Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
The Prologue from Ohrid
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1. The Holy Martyrs Menodora, Metrodora and Nymphodora
They were sisters by birth and grew up somewhere in Asian Bithynia. Reared in the spirit of Christianity, they withdrew from the city to the wilderness, wishing to elevate their minds to God and to free themselves of everything in this deceitful world, and to live this life in purity and virginity as true brides of Christ. They dedicated themselves to great labor, fasting and prayer, until God adorned them with the gift of miracle-working. When people began to bring the sick to them for healing, they became well known against their will. A certain governor, Fronton, heard of them and brought them to trial. Upon seeing them, the governor was amazed at the beauty of their faces. For, even though they were great fasters and their bodies were withered, their faces were radiant, illumined by inward peace and the grace of God. At first, the governor flattered them and promised to send them to the emperor, who would give them in marriage to his noblemen. But when he was convinced that all of his flattery and promises had no effect on these brides of Christ, he ordered that Menodora be tortured first, and her sisters thrown into prison. After cruel tortures, the governor cried out to Menodora, who was wounded and bloody: ``Offer sacrifice to the gods!'' To this the holy martyr replied: ``Do you not see that I am offering my entire self as a sacrifice to my God?'' When St. Menodora was slain by the tortures, the governor then brought out the remaining two sisters, and stood them by the dead body of Menodora. Pointing to the body of their sister, he counseled them to deny Christ. Since they remained steadfast, he slew them by harsh tortures. Just then, a thunderbolt struck from heaven, and killed the soulless Fronton and his servants. Christians honorably buried the bodies of these holy martyrs of God. They suffered between the years of 305 and 311, during the reign of Maximian Galerius, and found rest in the Kingdom of Christ.
2. Saint Pulcheria the Empress
She was the daughter of Emperor Arcadius. She vowed to remain a virgin for life, and, as a sign of this vow, she had an altar of gold and precious stones built in the cathedral church. She reigned with her brother, Theodosius the Younger. Pulcheria was a great zealot for the Orthodox Faith. At her insistence, the Third Ecumenical Council, which condemned the Nestorian heresy, was convened in Ephesus. She built the famous Church of the Holy Theotokos of Blachernae in Constantinople. Following the death of Theodosius, she married Marcian, the emperor-elect, but lived with him as with a brother. She discovered the relics of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. She reposed in the Lord on September 10, 453, at the age of fifty-five.
3. Saints Apollos, Lucius and Clement
Apostles Apollos, Lucius, and Clement were numbered among the Seventy. Apollos (Acts 18:24-25) was bishop in Smyrna before St. Polycarp. St. Lucius (Romans 16:21) was bishop in Laodicea. St. Clement was bishop in Sardis.
4. The Three Holy Women
A noblewoman from Constantinople, with her two servants, despised the vanity of the world and withdrew to solitude where, after eleven years of asceticism, they rested in the Lord.
HYMN OF PRAISE
Three virgins, sisters by birth,
Examples of courage and patience displayed by martyred Christian women-thousands upon thousands of them-have shone with radiant glory on all the pages of the history of the Christian Church. However, as amazing as these examples of voluntary martyrs are, the examples of ascetics, known and unknown, are not a bit less amazing, for asceticism is nothing less than prolonged martyrdom. Paul, the Bishop of Monemvasia, has given to posterity an instructive example of women ascetics. While he was still a layman and a collector of the royal tax, it happened that he stayed in a certain monastery. Seeing ravens landing on the fruit trees, breaking off branches with fruit and carrying them away, Paul wondered at this, and followed them with the monks to see where they were taking the fruit. Going thus, they came upon an impassable forest. The ravens landed at the bottom, deposited the broken fruit branches, and quickly returned. Paul and the monks investigated, and discovered a cave in which three women ascetics were living. The oldest one related their life story to them: She was of noble birth, from Constantinople. When her husband died, another nobleman wanted to take her as his wife by force. However, she decided that after the death of her first husband she would spend the remainder of her life in chastity. Therefore she distributed her wealth to the poor and fled to this deserted place with two of her maidservants. They lived there for eleven years in fasting and prayer, seeing no one and seen by no one but God. God the Provider arranged for the birds to bring them fruit for nourishment. Then they asked the abbot to bring them Holy Communion. Three days after they had received Holy Communion, all three of these holy women reposed, and the monks honorably buried them.
Contemplate the riches and glory of Solomon (I Kings 5:5-10):
I am come in My Father's name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive (John 5:43).
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