Prologue of Ohrid

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May 4

1. THE HOLY FEMALE MARTYR PELAGIA OF TARSUS

Pelagia was born in the town of Tarsus of pagan but distinguished and wealthy parents. Hearing about Christ and the salvation of souls from Christians, she burned with love for the Savior and, in her soul, became utterly Christian. At that time there was a terrible persecution of Christians. It happened that the Emperor Diocletian stopped in Tarsus. During the time of his stay in Tarsus, his son, the crown prince, fell deeply in love with Pelagia and wanted to take her as his wife. Pelagia replied through her nefarious mother that she had already been betrothed to her heavenly Bridegroom, Christ the Lord. Fleeing from the profane crown prince and her wicked mother, Pelagia sought and found Bishop Linus, a man distinguished for his holiness. He instructed Pelagia in the Christian Faith and baptized her. Then Pelagia gave away her luxurious garments and great wealth, returned home, and confessed to her mother that she was already baptized. Learning of this and having lost all hope that he would gain this holy virgin for his wife, the crown prince stabbed himself with a sword and died. The wicked mother denounced her daughter before the emperor and turned her over to him for trial. The emperor was amazed at the beauty of this young virgin and, forgetting his son, became inflamed with impure passion toward her. But since Pelagia remained unwavering in her faith, the emperor sentenced her to be burned alive in a metal ox, glowing with a red-hot fire. When the executioner stripped her, St. Pelagia made the sign of the cross and, with a prayer of thanksgiving to God on her lips, entered the glowing ox, where, in the twinkling of an eye, she completely melted like wax. Pelagia suffered honorably in the year 287 A.D. The remains of her bones were acquired by Bishop Linus and he buried them on a hill under a stone. At the time of Emperor Constantine Copronymos (741-775 A.D), on that exact spot, a beautiful church was built in honor of the holy virgin and martyr Pelagia, who sacrificed herself for Christ in order to reign eternally with Him.

2. THE PRIESTLY-MARTYR SILVANUS, BISHOP OF GAZA

At first, Silvanus was in the military service but later, driven by the power of his faith, he entered into the spiritual service. Accused of converting pagans to Christianity, he was cruelly tortured and was later beheaded with forty other soldiers in the year 311 A.D. Thus, they all became citizens of heaven.

3. THE VENERABLE NICEPHORUS

At first Nicephorus was a Roman Catholic, but later he embraced the Orthodox Faith. He lived the life of an ascetic as a monk on Mt. Athos with the wise Theoleptos. He was a teacher of the glorious Gregory Palamas and wrote a work on mental prayer. He presented himself peacefully to the Lord in the fourteenth century. Nicephorus taught: "Gather your mind and force it to enter into the heart and remain there. When your mind is established in the heart, it should not remain empty, but should continually perform this prayer: O LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, HAVE MERCY ON ME [THE JESUS PRAYER]! Never allow it to cease. Because of this, the entire chain of virtues will enter into you: love, joy, peace and all others. And through this your every petition to God will be fulfilled."

HYMN OF PRAISE

SAINT PELAGIA

Pelagia, as an angel bright,

Before the emperor stood, for trial and judgment.

The brutish-looking emperor to her spoke:

"With a royal diadem I will crown you,

If you, among women, will be my wife!"

Pelagia boldly replied:

"Of marriage to a heathen, I loathe the thought.

Never, O Emperor, will yours I be.

Me, what do you offer? A wreath of dust!

Three wreaths have I from the Lord,

From Christ, my eternal Bridegroom.

The first wreath--for the Faith, I have kept;

The second wreath--for the virginity I have preserved;

The third wreath--the wreath of martyrdom.

Do not hesitate, impious Emperor:

This body of dust, crush--

Crush, cut up, burn and grind it,

That my soul for the wedding soon depart,

That soon, along side my Bridegroom, I stand,

My Savior, God Immortal.

REFLECTION

A young man inexperienced in spiritual combat underlines his every good work by self-praise. But the experienced soldier in the midst of struggles with the passions and demons minimizes his every deed and intensifies his prayer for God's help. Abba Matoes used to say: "The closer a man is to God, the more sinful he sees himself to be." He also was known to say: "When I was young, I thought perhaps that I was doing some good; and now when I am old, I see that I do not have one good deed." Did not our Lord say: No one is good but One, that is God (St. Matthew 19:17)? Therefore, if only the One God is good and the source of all good, how can a good deed be done that is not from God? And how can someone who does a good deed ascribe it to himself and not to God? If this is so, then in what can a mortal man be praised? In nothing, except by God and the goodness of God!

CONTEMPLATION

To contemplate the ascended Lord Jesus:

1. How, by His Ascension, He manifested His Divine Nature and His Divine Might;

2. How, by His Ascension into heaven, He reveals to man that there exists a better, loftier world and life: a heavenly world and heavenly life.

HOMILY

About idolatry as adultery

"Judah as did Israel defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and with wood" (Jeremiah 3:9).

What sort of adultery did the people of Israel and Judah commit with stones and wood? It was the worship of idols of stone and wood. Before this sin, they committed another sin: they turned away from worshipping the True God, the Living God, the One God. Why is their idolatry called adultery? Because they were first bound by love for the True God, the Living God, the One God, but afterward they betrayed this love and gave their hearts to strange idols of stone and wood. That is why the Lord calls their idolatry, adultery.

Was this reproach of God deserved only in ancient times and not in our own time, and only by Israel and Judah and not by Christians? Unfortunately, even today many Christians deserve this reproach of God. In whomever love has cooled off for the True God, the Living God, the One God, and a lower love has been enkindled for things of stone and wood, for decaying things and mortal creatures, he commits adultery and brings down upon himself the reproach of God. So, that reproach of God is as appropriate today as it was then, for men sinned then without knowing Christ, and now men sin knowing Christ.

O brethren, how long will this dark idolatry be dragged over the earth? How long will the earth reek from the adultery of mankind with their idols of stone and wood, of silver and gold, of flesh and blood? Did not the Almighty Christ crush all the idols into dust and ashes? Why do some now stoop down and again make gods for themselves from that dust? Because of the devil's lies and their own self-deception.

O Lord, ascended into the highest heavens, protect us from the lies of the devil and our own self-deception. Safeguard us from shameful adultery with fallen idols by Your honorable Cross. Help us, O Lord, help us to ceaselessly worship You the only True God, the Living God, the One God.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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