Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
The Prologue from Ohrid
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1. THE HOLY GREAT MARTYR SAINT PROCOPIUS
Procopius was born in Jerusalem of a father who was a Christian and a mother who was a pagan. At first, his name was Neanias. Following the death of his father, the mother raised her son completely in the spirit of Roman idolatry. When Neanias matured, Emperor Diocletian saw him and, at once, took a liking to him and brought him to his palace for military service. When this nefarious emperor began to persecute Christians, he ordered Neanias to go to Alexandria with a garrison of soldiers and there to exterminate the Christians. But, on the road, something happened to Neanias similar to that which happened to Saul [Paul]. In the third hour of the night there was a strong earthquake and, at that moment, the Lord appeared to him and a voice was heard: "Neanias, where are you going and against whom are you rising up?" In great fear, Neanias asked: "Who are You Lord? I am unable to recognize You." At that moment, a glowing cross as if of crystal appeared in the air and from the cross there came a voice saying: "I am Jesus, the crucified Son of God." And further, the Lord said to him: "By this sign that you saw, conquer your enemies and My peace will be with you." That experience completely turned him around and changed the life of Commander Neanias. He issued an order to make the same kind of cross which he saw and instead of going against the Christians he, with his soldiers, turned against the Agarians who were attacking Jerusalem. He entered Jerusalem as a victor and declared to his mother that he is a Christian. Being brought before the court, Neanias removed his commander's belt and sword and tossed them before the judge thereby showing that he is only a soldier of Christ the King. After great tortures he was cast into prison where the Lord Christ, again, appeared to him, baptized him and gave him the name Procopius. One day twelve women appeared before his prison window and said to him: "We too are the servants of Christ." Accused of this they were thrown into the same prison where St. Procopius taught them the Faith of Christ and particularly about how they will receive the martyr's wreath. For that reason in the marriage ritual of the betrothed, St. Procopius is mentioned along with the God-crowned Emperor Constantine and Empress Helena. After this, those twelve women were brutally tortured. Witnessing their suffering and bravery, the mother of Procopius also believed in Christ and all thirteen were slain. When St. Procopius was led to the scaffold, he raised his hands toward the east and prayed to God for all the poor and misfortunate, orphans and widows and especially for the Holy Church that it may grow and spread and that Orthodoxy shine to the end of time. And to Procopius there was a reply from heaven that his prayers were heard after which he joyfully laid his head under the sword and went to his Lord in eternal joy. St. Procopius honorably suffered in Caesarea in Palestine and was crowned with the glorious wreath of immortality on July 8, 303 A.D.
2. SAINT PROCOPIUS, FOOL FOR CHRIST
Procopius was a miracle-worker of Ustiug who died in the year 1303 A.D. Procopius was of Varangian (Norse) descent and a merchant by profession. Coming to Novgorod on business, he was awed by the beauty of Orthodoxy and embraced the Orthodox Faith. Desiring to be a perfect Christian he distributed his estate to the poor and began to practice all the other virtues. He pretended insanity so that men would not praise him and discerned the hearts and destinies of men as well as natural events which, afterwards, indeed occurred. By his tearful prayer before the icon of the Birth-giver of God, Procopius averted a terrible hailstorm over the town of Ustiug and thus brought the sinful town to repentance. His body was found dead on the street completely covered with snow. A church was built over his miracle-working relics.
3. VENERABLE THEOPHILUS THE MYRRH-EMITTING [MIROTOCIVI]
Theophilus was born in Macedonia in the village of Ziki. He was a very educated man and a great ascetic. By order of Patriarch Niphon of Constantinople, he traveled to Alexandria to inquire whether it is true or not that Patriarch Joachim moved a mountain and that he drank poison without harmful effects being forced to do this by the Jews and Muslims. Convinced of the truthfulness of these miracles, Theophilus returned to Holy Mt. Athos where he lived a life of asceticism, at first in Vatopedi, then in Iveron and finally in the cell of St. Basil near Karyes. They offered the Archbishopric of Thessalonica to this holy man, but he refused. Through profound silence and meditation he succeeded to purify his mind of all passionate thoughts and became a pure vessel of the Holy Spirit in which Christ dwelled. Before his death, he ordered Isaac his disciple not to bury him when he dies but to tie a rope around his legs, drag him and then toss him into the river. With great fear, the disciple carried this out. However, the Divine Providence of God revealed the remains of St. Theophilus and when they translated his body to his cell, it began to emit miraculous myrrh. He entered into rest on July 8, 1548.
HYMN OF PRAISE
When it is the will of the Omniscient God,
Persecutors become His servants,
Haters, wonderful apostles
Pagans, zealots for the Faith.
By God's will, Saul became Paul
Neanias Saint Procopius
Procopius, against Christ went,
As a Christian, to his mother came.
Tortures prepare and himself received tortures,
All of a sudden, the truth he recognized
Before the Son of God, bowed down,
The earthly king, ceased to serve
To the heavenly King, a servant became.
The King of Heaven to him a gift bestowed
The gift of might, the afflicted to help
As at that time, so it is today:
By Procopius, the afflicted are comforted
For today as one time, he helps.
St. Anthony teaches: "Be fearful that you do not become famous because of some work that you do. If they begin to praise you because of your work, do not rejoice in that and do not find satisfaction in that but keep your works in secret as much as you can and do not allow anyone to speak about them." How much more peace and joy would there be among men on earth if a part of mankind would take these holy words to heart! Even though St. Theophilus lived as a simple monk secluded on Holy Mt. Athos, he was famous in all the patriarchates of the east, as much for his learning as for his good works and ascetical life of mortification. It happened at one time that Theoleptus, the Patriarch of Constantinople, visited Thessalonica. At that time, the arch-episcopal throne of Thessalonica was vacant. The Christians of Thessalonica unanimously implored the patriarch to appoint Theophilus as their archbishop. The patriarch, a compatriot and friend of Theophilus, wrote a personal letter to him in which he invited him to accept the arch-episcopal throne. Fearing the glory of men and not being able to refuse the patriarch, Theophilus immediately received the "great angelic habit" [The Great Schema] and informed the patriarch of this adding: "If God be willing, we will see each other in the Kingdom of Heaven." Such were the spiritual giants, whom the Church calls saints, afraid of vanity and the glory of mankind.
To contemplate the miraculous changing of bitter water into sweet water (Exodus 15):
1. How the thirsty Israelites in Marah came upon bitter water and were unable to drink it and the people began to murmur against Moses;
2. How God commanded Moses to place wood in the water and the water became sweet;
3. How this wood foreshadowed the Cross of Christ by which the bitterness of our life is transformed into sweetness;
4. How my entire being is but bitter water until I bring Christ Crucified into myself.
About the Living Stone
"To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men but chosen of God and precious, You also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2: 4-5).
Brethren, what does this stone signify if not stability? Brethren, what does the stone teach us, if not stability? The living stone signifies immortality. The apostle calls Christ the Lord the Living Stone because He is immortal and the giver of immortality. The apostle even calls Christians living stones as partakers of the immortality of Christ.
Brethren, what do unbelievers think concerning what happens to man at the end of time? They think that, in the end, the same thing happens to man as to a stone: man dies, becomes senseless and is transformed into dust. But a stone is already dead, senseless and, under certain conditions, is transformed into dust. So, both the unbelievers and the believers compare man with a stone; the unbelievers because of the deadness and the senselessness of the stone and the believers because of the durability and the stability of the stone. For the first [unbelievers], the stone is the symbol of death and for the other[unbelievers], the stone is the symbol of immortality.
In truth, without Christ, mankind has been and is always as a dead stone. But Christ is like a living stone. Adhere to Him only and you will become as living stones. In building a home, the builder chooses only those stones, which are chiseled out and prepared to easily lay along side the other stones in the wall. The builder rejects the unchiseled, the unprepared, the unpolished and the fragile stones. Building a home, or a temple of His Immortal Kingdom, Christ chooses men as the builder chooses stones, with one characteristic, namely alive, spiritually alive. The Lord rejects spiritually dead men as a rotten building and accepts only those who are alive, who resemble Him and who fall in place along side other living stones and they [the other living stones] are angels, prophets, apostles and saints in general. Brethren, let us endeavor to be a holy material for a holy house of the Kingdom of Christ which He builds day and night that He, by the end of time, finishes it completely.
O Lord Jesus, the builder of the Kingdom of Heaven, enliven us with Your Holy Spirit and build us also as living stones in the home of Your eternal glory.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen
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