Prologue entry for 02/09/23 (read on 02/22/23 on the Old Calendar)
1. The Holy Martyr Nicephorus
The biography of this martyr clearly demonstrates how God rejects pride and crowns humility and love with glory. There lived in Antioch two close friends, the learned priest Sapricius and the simple layman Nicephorus. Somehow their friendship turned into a terrible hatred for each other. The God-fearing Nicephorus attempted on many occasions to make peace with the priest. However, at no time did Sapricius desire to be reconciled. When the persecution of Christians began, the presbyter Sapricius was condemned to death and brought to the place of execution. The sorrowful Nicephorus followed after Sapricius, beseeching him along the way to forgive him before his death, that they might depart in peace. “I beseech you, O martyr of Christ,” said Nicephorus, “forgive me if I have sinned against you!” Sapricius did not even want to look at his opponent, but quietly and arrogantly walked toward his death. Upon seeing the hardness of the priest’s heart, God did not want to accept the sacrifice of his martyrdom and crown him with a wreath, and instead He mysteriously withheld His grace. At the last moment, Sapricius denied Christ and declared before the executioners that he would bow down before the idols. So it is with blind hatred! Nicephorus implored Sapricius not to deny Christ saying: “O my beloved brother, do not do that; do not deny our Lord Jesus Christ; do not forfeit the heavenly wreath!” But all was in vain. Sapricius remained adamant. Then Nicephorus cried out to the executioners: “I too am a Christian; behead me in place of Sapricius!” The executioners informed the judge of this, and the judge ordered the release of Sapricius and beheaded Nicephorus in his place. Nicephorus joyfully lowered his head on the block and was beheaded. Thus, he was made worthy of the Kingdom and was crowned with the immortal wreath of glory. This occurred in the year 260 A.D., during the reign of Gallienus.
2. The Hieromartyr [Priest-Martyr] Peter Damascene
Some think that Peter Damaskin lived in the eighth century and others think he lived in the twelfth century. This difference of thought comes from the fact that there were two Peter Damascenes. The one about whom we are speaking was a great ascetic. He was unselfish beyond measure. Peter Damascene did not even possess a single book, but rather borrowed books and read them. He read assiduously, gathering wisdom as a bee gathers honey. For a while he was a bishop in Damascus, but when he spoke out against Islam and the Manichean heresy, the Arabs severed his tongue and banished him into exile deep in Arabia. However, God granted him the power of speech, so that, even in exile, he preached the Gospel and converted many to the Christian Faith. He compiled and bequeathed to posterity a precious book about the spiritual life. He died as a confessor and martyr and took up his habitation in the Kingdom of Christ.
Hymn Of Praise
Saint Peter Damascene
Damascene numbers eight types of knowledge
For spiritual and godly men.
First: the knowledge of sorrow and all temptations.
Second: the knowledge of the sum of one's transgressions,
One's transgressions and God's forgiveness.
Third: the knowledge of horror, pain and fear,
Before death, in death and after separation from the body,
When before the righteous judgement the soul stands alone.
Fourth: the knowledge of Christ the Savior,
His life and that of all the saints,
Of the saints—their deeds, patience and words,
Which, like a silver bell, resound throughout the ages.
Fifth: the knowledge of natural attributes,
Of physical phenomenon, variation and change.
Sixty: the knowledge of forms and things,
All sensory beings and natural phantoms.
Seventh: the knowledge of the world, rational and spiritual,
The angelic world and the world of hades—of both good and evil.
Eighth: the knowledge of God,
The One, Holy, Mighty and Immortal.
This knowledge is called Theology:
To it, few are elevated.
A theologian needs the greatest purity,
For the impure heart, to heaven, does not reach.
Damascene appropriated the seven elementary types of knowledge,
And to the eighth, the knowledge of God, he was raised.
The eighth is given and bestowed by God:
It is neither learned nor earned.
St. Peter Damascene writes thus about the general and particular gifts of God: “The general gifts consist of the four elements and all that results from them, all the wonderful and awesome works of God outlined in Holy Scripture. The particular gifts are those gifts which God bestows upon every man individually, whether it be riches for the sake of charity, or poverty for the sake of patience with humility; whether it be authority for the sake of justice and the strengthening of virtues, or subjugation and slavery for the sake of the expeditious salvation of the soul; be it health for the sake of helping the infirm, or illness for the sake of the wreath of patience; be it understanding and skill in gaining wealth for the sake of virtue, or weakness and lack of skill for the sake of submissive humility. Even though they appear contrary to one another, all these are very good according to their purpose.” In conclusion, St. Peter Damascene says that we are obligated to give thanks to God for all gifts, and that with patience and hope we are to endure all tribulations and evil circumstances. For all of that God gives us, or permits to befall us, benefits our salvation.
Contemplate the Lord Jesus as the Source of Joy:
- In the tribulations of life, which only He is able to replace with joy;
- In the bondage of passions, which only He can replace with the joy of freedom;
- In death, from which He alone can resurrect us.
on the word of God, which is mightier than death
“If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death” (John 8:52). As long as a candle burns in a room there will not be darkness, for the candle emits light. If food is seasoned with salt, it will be preserved from spoiling. If someone keeps the word of Christ in his soul, that one keeps salt and light in his soul, and life will abide in him. Such a soul will not become dark in this life, neither will it taste the decay of death. Whoever keeps the word of Christ in himself, the word of Christ sustains him from within and feeds, enlightens and enlivens him. Whether he is in the body or outside the body, he feels equally alive by means of the word of Christ. Death can separate his soul from his body, but not from Christ, i.e., from immortal and eternal life. The death of his body will only give his life- bearing soul a freer flight in embracing the beloved Christ the Life-giver. But what does it mean, brethren, to keep the word of Christ within ourselves? It means, first, to keep the word of Christ in our minds, thinking about it; second, to keep the word of Christ in our hearts, loving it; third, to keep the word of Christ in our wills, fulfilling it in deeds; and fourth, to keep the word of Christ on our tongues, openly confessing it when necessary. Thus, to keep the word of Christ means to fill ourselves with it and to fulfill it. Whoever keeps the word of Christ in this manner, truly, will never taste of death. O our Lord, Mighty Lord, mightier than death, give us strength and understanding to keep Thy holy word to the end–that we do not taste of death and that death does not taste of us, and that decay not touch our souls. O All- merciful Lord, be merciful to us. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.