Prologue of Ohrid

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October 1

1. THE PROTECTION OF THE MOST-HOLY THEOTOKOS

From time immemorial, the Church has celebrated the Most-holy Theotokos as the patroness and protectress of the Christian people, who, by her intercessory prayers, implores God's mercy for us sinners. The help of the Most-holy Mother of God has been clearly shown numerous times, to individuals and to nations, in peace and in war, in monastic deserts and in densely populated cities. The event that the Church commemorates and celebrates today confirms the Theotokos' consistent protection of Christian people. On October 1, 911, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, there was an All-night Vigil in the Blachernae Church of the Mother of God in Constantinople. The church was full of people. St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ was standing in the rear of the church with his disciple Epiphanius. At four o'clock in the morning, the Most-holy Theotokos appeared above the people, holding her omophorion outstretched as a protective covering for the faithful. She was clothed in gold-encrusted purple, and shone with an ineffable radiance, surrounded by apostles, saints, martyrs and virgins. St. Andrew said to Blessed Epiphanius: "Do you see, brother, the Queen and Lady of all praying for the whole world?'' Epiphanius replied: "I see, Father, and am struck with amazement!'' The Feast of the Protection was instituted to commemorate this event, and to remind us that we can prayerfully receive the unceasing protection of the Most-holy Theotokos in any time of difficulty.

2. THE HOLY APOSTLE ANANIAS

Ananias was one of the Seventy Apostles. He was bishop in Damascus. In accordance with God's revelation (Acts 9:10-17), he baptized Saul (the Apostle Paul). Because of his courageous preaching of the Gospel he was stoned to death in the town of Eleutheropolis. His holy relics were taken to Damascus and later to Constantinople.

3. THE VENERABLE ROMANUS THE MELODIST

Romanus was born in the Syrian town of Emesa. He was, at first, a sexton in Beirut, and later served in the cathedral church in Constantinople in the time of Patriarch Euthymius (490-504). Romanus was not well educated and was untrained in chanting, for which he was ridiculed by some of the more educated clergy. St. Romanus tearfully prayed to the Most-holy Theotokos, and she appeared to him in a dream, gave him a scroll, and told him to swallow it. The following day was the Feast of the Nativity. Romanus took his place as a chanter at the ambo, and with an angelic voice sang the hymn "Today the Virgin….'' All were amazed at both the content of this hymn and at the magnificent singing of the chanter. Having received the poetic gift from the Theotokos, Romanus composed over a thousand Kontakia. Romanus entered into rest as a deacon of the Great Church, Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople. He joined the angelic choirs in the year 510.

4. THE VENERABLE JOHN KOUKOUZELIS

John was a Slav from Dracha (Dyrrachium). As a young man, he was taken to the school of music in Constantinople, where he became the favorite singer at the imperial court. Fearing the flattery and praise of men, John fled to the Holy Mountain and presented himself at the Great Lavra as a simple shepherd. He lived an exceptional life of asceticism. The Most-holy Theotokos appeared to him on two occasions. He reposed in the twelfth century.

5. THE VENERABLE GREGORY

Gregory was a monk of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos in the fourteenth century. 

HYMN OF PRAISE

THE VENERABLE ROMANUS THE MELODIST

St. Romanus, in mid-service,
Appeared on the ambo
And sang a wondrous hymn
In a sweet angelic voice:

"Today, the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One.
Angels and Shepherds glorify Him,
And the wise men journey with the star- 
For unto us the Eternal God is born
As a little Child.''

Hearing this hymn,
All were filled with gladness;
And on the faces of all the people
Was great astonishment.

Glory to the Mother of God!
Who hearkens to tearful prayers,
And gloriously fulfills
The prayerful supplications of the devout!

REFLECTION

The Most-holy Theotokos has often appeared to holy men in need: sometimes to encourage them in asceticism, or to heal them from sickness, or to reveal a certain mystery to them. Two similar, wonderful events took place in the Great Lavra on the Holy Mountain. In Great Lent, during the chanting of the Great Akathist, St. John Koukouzelis was tired and sat down, facing the icon of the Theotokos. As he sat, he fell asleep. Just then, the Holy Most-pure One appeared to him in heavenly light and said: "Rejoice, O John! Chant and do not stop chanting, and for this I will not abandon you.'' With this, she placed a gold coin in John's hand. When he awoke from sleep, the gold coin was still in his hand. After this, many wonderful miracles were worked from the icon of the Theotokos, as well as from the gold coin. 

The second incident involved St. Gregory the monk, who, like John Koukouzelis, was a church cantor. Patriarch Kallistos had established that in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, "All Creation Rejoices in Thee'' be sung in place of "It Is Truly Meet.'' His successor, Patriarch Philotheus, rescinded this, reinstating "It Is Truly Meet'' because of its brevity. But then, on the eve of the Theophany, and in the presence of Patriarch Gregory of Alexandria, St. Gregory sang "All Creation Rejoices in Thee'' instead. Immediately after this, the Holy Most-pure One appeared to him, and, as she had done to John Koukouzelis, placed a gold coin in his hand. She said: "I am very grateful for your singing in my honor.'' Because of this, it was instituted that all Liturgies of St. Basil would thereafter include "All Creation Rejoices in Thee.''

CONTEMPLATION

Contemplate the injustice of King Ahaz and God's punishments of him (II Chronicles 28):

1. How, throughout his life, Ahaz did that which was evil before the Lord;

2. How he set up idols in every corner of Jerusalem and throughout the entire land, and worshiped them;

3. How he waged many wars and was defeated in them all; his land was laid waste; a hundred thousand of his people were slain; and just as many were taken into bondage.

HOMILY

on the blessed man

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful (Psalm 1:1).

Brethren, most blessed is he who is not so hardened by sin that he can hear and fulfill this counsel of God that has come through the prophet. The ungodly are those who, in every way, think contrary to God and His will. The sinners are those who walk the path of their own desires, and their thoughts are contrary to the will of God and His law. The scornful are those who destroy themselves and others by their evil deeds. The danger is this: first comes the ungodly counsel (either from wicked men or from sinful thoughts); then the actual committing of sin; then the unrepentant sinner becomes a scandalous example of evil to others. Therefore, blessed is the man who neither heeds the counsel of ungodly men or thoughts, but finds sufficient counsel for his salvation in the Law of God. Blessed is the man who has not even once walked in the way of sinners, or, if he has walked on that path, he has repented and returned to the path of life that is the Lord's. Blessed is the man who has not sat in the presence of the scorner of innocent souls who, by his seductive example, corrupts such souls. For it is said of the corrupter: It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6).

O my brethren, blessed be all of you, men and women, who cautiously avoid these three evils: ungodly thoughts and counsels, sinful deeds, and the corrupting of others. These three evils are like one poisonous serpent that grows from a small snake into a giant serpent.

O Blessed Lord our Creator, help us by Thy power and Thy goodness, that we may be saved from the cruel serpent that Thou, O Lord Christ, didst defeat by the weapon of Thine invincible and honorable Cross. Help us to hearken only to Thy counsel, that we may walk only on Thy path, and shine by Thine example.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

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