Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
The Prologue from Ohrid
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1. VENERABLE SISOES THE GREAT
Sisoes was an Egyptian by birth and a disciple of St. Anthony. Following the death of his great teacher, St. Sisoes settled on a mountain in the wilderness called St. Anthony's Mount where Anthony lived a life of asceticism earlier. Imposing difficult labors on himself, he humbled himself so much that he became meek and guileless as a lamb. For this God endowed Sisoes with abundant grace so that he was able to heal the sick, drive out unclean spirits and resurrect the dead. Sisoes lived a life of austere mortification in the wilderness for sixty years and was a source of living wisdom for all monks and laymen who came to him for counsel and advice. Before death, his face shone as the sun. The monks stood around him and were astonished at this manifestation. When this saint gave up his soul, the entire room was filled with a sweet-smelling savor. Sisoes died in extreme old age in the year 429 A.D. St. Sisoes taught the monks: "Regardless in what way temptation comes to man, a man should give himself to the will of God and to recognize that temptation occurred because of his sins. If something good happens, it should be said that it happened according to God's Providence." One monk asked Sisoes: "How can I please God and be saved?" The saint answered: "If you wish to please God, withdraw from the world, separate yourself from the earth, put aside creation, draw near to the Creator, unite yourself to God with prayers and tears and then you will find rest in this time and in the future." The monk asked Sisoes: "How can I attain humility?" The saint replied: "When a person learns to recognize every man as being better than himself, with that he attains humility." Ammon complained to Sisoes that he could not memorize the wise sayings that he read in order to repeat them in conversation with men. The saint replied to him: "That is not necessary. It is necessary to attain purity of mind and speak from that purity placing your hope in God."
2. THE HOLY MARTYRS MARINUS [MARIUS] AND MARTHA WITH THEIR SONS AUDIFAX AND ABACHUM [HABAKUK], VALENTINE THE PRESBYTER, CYRINUS, ASTYRIUS [ASTERIUS] AND MANY OTHERS
They all suffered during the reign of Emperor Claudius Flavius in Rome in the year 269 A.D. Marinus and Martha were wealthy people from Persia. They sold all their property in Persia and, with their sons, came to Rome in order to venerate the sacred relics of the holy apostles and other martyrs. When the emperor asked them why they came from such a distance, leaving their [household] domestic gods to seek dead men in Rome, they responded: "We are servants of Christ and we came to venerate the holy apostles whose immortal souls live with God, that they may be our intercessors before Christ our God." Cyrinus was thrown into the Tiber river from which his body was removed by Marinus and Martha who honorably buried it. Valentine the priest was handed over to Commander Astyrius so that he would counsel him to deny Christ. But, Valentine, through prayer healed the daughter of Astyrius who, had been blind for two years. Following that, Valentine baptized Astyrius and his entire family. All of them, in various ways underwent suffering and death for Christ the Lord Who received them into His Immortal Kingdom to rejoice eternally.
3. THE FINDING OF THE RELICS OF SAINT JULIANA THE VIRGIN
Juliana was the daughter of the Prince of Olshansk. She died about the year 1540 A.D. as a virgin of about sixteen years of age. Two hundred years after her death, some men who were digging a new grave alongside the great church in the monastery of the Caves in Kiev found the relics of this holy virgin completely intact and uncorrupt as though she had just fallen asleep. Many miracles occurred from these relics and Juliana herself appeared many times to certain individuals. The renowned Peter Mogila had one such vision.
4. THE HOLY FEMALE MARTYR LUCY
Lucy was taken captive by the barbarian Emperor Austius in Campania. The emperor wanted Lucy to live with him [as his concubine] but she protested. The emperor left her in peace so that she could live a life of asceticism. She even converted the emperor to the Faith because, through her prayer, he gained a victory in battle. In the end she, together with the emperor, were martyred for Christ in Rome about the year 300 A.D.
HYMN OF PRAISE
SAINT ASTYRIUS [ASTERIUS]
Astyrius, a slave was to the idol Zeus
And Valentine the presbyter, a slave to Astyrius
"Who is Christ?" the aristocrat of Valentine asked.
About Christ the Son of God, you are asking me?
"To the world, He is the Light; to men He is the light,
To everything and to all good beings, He is the Light.
Pure Light He is; with darkness there is no mixture,
In the darkness He descended and light He brought.
The living He illumined with works and teaching,
The dead He illumined with the glowing resurrection.
By radiance, the entirety of Hades was destroyed,
And with love, the human race became inflamed,
Inflamed by love, enlightened with wisdom,
With God reconciled and with mercy smiled.
That is Christ the Lord for Whom I am dying,
And in Whose Name, the idols I trample.
That Valentine said and, to that Astyrius answered:
"All those words, as pure gold I receive:
My blind daughter, if you heal
I, Valentine, your Faith will embrace."
Hearing this the priest on his knees knelt
To the Most High, a fervent prayer said.
And on the eyes of the maiden, his hands he placed.
The maiden, her sight restored! Astyrius leaped
Because of this awesome miracle. And acknowledged Christ
And for Christ his life, a martyr's life gave.
From where do we know that there is life after death? We know from Christ the Lord: on the basis of His words, His resurrection and by His many appearances after death. Philosophers, who recognize life after death, recognize it on the basis of their thinking but we recognize it on the basis of experience, especially the experience of holy men who were not capable of falsehoods nor could they proclaim falsehoods. When Sisoes lay on his deathbed, his face was very radiant. The monks, his disciples, stood around him. Then St. Sisoes gazed around and said: "Behold, here came Abba Anthony!" he remained silent for a while and then, again said: "Behold, here came the prophets!" In that moment, his face glowed even more and he said: "Behold, here came the apostles!" Following that he said: "Behold, here came the angels to take away my soul!" Finally, his face shown as the sun and all were overcome by great fear and the elder said: "Behold, here comes the Lord, look at Him all of you." Behold, He speaks: "Bring to me the chosen vessel from the wilderness." After that, the saint gave up his soul. How many more similar visions were there and that from the most reliable witnesses!
To contemplate the miraculous falling of manna from heaven for the feeding of the people in the wilderness (Exodus 16):
1. How throughout forty years, the Lord gave the Israelites in the wilderness manna from heaven; a heavenly food, sweet as honey;
2. How that manna from heaven was a prototype of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life descending from heaven, Himself to feed the spiritually hungry men in the wilderness of paganism;
3. How nothing can satisfy my hungry soul except the Living Christ the Lord, sweeter than honey.
About the terrible prince of redemption
"For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers. But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1: 18-19).
Brethren, could anyone have purchased a cure against sin with silver and gold? Never and by no one.
Brethren, could anyone forge arms against the devil with silver and gold? Never and by no one.
Brethren, could anyone have been redeemed from death with the help of silver and gold? Never and by no one.
Something far more precious than silver and gold was needed to be a cure, a weapon and ransom. The Precious Blood of the Son of God was needed to be applied on the sinful wounds in order to be healed. The Precious Blood of the Son of God was needed in order to be directed against evil spirits and by its power to burn them and to drive them away from man. The Precious Blood of the Son of God was needed to sprinkle the earthly graves in order to subdue death and to raise the dead.
"As a Lamb without blemish and without spot," the Lamb of God was slain for us to pull us out from the three-fold jawbone of the beast. A pitiful but life-giving banquet. God arranged this costly banquet to manifest freedom to man. Sin, the devil and death charged with all their might against the innocent and All-pure "Lamb of God without blemish and without spot." They killed Him but they were poisoned by His blood. This blood was shed in order to be poison for them but for mankind, life and salvation.
O my brethren, if you do not know how consuming sin is and how wicked the devil is and how bitter death is, judge this by the greatness of redemption by which we are redeemed from their bondage. The Precious Blood of Christ, that is our deliverance from bondage! Remember, brethren, that if we are again willing, by recklessness and evil to offer ourselves up to that terrible three-fold bondage, there is not anyone on earth or in heaven who could give a ransom for us. For the precious ransom is one and it was given once and for ever.
O merciful Lord, strengthen us so that we may be sustained in freedom which You have gifted to us.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
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