Prologue of Ohrid

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March 29

1. SAINT MARK, CONFESSOR AND BISHOP OF ARETHUSA IN SYRIA

We are told about Mark's suffering by St. Gregory the Theologian and by Blessed Theodorit. According to these reports, Mark, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, destroyed a pagan temple and converted many to the Faith of Christ. When Julian ascended the throne and, shortly thereafter, apostatized from the Faith of Christ, some citizens of Arethusa also denied Christ and reverted to paganism. Then they rose up against Mark because he had destroyed their temple, seeking that he either rebuild the temple or pay a large sum of money. Since the aged Mark refused to do either of the two, he was flogged, mocked and dragged through the streets. After that they severed his ears with a thin but strong thread. They then stripped him, rubbed him with honey, and left him tied to a tree in the heat of summer so that he would be bitten by wasps, mosquitoes, and hornets. The martyr of Christ endured all without complaint. Mark was very old, but in his countenance he shone like an angel. The pagans reduced the price for their temple even more and finally sought from Mark an insignificant sum, which he could have easily given, but he refused to give even one coin for this purpose. His patience made an enormous impression on the citizens, and they began to admire him for it and to feel sorry for him. They then lowered the cost of the temple to practically nothing, in order to allow him to live. Finally, they permitted him to go free, and one by one they all received instruction from him and returned to the Faith of Christ. At the same time, in the city of Heliopolis at the foot of Mt. Lebanon, the deacon Cyril suffered for a similar act. During the time when Christianity enjoyed freedom, Cyril destroyed some idols, and under Julian the Apostate was brutally tortured. So embittered were the pagans against him that, when they killed him, they tore and ripped open his entrails with their teeth. The same day on which St. Cyril suffered, many others also suffered. The spiteful pagans carved up their bodies into pieces, mixed them with barley and feed them to the swine. Punishment reached them swiftly: all of their teeth fell out and an unbearable stench emitted from their mouths.

2. VENERABLE JOHN THE HERMIT

John was the son of Juliana, a Christian woman in Armenia. As a young boy, he left his mother and withdrew into the wilderness, completely enflamed with love for Christ the Lord. In the wilderness, he first surrendered himself to the guidance of a spiritual director, Pharmutius, who had been found so worthy before God that an angel of God brought him bread daily. Afterwards, the young John departed and withdrew into solitude. He lowered himself into a dry well, where he spent ten years in fasting, prayer and vigils. St. Pharmutius brought bread from the angel and gave it to him. So that John would not become proud, the angel of God did not want to give bread to the young John personally, but rather through his spiritual father Pharmutius. After ten years of difficult mortification in the well, St. John presented himself to the Lord. His relics revealed themselves to be wonder-working. He lived and was glorified by God and men in the fourth century.

HYMN OF PRAISE

THE LORD, HERO OF HEROES

The Heroic Lord, all heroes gathers He,

All who can maintain the Faith,

And faithful to God, unto death, remain,

And who can, sufferings, endure,

Offering thanksgiving to God,

And of their sufferings being proud;

And who, others, can forgive,

And insults, receive, as praise;

And still, who others, can instruct

From the sinful path to righteousness return

With a sorrowful, compassionate soul;

And who can be merciful,

And in the joy of others, rejoice,

And with a weeping heart, cry;

And who can, themselves, restrain

From evil deeds, words and thoughts,

From over-indulging in drink and food;

Who, their bodies, do not please,

But consider them to be temporary chariots

On the battlefield, from which they struggle,

Their God-given souls, to preserve,

To preserve the Christian Faith,

So that, the city of Paradise, they might enter,

Where the Kingdom of the Lord of Heroes is,

Wherein, with heroes, the Hero reigns,

With heroes not of this world.

REFLECTION

Spiritists of our day accept every manifestation from the spiritual world as though sent by God, and immediately they boast that God has been "revealed" to them. I knew an eighty year old monk whom everyone respected as a great spiritual director. To my question: "Have you ever in your life seen anything from the spiritual world?" the monk answered me, "No, never, praise be to God's Mercy." Seeing that I was astonished at this, he said, "I have constantly prayed to God that nothing would appear to me, so that, by chance, I would not succumb to pride and receive a fallen devil as an angel. Thus far, God has heard my prayers."

This recorded example shows how humble and cautious the elders were. The devil, clothed in the light of an angel, appeared to a certain monk and said to him: "I am the Archangel Gabriel, and I am sent to you." To that, the brother responded, "Think! Were you not sent to someone else? For I am not worthy to see an angel." The devil instantly became invisible and vanished.

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:

1. How darkness encompassed everything;

2. How fear entered into everyone present beneath the Cross;

3. How the frightened captain of the guard cried out: Truly, this was the Son of God! (St. Matthew 27:54);

4. How the prophecy of our Lord's death was fulfilled.

HOMILY

About the miraculous opening of the graves

"Tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised" (St. Matthew 27:52).

Oh, what a great sign! The dead bodies of holy men and women recognized Him, Who, on the cross, died in pain--but the dead souls of the elders of the Jews did not recognize Him. The whole of creation trembled, but only the criminal souls of Ananias, Caiphas and Herod did not tremble. Dead saints showed themselves more sensitive than living sinners. How could the dead saints remain indifferent toward their Creator on the Cross when even the dead stones could not remain indifferent? How could it be that during this event, from which the earth quaked and the sun darkened, the bodies of those righteous could sleep in the graves--those who fulfilled His Dispensation of Old, those who hoped in Him for life, those who prophesied about Him and, in the hope of His coming, had closed their eyes?

Oh, what a great sign! Oh, what a great comfort it is for us who hope in the Resurrection! For according to our weakness and little faith, we could say: "Truly, Christ is Risen, but will we also be resurrected? Christ resurrected by His Own power, but how shall we resurrect? Who knows if God will resurrect us by His own Power?" Here is consolation, here is proof: The tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. This means that death was unable to annihilate even ordinary man. This means that those who are much lower than Christ are not dead as stones, but are alive like angels. This means that one day even our bodies will arise from the tombs, that we will live also. All that our Lord said is substantiated by an overflowing of countless testimonies. Knowing the weakness of our faith, He proved the prophecy of His resurrection not only by His particular Resurrection, but also by His raising many bodies from the tombs at the time of His own death.

O brethren, not one of us will have the least excuse for not believing in life after death. O Lord, All-Merciful, strengthen the faithful in the Faith and convert the unbelieving to the Faith.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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