Prologue entry for 01/21/23 (read on 02/03/23 on the Old Calendar)
1. The Venerable Maximus The Confessor
Maximus was a Constantinopolian by birth. At first he was a high-ranking courtier at the court of Emperor Heraclius, and after that he was a monk and abbot of a monastery not too far from the capital. He was the greatest defender of Orthodoxy against the so-called Monothelite heresy, which proceeded from the heresy of Eutyches. As Eutyches claimed that there is only one nature in Christ [Monophysitism], so the Monothelites claimed that there is only one will in Christ [Monothelitism]. Maximus opposed that claim and found himself an opponent of the emperor and the patriarch. Maximus did not frighten easily, but endured to the end in proving that there were two wills, as well as two natures, in Christ. Because of his efforts, a council was held in Carthage, and another in Rome. Both councils anathematized the teachings of the Monothelites. The suffering of Maximus for Orthodoxy can hardly be described: he was tortured by princes, deceived by prelates, spat upon by the masses of the people, beaten by soldiers, exiled and imprisoned–until finally, with his tongue and one hand severed by the torturers, he was condemned to exile for life in the land of Skhimaris [near Batumi on the Black Sea], where he spent three years in prison and gave up his soul to God in the year 662 A.D.
2. Blessed Maximus The Greek
Maximus was born in Greece and from there was invited to the court of the Russian Tsar Basil Ivanovich, to act as the tsar’s librarian and translator. He labored much, but also suffered much for the truth. He spent a long time in prison, where he wrote the well-known Canon to the Holy Spirit, which is still in use in the Church. He reposed in the Lord in the year 1556 A.D.
3. The Holy Hieromartyr [Priest-Martyr] Neophytus
Neophytus was born in Nicaea. While he was still a child, he worked great miracles by the grace of God. Neophytus brought forth water from a rock and raised his dead mother. He was led by a white dove to Mount Olympus, where he drove a lion from its cave and took up residence in it. At age fifteen he was tortured for Christ in Nicaea, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. By no means would he deny Christ. After beatings and imprisonment, Neophytus was thrown into the fire, but God preserved his life. Then they placed him before a hungry lion, but the lion fawned about Neophytus. The saint, recognizing this lion as the same one in whose cave he had practiced asceticism, began to pet him and ordered the lion to return to the cave. Then Neophytus was pierced with a lance, and his soul took up its habitation in the mansions of the Lord.
4. The Holy Female Martyr Agnes
As a thirteen year old girl, Agnes was thrown into the fire for the Faith of Christ and was then beheaded. She showed great miracle-working power during her life and after her death. Agnes suffered during the reign of Diocletian, in the year 305 A.D.
Hymn Of Praise
The spacious sea breaks out on all sides.
The earth is the trunk of the celestial garden,
But like a black trunk with golden fruit.
Thus is the black earth with the starry firmament.
The earth silently extends its invisible branches,
And on the branches are stars—golden apples.
Oh, what wonderful fruit from commonplace mud,
That the mercy of God gave to the black earth!
And man is earth; his body is of earth.
In the firmament are his stars—those are his good deeds.
His thoughts are rainbows, and they go to the end of the world—
Invisible branches, with stars at their tips!
Fruit! The Lord seeks fruit from created man.
Only by fruit does He judge man's life.
When death shakes the tree, may the golden apples
Of your life fall into God's hands.
Then you will be able to say: "My life was not in vain—
For the sake of a beautiful reality, I dreamed an ugly dream!"
The Christian Faith is the only Faith in the world that has one determined and never-changing standard of values. St. John Chrysostom speaks clearly about how it measures and classifies its values. He says: “Things are divided into three categories: The first are good and cannot be evil–for example, wisdom, charity and the like. The second are evil and can never be good–for example, perversion, inhumanity and cruelty. The third, at times, become one or, at times, become the other, according to the disposition of those who make use of them.” This divine teacher explains that riches and poverty, freedom and slavery, power, disease, and even death itself fall into the third category. They are neither good nor evil by themselves, but become either one or the other, according to the disposition of men and the use that men make of them. For example, if riches were good and poverty evil, then all rich men would be good and all the poor would be evil. However, we are daily convinced that, as there are good and evil rich men, so also are there good and evil poor men. The same can be applied to the healthy and the sick, the free and the enslaved, the satiated and the hungry, and those in authority and those under subjugation. Even death is not evil, for “the martyrs, through death, became more fortunate than all others.”
Contemplate the Lord Jesus as a city that is set on a hill (Matthew 5:14):
- As a city on the hill of the Heavenly Zion, that is, above the created world in the Kingdom of eternity;
- As a city on the hill of human history;
- As a city on the hill of my own life, that is, at the peak of my ideals, at the zenith of my thoughts and yearnings.
on understanding through doing
“If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself” (John 7:17). It benefits little to prove by human logic and words that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God. The fastest and most reliable way to know that this is truth is to do the will of God in the same way that Christ proclaimed it and testified to it. Whoever does this will know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God. If you weep for the sake of God, you will know what a comfort He is. If you are merciful, you will know the mercy of God. If you build peace, you will know how it becomes you to be called a son of God. If you forgive men, you will know that God forgives you. No one can ever know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God, except he who does the will of God. Doing the will of God and fulfilling His commandments is the only key for unlocking Paradise, in which God is seen. That is the key for understanding Holy Scripture and all the mysteries of revelation. St. Basil writes: “In order to understand that which is hidden in Sacred Scripture, purity of life is needed.” What else does the Lord want from us, when He teaches us that through doing His will we arrive at the understanding of the divinity of His teaching? He simply wishes that we, by [the fruit of] our deeds, become convinced of the divinity of His teaching. He does not desire that we be convinced of this in an easy manner, but rather in a more difficult manner–not only by listening, but by doing, because whoever is convinced in an easy manner will easily waver and change his mind; and as for him who is convinced in a difficult manner, it would be difficult for him to change his mind. Brethren, that is why we must endeavor to fulfill the will of God, in order that we may know God and save our souls. O Lord, all-wise, help us by the power of Thy Holy Spirit to do Thy will. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.