Prologue of Ohrid

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September 17

1. THE HOLY MARTYRS VERA, NADA AND LYUBOV (FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE) AND THEIR MOTHER SOPHIA (WISDOM)

They all lived and suffered in Rome during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Sophia was wise, as her name implies. She was left a widow, and had established herself and her daughters well in the Christian Faith. When the persecuting hand of Hadrian extended even over the virtuous home of Sophia, Vera was only twelve years old; Nada, ten years old; and Lyubov, nine years old. Brought before the emperor, these four held each other's hands "like a woven wreath,'' humbly but steadfastly confessed their faith in Christ the Lord and refused to offer sacrifices to the pagan idol Artemis. Before their suffering, the mother encouraged her daughters to endure to the end: "Your heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, is eternal health, inexpressible beauty and eternal life. When your bodies are slain by torture, He will clothe you in incorruption and the wounds on your bodies will shine in the heavens as stars.'' One by one the torturers inflicted cruel torments, first on Vera, then on Nada, and then on Lyubov. They beat them, slashed them, cast them into fire and boiling pitch, and finally beheaded them with the sword one after another. Sophia took the dead bodies of her daughters outside the town and honorably buried them. She remained at their grave for three days and three nights, praying to God. Then she gave her spirit to God, flying off to Paradise, where the blessed souls of her glorious daughters awaited her.

2. THE HOLY MARTYR AGATHOCLEIA

Agathocleia was a servant of a certain Nicholas and his wife Paulina, who had been Christians but turned back from the Faith to worship idols. Holy Agathocleia refused to follow the error of her masters and was subsequently tortured cruelly by them, and by the pagan judges. Her mistress killed her by pouring hot coals on her neck, but this handmaiden of God was glorified in His Heavenly Kingdom.

3. THE HOLY 156 MARTYRS OF EGYPT

They suffered for Christ the Lord in the year 310-some by sword and others by fire. Among them were two old bishops, Peleus and Nilus; a priest, Zeno; and two prominent men, Patermuthius and Elias. Bishop Silvanus and John, an eminent, blind elder (who knew the Holy Scriptures by heart and recited them at the gatherings of Christians), were also with them. All were crowned with martyr's wreaths and took up their habitation in the Eternal Kingdom of Christ.

4. THE HOLY MARTYR THEODOTA

Theodota endured eight years of cruel torture for Christ. Her torturer was the eparch Simplicius, who later went insane. Theodota was beheaded in about the year 230, during the reign of Emperor Alexander Severus.

HYMN OF PRAISE

THE HOLY MARTYRS VERA, NADA AND LYUBOV, AND THEIR MOTHER, SOPHIA

Sophia, all-wise, glorified the Lord;

As a sacrifice to Him, she offered three most-beautiful daughters.

To her daughters she said: "Be not afraid, my daughters;

Strengthen yourselves in Christ; endure in the Faith;

And be not afraid of torture or bitter misfortunes.

Do not grieve over your bodies-it is better in heaven:

God will give you wonderful bodies in heaven.

Do not grieve over your beauty-with divine beauty 

You will shine among the angels in the Kingdom of God,

As the daughters of the King of kings!

Do not grieve over life-what is this earthly life worth?

Its span is at most a hundred years.

In heaven, life without end awaits you:

Life without end, life without beginning.

Do not grieve for the company of earthly friends,

For the company of wonderful saints awaits you there.

Nor should the company of worldly kinsmen cause you grief-

For your kin in the heavens are the glorious martyrs.'' 

Thus the saintly mother instructed her holy daughters,

As, one by one, they flew off to heaven:

Three white doves, innocent and pure,

Flew swiftly to the bosom of Christ.

And with her soul uplifted, their mother flew after them,

And joined her glorious daughters in Paradise;

And our merciful God receives their prayers.

REFLECTION

A faithful and God-fearing ruler is a true blessing for all people. King Vatslav of the Czechs was such a ruler. His zeal for the sanctity of the Faith and his steadfastness remind us of the ancient ascetics. During the day he devoted himself to the affairs of the state, and at night to prayer. In winter, he often walked barefoot to the church for Matins with his old servant Podivoi. He often prepared and baked prosphora himself, especially when he desired to receive Holy Communion. Because of his care for the Faith, many churches were built, in which daily services to God were celebrated. He especially concerned himself with the poor and needy. He was a lover of peace, yet also a great and fearless hero. When the neighboring Prince Radislav attacked the Czech lands, Vatslav sent him a letter asking why he was waging war. The proud Radislav replied that he wanted Vatslav to cede all the Czech lands, and his throne, to him. Vatslav promptly amassed a large army and confronted his enemy. Yet, pondering on the two powerful armies, he mourned that so many men would die, and sent a message to Radislav: "The quarrel is between you and me; you desire to rule the land of the Czechs and I will not yield. Agree to resolve this matter with a duel between the two of us. Why shed so much blood in a battle between two armies?'' Prince Radislav agreed to this duel, and was defeated by Vatslav. On his knees, he begged him for forgiveness.

CONTEMPLATION

Contemplate the transgressions of Judah, and God's punishment of those transgressions (I Kings 14):

1. How the people and King Rehoboam did that which is evil in the sight of the Lord;

2. How they erected idols in the temples, and how there were many sodomites in the land;

3. How the king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem and plundered all the gold of the Temple.

HOMILY

on the unity of Essence of the Father and the Son

I and My Father are one (John 10:30).

The more miracles that the Lord Jesus performed, and the closer He came to His death, the more openly He spoke of Himself. The numerous miracles and the increasing length of time to contemplate them worked changes in both the good and the wicked. The good became receptive to the revelation of God's lofty mysteries. The wicked, clinging to evil, darkened themselves all the more, and became incapable of receiving these mysteries. That is why the wicked took up stones … to kill Him (John 10:31).

I and My Father are one. The Father and the Son are one in Essence, but are not one in Person (hypostasis). Otherwise, one could not call them by two names: Father and Son. Both the Son and the Holy Spirit have all the attributes of the Father's Essence. However, the attributes of the Person of the Father belong only to the Father, the attributes of the Person of the Son belong only to the Son and the attributes of the Person of the Holy Spirit belong only to the Holy Spirit. But when the discourse is about the Divine Essence, the Son can say, "I and My Father are one,'' and the Father can say, "I and the Son are one,'' and the Holy Spirit can say, "I and the Father and the Son are one.''

The Lord Jesus Christ expressed the unity of His Being with the Father in the following words: The Father is in Me and I in Him (John 10:38). Can the divinity of the Son be expressed more clearly? Can the human tongue convey the unity of the Triune God in stronger terms? The dogma of the divinity of the Son of God, as well as the dogma of the unity of the Being of God, was revealed and laid out by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore, let no one give credence to the deceits of certain unbelievers and heretics-who pretend that the Lord Jesus did not reveal His divinity, and allege that this dogma was introduced to the Church much later. If Christ had not proclaimed His divinity, why would the Jews have said to Him: Thou … makest Thyself God (John 10:33)? And why would they take up stones against Him?

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, one in Essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us and save us by the power and goodness of Thy divinity, almighty and all-righteous.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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