Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
The Prologue from Ohrid
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1. SAINT MARY THE EGYPTIAN
The biography of this wonderful saint was written by St. Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Once, during the Honorable Fast [Lenten Season], a certain .priest-monk (Heiromonk), the Elder Zosimus, withdrew into the wilderness beyond the Jordan, a twenty-day trek. Suddenly, he caught sight of a human being with a withered and naked body whose hair was as white as snow and who began to flee from the sight of Zosimus. The elder ran for a long while until this person crouched down in a brook and cried out: "Abba Zosimus forgive me for the sake of the Lord. I cannot face you for I am a naked woman." Zosimus then tossed his outer garment to her which she wrapped around herself and then showed herself to him. The elder was frightened upon hearing his name spoken from the mouth of this woman he did not know. Following his prolonged insistence, the woman related her life story. She was born in Egypt and at the age of twelve began to live a life of debauchery in Alexandria where she spent seventeen years in this perverted way of life. Driven by the adulterous flame of the flesh, one day she boarded a boat which was sailing for Jerusalem. Arriving at the Holy City, she wanted to enter the church in order to venerate the Honorable Cross but some invisible force restrained her and prevented her from entering the church. In great fear, she gazed upon the icon of the All-Holy Mother of God in the vestibule and prayed that she be allowed to enter the church to venerate the Honorable Cross, all the while confessing her sinfulness and uncleanness and promising that she would go wherever the All-Pure One would direct her. She was then permitted to enter the church. Having venerated the Cross she again entered the vestibule and, before the icon, gave thanks to the Mother of God. At that very moment she heard a voice saying: "If you cross over Jordan you will find real peace!" Immediately she purchased three loaves of bread and started out for the Jordan where she arrived that same evening. The next day she received Holy Communion in the Monastery of St. John and crossed over the Jordan river. She remained in the wilderness for forty-eight years in great torment, fear and struggle with passionate thoughts as though with wild beasts. She fed on vegetation. Afterward, when she stood for prayer, Zosimus saw her levitate in the air. She begged him to bring her Holy Communion the following year on the shore of the Jordan where she would then come to receive it. The following year, Zosimus arrived on the shore of the Jordan in the evening with Holy Communion. He wondered how this saint would cross the Jordan. At that moment, in the light of the moon, he saw her as she approached the river, made the sign of the cross over it and walked upon the water as though upon dry land. After Zosimus administered Holy Communion to her, she begged him to come the following year to the same brook where they had first met. Zosimus came and discovered her lifeless body on that spot. Above her head in the sand was written: "Abba Zosimus, bury the body of the humble Mary on this site; render dust to dust. I died on April 1, the same night of the saving-suffering of Christ, after having received Communion of the Divine Mysteries." From this inscription Zosimus first learned her name and the other and awesome miracle was that, she, on that same night the previous year, when she received Holy Communion, arrived at this brook which took him twenty days to travel. Thus, Zosimus buried the body of this wonderful saint, Mary the Egyptian. When he returned to the monastery Zosimus related the entire history of her life and the miracles which he had personally witnessed. Thus, the Lord knows how to glorify penitent sinners. St. Mary is also commemorated on the Fifth Sunday of the Honorable Fast (Fifth Sunday in Lent). The Church holds her up as an example to the faithful during these fast days as an incentive for repentance. She died about the year 530 A.D.
2. SAINT MELETION, THE BISHOP OF SARDIS IN ASIA MINOR
Meletion was a celebrated shepherd of the second-century Church. Governing with great ability, he endeavored to gather all the books of Sacred Scripture into a single Codex. By his meekness and piety, Meletion again labored to restore peace in the Church of Laodicea, which arose over the controversy regarding the celebration of Pascha (The Feast of the Resurrection). Besides this, he defended Christianity against the pagans. He traveled to Rome about the year 170 A.D. and submitted to Emperor Marcus Aurelius a written Apologia (Defense) of the Faith and of the Christian Church. St. Meletion, this learned, pious and zealous man, died peacefully in the Lord in the year 177 A.D.
3. VENERABLE PROCOPIUS, THE CZECH
Procopius was born in Hotish, today's Czech Republic. He was ordained a priest and retreated to a mountain to live according to the model of eastern hermits. The Duke (Herceg) Ulrich accidentally came upon Procopius and assisted him in establishing the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner by the Sazava river. This holy man died in the year 1053 A.D.
HYMN OF PRAISE
SAINT MARY THE EGYPTIAN
Penitent wonderful, self-tormentor,
Mary hid herself from the face of men.
Oh yes, sinful me,
By passion, darkened.
Passions are beasts which eat at our heart,
In us as serpents, secretly they weave a nest.
Oh yes, sinful me,
By passion consumed!
In order to save sinners, You suffered O Christ,
Now, do not loathe impure me!
Hearken to the cry of Mary,
Of all, the most-sinful!
The Lord showed compassion, Mary He healed,
Her darkened soul, He whitened as snow.
Thanks be to You, O All-Good One,
Oh Lord, most dear!
An impure vessel You cleansed and,
With gold you gilded it,
Filled it to overflowing with Your grace -
That is true mercy,
To you O God, be glory!
And Mary became radiant with the Spirit
As an angel of God, by strength girded,
By Your power, O Christ
Mercy, Most pure!
What smells so in the awesome wilderness,
As beautiful incense in a chest of the temple?
That, Mary breathes -
With holiness, she exudes!
Why is it that much is said and written about the sufferings of holy men and holy women? Because the saints, alone, are considered victors. Can anyone be a victor without conflict, pain and suffering? In ordinary earthly combat, no one can be considered victorious nor heroic who has not been in combat, tortured much or suffered greatly. The more so in spiritual combat where the truth is known and where self-boasting not only does not help at all but, indeed, hinders it. He who does not engage in combat for the sake of Christ, either with the world, with the devil or with one's self, how can he be counted among the soldiers of Christ? How, then, can it be with Christ's co-victors? St. Mary spoke about her savage spiritual combat to the Elder Zosimus: "For the first seventeen years in this wilderness I struggled with my deranged sexual desires as though with fierce beasts. I desired to eat meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also desired to drink wine and here, I did not have even water to drink. I desired to hear lustful songs. I cried and beat my breasts. I prayed to the All-Pure Mother of God to banish such thoughts from me. When I had sufficiently cried and beat my breasts, it was then that I saw a light encompassing me on all sides and a certain miraculous peace filled me."
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:
1. How the lifeless body of Him lay in the grave, Who, while living, gave life to the dead;
2. How even in death, the hatred of His enemies rage against Him;
How His disciples locked themselves in a house "for fear of the Jews" (St. John 20:19).
About the fulfillment of the great prophecy
"Like a lamb led to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7).
Throughout the many centuries of time the discerning Prophet Isaiah foresaw the awesome sacrifice on Golgotha. From afar he saw the Lord Jesus Christ led to the slaughter as a lamb is led to the slaughter. A lamb permits itself to be led to the laughter as it is led to the pasture: defenseless, without fear and without malice. Thus, Our Lord Christ was led to the slaughter without defense, without fear and without malice. Neither does He say: "Men, do not do this!" Neither does He question: "Why are you doing this to Me?" Neither does He condemn anyone. Neither does He protest. Neither does He become angry. Neither does He think evilly of His judges. When blood poured out over Him from the thorny wreath, He was silent. When His face was soiled from being spat upon, He was silent. When His Cross became heavy along the way, He endured. When His pain became unbearable on the Cross, He did not complain to men but to the Father. When He breathed His last, He directed His gaze and sigh toward heaven and not toward earth. For the source of His strength is heaven and not earth. The source of His consolation is in God and not in men. His true homeland is the Heavenly Kingdom and not the earthly kingdom.
"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (St. John 1:29). This was the first cry of St. John the Baptist when he saw the Lord. And, behold, now on Golgotha that prophecy was fulfilled. Behold, under the weight of the sins of the entire world, the Lamb of God lay slaughtered and lifeless.
O brethren, this is a costly sacrifice even for our sins. The blood of this sinless and meek Lamb was destined for all times and all generations, from the first to the last person on earth. Christ also felt the pains on the Cross for our sins even those of the present day. He also wept in the Garden of Gethsemane for our wickedness, our weakness and our sinfulness. He also destined His blood for us. Brethren let us not then despise this indescribable costly price by which we have been redeemed. Because of these sacrifices of Christ we, indeed, have some worth as people. Without these sacrifices, or if we disavow these sacrifices, our worth, by itself alone, is equal to nothing. It is equal to smoke without a flame or a cloud without light.
O Lord, unequaled in mercy, have mercy on us also!
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