantinople in the home of his parents, Zacharias and Theophano. His father was a priest of the Great Church at the time of Patriarch Methodius. While carrying him in her womb, his mother fed only on bread and water, and when the child was born a cross of light shone on his chest. Because of this and because of his pure and God-pleasing life, he is called the ``New Light.'' At the age of eighteen Stephen enclosed himself in a cell near the Church of St. Peter the Apostle, and there he gave himself up to the ascetic labor of fasting and prayer. Once St. Peter appeared to him and said: ``Peace be to you, my child. You have made a good beginning. May the Lord strengthen you.'' Following this, he lived for many years in a cell by the Church of the Holy Martyr Antipas. This saint also appeared to him and encouraged him with the words: ``Know that I will not abandon you.'' Stephen imposed even greater and greater hardships upon himself. He ate only twice a week and then only unsalted vegetables. This holy man lived a life of asceticism for fifty-five years for the sake of Christ's Kingdom and entered into rest in the Lord in the year 829, at the age of seventy-three.


4. Saint Sophronius, Archbishop of Cyprus


Sophronius was born and brought up in Cyprus. Because of his great spiritual learning and his many virtues, especially compassion, he was appointed archbishop following St. Damian. Having faithfully served the Church and pleased God, Sophronius died peacefully in the sixth century.


HYMN OF PRAISE
The Conception of the Most-holy Theotokos by Saint Anna 


O Most-glorious God, wonderful and marvelous,
Kind and merciful toward all creation,
The proud dost Thou overturn, the humble dost Thou raise;
Thou Who dost extinguish, Thou Who makest to live,
According to Thy plan, O Creator, Thou canst do all,
According to Thy plan, eternal and divine.
With Thy blessing, the fertile earth brings forth fruit;
By Thy holy word, Thou settest a seal upon the barren.
From one who gives birth, Thou canst take away,
And for the barren one, Thou canst bring forth good fruit.
Thou madest fertile the barren Anna;
Thou didst grant her a holy and noble daughter.
That which was the subject of mockery, Thou didst crown with glory;
The dream of a childless woman Thou didst openly surpass.
The aged woman prayed; her prayer Thou didst accept.
The seal of barrenness Thou didst remove from her body;
Her dead body Thou didst fill with life;
Thou gavest her a Virgin, wondrous in beauty,
And a daughter was born, the Most-holy Virgin,
A Daughter, a Mother, and the Mother of God!
According to Thy plan, O Creator, Thou canst do all,
According to Thy plan, eternal and divine.


REFLECTION


Fear of God drives all fear from the hearts of men. In every great hierarch of the Orthodox Church, we see meekness and fearlessness wonderfully united. St. Nicholas grabbed the sword of the executioner and pulled it away so that innocent men would not be beheaded. St. Chrysostom reproached the Empress Eudoxia for her misdeeds without consideration for the unpleasantness and danger to his own life, to which he was exposed as a result. And there are many, many other examples similar to this: Emperor Valentinian the Elder, upon hearing of Ambrose's stern criticism of him, said: ``I knew of your fearlessness; that is why I helped you to be chosen as bishop. Correct our faults as the Law of God teaches, and heal our unrighteousness.'' When Valentinian the Younger, at the instigation of his mother Justina, an Arian, ordered that the cathedral church in Milan be yielded to the heretics, Ambrose shut himself in the church with the faithful and would not come out for three days. He sent a message to the emperor and empress that, if they desired his death, he was prepared at any moment ``here in the church to be run through either by the sword or spear.'' Hearing this, the emperor and empress withdrew their decree. When a riot occurred in Thessalonica, at which time about seven thousand people were beheaded by the decree of Emperor Theodosius the Great, Ambrose became so enraged at the emperor that, when the emperor visited Milan and wished to enter the church, the saint forbade him. The emperor said to Ambrose: ``Even David sinned and was not deprived of God's mercy.'' To this the bishop replied: ``As you have imitated David in sin, imitate him also in repentance.'' The emperor was ashamed, turned back and repented bitterly of the sin he had committed.


CONTEMPLATION


Contemplate the righteousness of the righteous Noah (Genesis 6):
1. How all men were corrupt and wicked;
2. How, amidst universal corruption, Noah alone remained righteous and lived according to the will of God.


HOMILY
on Noah


Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9).
To be righteous among the righteous is a great and praiseworthy deed, but how far greater and more praiseworthy a deed it is to be righteous among the unrighteous. Noah lived among men who were filled with unrighteousness and evil; he lived among them for five hundred years and remained righteous before God: Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8). The Most-high Judge, who looks at all the works of mankind and evaluates them without prejudice and without error, valued the labors of Noah because, in the midst of a corrupt and perverse generation, he remained in the righteousness of God; and God rewarded him with His grace. Assuredly, Noah endured much misery and bitterness from his evil neighbors. Assuredly, he was unable to have a friend among them. The greatest satisfaction for a sinner is to drag a righteous man down into his own mire and to share his sin with him. But Noah did not allow himself to be dragged down or misled. Noah favored God's friendship over that of unrighteous men. It was dearer to him to walk with God without men, than to walk with men without God. Fear of God, the Creator and Judge, preserved him from the worldwide corruption; and he was not only righteous but also perfect in his generations. That is, he did not allow himself, even in the least, to be contaminated by the common evil, but rather he cleaved to God's righteousness. The allurement of sin and the ridicule of the sinners: everything merely served to separate him all the more from them. When the universal flood befell the human race, God did not abandon his faithful Noah to perish with the others. Instead, He saved him and glorified him, making him the progenitor of a new generation of men. Brethren, this shining example of Noah teaches that each one of us can please God even in the midst of sinners, if only we want to.
O Righteous and Long-suffering God, uphold us on the path of Thy righteousness.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
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