Reflection from the Prologue of Ochrid for April 22nd/9th
It is said about Pericles that he was a man of almost perfect human beauty except that his head was oblong and resembled a gourd, so that he was subject to ridicule when he appeared bareheaded in public. In order to conceal the defect of this great man of his people, Greek sculptors always portrayed him with a helmet on his head. When some of the pagans knew how to conceal the defects of their friends, how much more, therefore, are we Christians obliged to do the same? Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another (Romans 12:10), commands the Apostle to those who cling to Christ. How can we say that we adhere to the meek and All-pure Christ, if we daily poison the air with tales about the sins and shortcomings of others? To conceal your own virtue and the shortcomings of others—in this is preeminent spiritual wisdom.
Reflection from the Prologue of Ochrid for April 21st/8th
There is heroism above heroism and asceticism above asceticism. St. Epiphanius of Cyprus invited Hilarion the Great to dinner and, in order to show the greatest hospitality to his distinguished guest, set roasted chicken on the table and offered it to him. Hilarion said to him: “Forgive me, but ever since I was tonsured a monk, I have eaten nothing butchered.” To this Epiphanius replied: “And I, ever since I was tonsured a monk, have never lay down in bed until I first forgave my enemy.” Amazed, Hilarion said: “Your virtue is greater than mine, O holy master!” This is a great lesson for all of us. Fasting is an admirable thing, but it is more admirable to forgive insults. Through fasting a man is preparing for charity, but by forgiving insults a man shows charity. Fasting precedes forgiveness, but fasting alone does not save without forgiveness.
Reflection from the Prologue of Ochrid for April 20th/6th
“Spiritual directors should distinguish themselves from those in their charge, just as a shepherd distinguishes himself from his sheep.” Thus speaks St. Isidore of Pelusium in interpreting the First Epistle to Timothy. The life of a priest always serves as an example, be it good or bad. By an exemplary life a priest confirms the Gospel, and by a wicked life he denies it. No one in this world is in such a position to confirm the truth of the Gospel—or to deny it—as is a priest by his life. A good priest is distinguished from a wicked priest by his works, no less than a shepherd is distinguished from a wolf. That is why the lot of good priests will be with the sons of God and that of wicked priests will be with the wild beasts of darkness. The good shepherds of the Church, even in the last moments of their lives, were concerned about the flocks that they were leaving behind. On his deathbed, St. Joseph the Hymnographer prayed to God: “Preserve Thy flock, O Son of God, created by Thy right hand, and protect them to the end of time. Be of assistance to the beloved sons of Thy Church. Grant to Thy Bride (the Holy Church) eternal peace and a stormless calm.” St. Antipas, burning in a blazing copper ox, prayed to God in this manner: “Not only me, but also those who will come after me—make us partakers of Thy mercy.”
Reflection from the Prologue of Ochrid for April 19th/6th
It is said about an ancient orator that he labored day and night to perfect himself in the art of oratory. Someone said to him: “Demosthenes does not want you to be the chief orator.” To which he immediately retorted: “Neither will I allow him to be the only one.” If you cannot be a first-class saint like St. Anthony, do not shrug your shoulders and say: “Nothing can come of me!” Increase your efforts and double your talent. In My Father’s house are many mansions, said the Lord (John 14:2). If you merit to settle in the least of these dwelling places, you will be more glorious and more fortunate than all of the rulers who have ever existed on earth. To each according to his own talent. You will not be a St. Anthony, but neither will St. Anthony, alone, occupy the Kingdom of God.
“He who asks to receive his daily bread (cf. Matt. 6:11) does not automatically receive it in its fullness as it is in itself: he receives it according to his own capacity as recipient. The Bread of Life (cf. John 6:35) gives Himself in His love to all who ask, but not in the same way to all; for He gives Himself more fully to those who have performed great acts of righteousness, and in smaller measure to those who have not achieved so much. He gives Himself to each person according to that person’s spiritual ability to receive Him.” -St. Maximus the Confessor, Philokalia, 2nd Century on Theology
Reflection from the Prologue of Ochrid for April 18th/5th
“Live as though you were not of this world and you will have peace.” Thus spoke St. Anthony to his disciples. An amazing lesson but truthful. We bring about greater misfortunes and uneasiness upon ourselves when we desire to associate and identify ourselves with this world as much as possible. The more a person retreats from this world, the more often he contemplates this world as existing without him, and the deeper he immerses himself in reflecting upon his unworthiness in this world, the closer he will stand to God and the deeper will be the spiritual peace he will have. I die daily, says St. Paul (I Corinthians 15:31), that is, every day I feel that I am not in this world. That is why he daily felt like a heavenly citizen in the spirit. When the torturer Faustinus asked St. Theodulus, “Is not life better than a violent death?” St. Theodulus replied, “Indeed, I think that life is better than death. Because of this, I have decided to abhor this mortal and temporal life on earth, that I may be a partaker of life eternal.”
*Fr. Photios’ Commentary: Imagine you received a call saying that all your debts had been forgiven and that you will never have to worry about money nor have to work again. How free would you feel? When we understand the depths of the love of God, THAT is the feeling we will have. When we realize how little the World truly means, THAT is the freedom we will feel. Only God means anything, and with Him we have our life and breath. With Him we have everything and are truly free.
Reflection from the Prologue of Ochrid for April 17th/4th
He who glorifies God, God also glorifies. This is clearly and abundantly shown in the lives of the saints. St. Joseph the Hymnographer indeed glorified God in works, in sufferings and in hymns. God glorified him both in this life and after death. During his life, St. Nicholas appeared to him in prison and freed him. When St. Joseph wondered if he should compose a canon to the Apostle Bartholomew, this apostle appeared to him in radiant vestments and told Joseph that it was well-pleasing to God that he compose this canon. When St. Joseph died, a citizen of Constantinople learned of the glory by which God glorified His saint. This man had come into the Church of St. Theodore the Phanariot to beseech the saint to reveal to him where one of his escaped servants had hidden. (Because St. Theodore was known among the people as a saint who reveals where something is that had been lost or stolen, he was called the Phanariot, which means the Revealer.) For three days and three nights this man prayed, and when he received no response from the saint he was ready to leave. Just then, St. Theodore appeared to him in a vision, saying: “Why do you become angry, O man? Joseph the Hymnographer’s soul was being separated from his body and we were with him. When he died this night, all of us whom he glorified in hymns translated his soul to the heavens and placed it before the face of God. That is why I was tardy in appearing to you.”
Reflection from the Prologue of Ochrid for April 16th/3rd
“I await a thousand deaths for myself,” wrote St. Athanasius the Great to his flock in Egypt at the time of the terrible Arian heresy. Every spiritual man, who has looked in spirit and seen the net which contains every human soul in this world, can say this about himself. The more spiritual a man is, the denser the net looks. Such is the will of God: that the most spiritual are saved by the most narrow path. The Psalmist David also says: Many are the afflictions of the righteous (Psalm 34:19). However, in the end, victory and glory belong to the righteous. They need only to arm themselves with faith and forbearance. Whoever believes also understands their sufferings. He who clothes himself with patience will see victory and glory. To him who loves the Lord, even the narrowest path is sufficiently wide, the greatest pain an easy yoke, and the most violent death a joyful wedding feast.
Reflection from the Prologue of Ochrid for April 15th/2nd
REFLECTION “It is better to be a simpleton and approach God with love than to be a learned man and at the same time an enemy of God.” These are the words of the hieromartyr St. Irenaeus of Lyons. The truth of these words has been confirmed in all times and is also confirmed in our time. One thing must be added to this: namely, that the lovers of God are not simpletons, because they know God well enough to be able to love Him. Of all human knowledge, this knowledge is the most important and the greatest. To this it must be added that the enemies of God cannot be highly learned—even though they consider themselves as such—because their knowledge is unavoidably chaotic, without a source and without order. The source and order of all knowledge is God. Some of the saints, such as Paul the Simple, did not know how to read or write, yet with the strength of their spirit and divine love they surpassed the entire world. Whosoever approaches God with love is not capable of crime. Knowledge without love toward God is motivated by the spirit of criminality and war. St. Euthymius the Great taught: “Have love; for what salt is to food, love is to every virtue.” Every virtue is tasteless and cold if it is not seasoned and warmed by divine love.
Reflection from the Prologue of Ochrid for April 14th/1st
Why is it that much is said and written about the sufferings of holy men and holy women? Because the saints alone are considered victors. Can anyone be a victor without conflict, pain and suffering? In ordinary earthly combat, no one can be considered victorious or heroic who has not been in combat, endured much or suffered greatly. The more so in spiritual combat, where the truth is known, and where self-boasting not only does not help at all but, indeed, hinders it. He who does not engage in combat for the sake of Christ, either with the world, with the devil or with one’s self, how can he be counted among the soldiers of Christ? How then is it with Christ’s fellow victors? St. Mary spoke about her savage spiritual combat to Elder Zosimas: “For the first seventeen years in this wilderness, I struggled with my deranged lusts as though with fierce beasts. I desired to eat meat and fish, which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also desired to drink wine, and here I did not have even water to drink. I desired to hear lustful songs. I cried and beat my breast. I prayed to the All-pure Mother of God to banish such thoughts from me. When I had sufficiently wept and beat my breast, it was then that I saw a light encompassing me on all sides, and a certain miraculous peace filled me.”
*Fr. Photios’ commentary: We may do a lot of things that we enjoy, yet we also know keep us from delving fully into a more deep relationship with the Lord. When we ask that the Lord’s will be done, sometimes He waits and when the time is right (only He truly knows this) He does His surgery on our souls and removes those things that keep us from Him. As a minor example, I think we’ve all gone to do something that we probably shouldn’t be. Has some unforeseen thing suddenly gotten in the way? Has our ability to do something simple and enjoyable (yet also something that we know is spiritually harmful) become difficult to achieve? Maybe this was the Lord.