Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
The Prologue from Ohrid
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1. THE HOLY MARTYR HIPPOLYTUS
Hippolytus was a military leader and the overseer of the prisons in Rome. He was born and raised a pagan. When St. Lawrence the archdeacon was thrown into prison, Hippolytus was ordered by the emperor to especially watch over this prisoner. Hippolytus saw with his own eyes how Lawrence restored the sight of the blind man Lucillus and how Lawrence cured many others who were sick and he [Hippolytus] believed in Christ. When Lawrence baptized him, Hippolytus had a heavenly vision and said: "I saw innocent souls in great happiness, i.e., in the heavens." He then took Lawrence into his own home and Lawrence baptized all the members, who with the old governess Concordia, numbered nineteen. When Lawrence was slain for Christ, Hippolytus took the body of the martyr at night, wrapped it in a winding sheet and honorably buried it. However, this somehow came to the ears of Emperor Decius and on the third day following the death of Lawrence, Hippolytus was arrested, brought before the emperor and refusing to deny the True Faith, he was stuck on the mouth with stones. After that, the emperor ordered Hippolytus to be stripped naked and flogged. Naked before the emperor, he said: "You have not stripped me but rather you have begun to clothe me!" Then they stretched him out on the ground and beat him mercilessly but Hippolytus only cried out: "I am a Christian." The emperor upon hearing that all of Hippolytus' household are Christians, he ordered that they all be brought in. The aged Concordia said: "We desire more to die honorably with our master in the Faith of Christ than to live dishonorably with you, who are unclean." Concordia was the first to be slain and, after her, the remaining eighteen were slain, all before the eyes of Hippolytus. Finally, they tied Hippolytus to a wild horse and dragged him here and there until the martyr gave up his soul to God.
2. SAINT TIKHON OF ZADONSK OR VORONEZH
Tikhon was born in a simple peasant family in the village of Korotsk in the providence of Novgorod in the year 1724 A.D. He received the monastic tonsure at age thirty-four and because of his mortifications and great spiritual wisdom, soon received greater and greater service until finally he was consecrated as the Bishop of Voronezh. His episcopacy lasted for almost five years and, because of frail health, he withdrew and took up residence in the monastery of Zadonsk. He died peacefully in the year 1783 A.D. in Zadonsk where his miracle-working relics now repose. He was a great ascetic of the Russian Church, rare shepherd, intercessor and an author of the most beautiful spiritual works. By his wisdom, holiness and asceticism, Tikhon can be equated among the great fathers of the Orthodox Church of ancient times. Because of the many witnessed miracles over his relics, he was proclaimed a saint, at first, by the people and after that by the official church in the year 1861 A.D.
3. THE VENERABLE EMPRESS IRENE, IN MONASTICISM CALLED XENIA [KSENIA]
Irene was the wife of Emperor John Comnenus II, 1118-1143 A.D., called Calojohn (Caloyan), John the Good. In addition to her monastic mortifications and many good works, Irene is also famous because she built the Monastery of the Almighty [the Pantocrator] one of the most glorious and most beautiful monasteries in Constantinople. Later on, St. Stephen of Decani lived a life of asceticism in this monastery.
4. THE VENERABLE SERIDUS
Seridus was renowned as the founder of the famous community near Gaza in Palestine. Such glorious fathers as: St. Barsanuphius, John, Abba Dorotheus, Dositheus and others lived a life of asceticism in this community. St. Seridus died in the sixth century and took up habitation in the eternal joy of his Lord.
HYMN OF PRAISE
SAINT TIKHON OF ZADONSK
The hut of a peasant, a saint nurtured,
Him, the Orthodox Church, with the spirit imbued:
Tikhon, the hierarch, as a star shone
And spiritual mysteries, to the world related:
Read Holy Scripture, God, it conceals,
It conceals God, and God it reveals.
The books of the entire world, do not tell more
About God, about you than what the Scripture writes.
Behold, without God, one can not know God
It is in vain to inquire about God, outside of God.
God gives Himself to us, as much as He fits in our mind
Into an egg, one can not pour the sea.
How to save the soul, Holy Scripture teaches
From sin and death and damnation eternal.
He who is drowning, about water, does not ask,
Neither what is it? Nor how? Nor from where does it flow?
Rather, about his salvation only, is concerned
And a secure rock, fearfully seeks.
And the sea of life, stormily agitates
The wise one on this sea, for himself, salvation seeks.
What is this life? Of what is it made?
When death comes upon us, is that so important to know?
On the earth, knowledge and possessions remain,
To the grave, the body and the clothing is given over
The soul, only the soul can still be saved,
Endeavor and pray: help me O God!
"Give thanks to the Lord but do not forget His great men, the poor and the needy, for they can accomplish much with God the Lord." These are the words of the illustrious Russian ascetic of the nineteenth century, Father Nazariah, the abbot of Valamo [Valaam]Monastery. He spoke these words to the wife of a high-ranking official in Petrograd [St. Petersburg] who fell into disfavor with the Tsar because of certain serious accusations. The accused official became ill from worry and lay in bed. Hearing that Father Nazariah arrived in Petrograd, the wife of this official hurriedly sought him out and related the misfortune which had befallen them and implored him to pray to the Lord for her husband. "Do you have any copper or silver coins in change?" Father Nazariah asked her. The woman brought the coins and gave them to him. And so, Father Nazariah left. The same evening Nazariah again returned and gladdened the wife with this news: "Glory to God, all those close to the Tsar [God, the King] have promised to pray for you." Naturally, the wife thought of Tsar Alexander Pavlovitch and his courtiers, while the spiritual father was thinking about the beggars on the streets to whom he had distributed the coins and sent them to pray to God for the husband of this woman. And suredly the news arrived that the emperor ordered that the matter concerning this official be taken up again and reviewed. And, it was just what the official wanted. When the woman began to thank Father Nazariah, he said: "Give thanks to the Lord but do not forget His great men, the poor and the needy, for they can accomplish much with God the Lord."
To contemplate the wondrous might of prophesying (1 Samuel 10 1 Kings 10):
1. How Samuel prophesied to Saul all that will happen to him one day;
2. How the Spirit of God came upon Saul and he also prophesied.
About the chief prophesy of the Prophet Isaiah
"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).
This glorious prophecy concerning the birth of the Lord by a virgin was spoken by Isaiah, the prophet who saw God, at the moment of the greatest despair which befell Jerusalem. The multitudinous army of Syrians and Ephriams had surrounded the city, around the very walls of the city. King Ahaz, with neither an army nor weapons and the inhabitants of Jerusalem were in mortal fear. "The heart of the king [Ahaz] and the heart of the people trembled, as the trees of the forest tremble in the wind" (Isaiah 7:2). In that final hour of the king's despair, Isaiah came before the king and by command of God said to him: "Fear not neither be fainthearted" (Isaiah 7:4). Then Isaiah prophesied that the enemies would not take Jerusalem. Seeing that King Ahaz did not believe him, Isaiah told the king to ask for a sign, a miracle, be it from heaven or from earth. However, the unbelieving king did not want to ask but remained obstinate in his doubt. The prophet then said that God would give them a sign, even though they did not seek it. This sign refers to distant times and concerns the universal salvation of the mankind. "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel" which is to say: "God is with us." Why did not the prophet immediately give a sign so that the king would believe? Because, that prophecy about the salvation of Jerusalem, in the hour when the king thought that all had fallen, was sufficient enough to show both the power of God and the unbelief of the king. Why did the prophet, at that very moment and under such circumstances, foretell the prophecy of the birth of the Savior? Because mankind, at the time of the coming of the Savior, will be in the same kind of despair, pressured by and surrounded by the powers of the demons, as was Jerusalem at that moment. Did the prophet explicitly say Virgin and not a Woman? Naturally, he mentioned a Virgin. For if the prophesy were spoken of a woman, what kind of miracle would it be; what kind of sign? Are not all men born of women? All the weight of emphasis is on the word "Virgin."
Thus, the All-seeing God knows how to tie in the near with the distant and that, by fulfilling one prophecy in the present, He confirms a second prophecy in the future. "Emmanuel God is with us" - He saved Jerusalem then as an invisible God. "Emmanuel God is with us" He will save mankind in similar dangers later on as the Incarnate God, as God-Man, born of the All-Pure Virgin and the Holy Spirit.
O Lord, Who gave power to the prophets to see the truth as it comes from afar, give us the power to embrace that truth which has already come.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
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