Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
The Prologue from Ohrid
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1. SAINT ATHANASIUS THE GREAT, ARCHBISHOP OF ALEXANDRIA
Athanasius was born in Alexandria in the year 296 A.D. and from his early childhood had an inclination to the spiritual life. He was a deacon to Archbishop Alexander and accompanied him to the First Ecumenical Council [Nicaea, 325 A.D.]. It was at this Council that Athanasius became renowned for his learning, devotion to and zeal for Orthodoxy. He contributed greatly to destroy the heresy of Arius and to strengthen Orthodoxy. He wrote the Symbol of Faith [The Creed] which was adopted at the Council. Following the death of Alexander, Athanasius was elected Archbishop of Alexandria. In his calling as Archbishop of Alexandria, he remained for forty years, although not for the entire time on the archepiscopal throne of the archbishopric. With few exceptions, throughout his life he was persecuted by heretics. Of the emperors, he was persecuted mostly by Constantius, Julian and Valens; of the bishops, by Eusebius of Nicomedia and many others; and by the heretic Arius and his followers. Athanasius was forced to hide from his persecutors, even in a well, in a grave, in private homes and in the deserts. Twice he was forced to flee to Rome. Only before his death, did he live peacefully for a while as the good shepherd among his good flock who truly loved him. Few are the saints who were so mercilessly slandered and so criminally persecuted as St. Athanasius. His great soul patiently endured all for the love of Christ and, in the end, emerged victorious from this entire, terrible and long-lasting struggle. For counsel, for comfort and for moral support, Athanasius often visited St. Anthony, whom he respected as his spiritual father. For a man who formulated the greatest truth, Athanasius had much to suffer for that truth until in the year 373 A.D., the Lord gave him repose in His kingdom as His faithful servant.
2. SAINT MAXIM, ARCHBISHOP OF WALLACHIA
Maxim was the son of the Serbian Despot [Prince] Stephen and Despotica [Princess] Angelina. He was tonsured a monk in the Monastery Manasija. Pressured by the Turks, he fled to Romania, where he was consecrated to the vacated throne of the Archbishop of Wallachia. He brokered a truce between the warring commanders Radul and Bogdan and averted a war between them. In his later years, he returned to Krusedol where he built a monastery and, after a lengthy ascetical life, died there on January 18, 1546 A.D. His incorrupt and miracle-working relics repose, even now, in this monastery.
HYMN OF PRAISE
CHRIST IS WISDOM
Through Athanasius, wisdom shown,
And the truth of God enlightened men.
Wisdom is not bitter, the people recognized;
But, to everyone who drinks of it to the bottom, it is sweet,
To everyone who suffered for it, it is dear.
To whomever, in the world, all hope is first extinguished,
Who walks throughout the world as over an old cemetery,
Who thinks about men as about weak slavery,
Who thinks about five earthly dry lands [continents] as about five threshing floors,
Who thinks about five puddles, as about five oceans -
To him, Christ is the measure by which eternity is measured'
Adhere to that measure, confirmed in faith;
Whoever recognizes this measure [Christ] will never abandon it,
For the mysteries of the world, he will find no other;
Every other measure, inspite of exertion
Does not reach to the Alpha nor the Omega,
But is as deceiving as the moon which crawls over the water.
But appears that it reaches to the bottom of the water.
Christ surpasses both ends of the world,
Where the drama ends and where it began.
Of all the mysteries, the greatest mystery is He.
From His Nativity to His Crucifixion on the Cross,
From His Crucifixion on the Cross to His Resurrection -
He is the true measure of all God's creation.
By Him, measuring sufferings in the midst of worldly rumbling
The saints of God suffered -- without pain.
To the question: "Why did the Son of God appear on earth in a human body and not in another form of creation?", the brilliant St. Athanasius replied in this manner: "If they ask why did He not appear in some other better form of creation, for example: as the sun or the moon, or the stars or fire, or the wind but just as a man? Let them know that the Lord did not come to show Himself but to heal and teach sufferers. For, to reveal Himself only to amaze the viewers would mean to come for a show. It was necessary for the Healer and the Teacher, not only to come, but to serve for the benefit of the suffering ones and to reveal Himself as such so that this revelation would be bearable for the sufferers. Not one single creature was in error in the eyes of God, except man alone: neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the sky, nor the stars, nor water, nor wind did betray their ranks but, on the contrary, knowing their Creator and their King - The Word [The Logos], they all remained as they were created; only human beings separated themselves from good and replaced truth with deceit, and the honor belonging to God, as well as the knowledge about Him, they transferred to devils and to men carved out of stone [idols]. What is, therefore, so unbelievable in this, that the Logos [The Word - The Son Of God] appeared as a man to save mankind?" Indeed, even as we ask the unbelievers of our day: In what form would you wish God to appear, if not as a man?
To contemplate the Lord Jesus burdened by slander and shame for the sake of our salvation:
1. Burdened by slander and shame from Jewish scribes and elders;
2. Burdened by slander and shame from the many contemporary scribes and elders;
3. Burdened by slander and shame from everyone of us who have been baptized in His Name and who have not fulfilled His law.
"Gird your loins and lightyour lamps" (St. Luke 12:33).
This is the commandment of Him Who knows the weaknesses of our being and Who desires our good more than our father and mother do. This is the commandment of our mankind-loving Lord. When man is ungirded, does not his entire body droop a little? When he girds and harnesses himself, does not the entire body become as erect as a candle? As a candle stands, so must our soul stand erect before God. How will our souls stand erect before God if unrestrained physical earthly passions and lusts weigh them down? Behold, between the loins is the nest of the main physical passions. To gird one's loins means to tighten oneself with restraint and not to give into passions at will. But to gird one's physical loins is not the goal but the means which we utilize to easily gird our mind, our heart and our will. Physical restraint is the primary school of our Christian character; after it, comes a higher school in which we learn restraint of the mind, restraint of the heart and restraint of the will. If we gird our mind, then in its narrowness, lustful thoughts would be unable to find a place in it. If we gird our heart, then lustful desires would be unable to find a place in it. If we gird our will, then the evil, beastly and demonic desires would be unable to find a place in it.
Brethren, by a narrow path can one enter into the Kingdom of God. In the narrowness of the mind, the heart and the will can the candles of all virtues be lighted whose flame rises toward God. Under the lighted candles, we should understand Christian virtues.
O Lord, pure and sinless, the hearth of all virtues, help us to gird ourselves with restraint and to walk the narrow path to You with lighted candles, which You brought into the world.
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