1. The Nativity of St John, the Forerunner and Baptist of Christ.
Six months before his appearing to the most holy Virgin Mary in Nazareth, the great Gabriel, archangel of the Lord, appeared to Zacharias the High Priest in the Temple in Jerusalem. Before he revealed the miraculous conception by a virgin who had not known a man, the archangel revealed the wondrous conceiving by an old and barren woman. Zacharias was unable at once to believe the words of God's herald, and for this his tongue was bound in dumbness and remained thus until the eighth day after John's birth. The kinsfolk of Zacharias and Elisabeth gathered together on that day for the infant's circumcision and naming. When they enquired of the father how lie wished the child to be called, he, being still dumb, wrote on a slate: 'John'. At that moment his tongue was loosed and he began to speak. Zacharias's house was on the heights between Bethlehem and Hebron. The news of the angel's appearing to Zacharias, of his dumbness and of the loosening of his tongue at the exact moment that he wrote 'John', was carried throughout all Israel, coming to Herod's ears. So. when he sent men to kill all the infants around Bethlehem, he sent men off to Zacharias's family house in the hills. to slay John also. But Elisabeth hid ' the child in good time. The king was enraged at this, and sent an executioner to the Temple to kill Zacharias (for it was then his turn to serve in the Temple again). Zacharias was killed between the court and the Temple, and his blood clotted and solidified on the paving slabs, and remained as an enduring witness against Herod. Elisabeth hid herself and the child in a cave, where she soon died. The young John remained in the wilderness alone. in the care of God and His angels.
2. St Nikita, Bishop of Remesiana.
A friend and contemporary of St Paulinus of Nola (see January 23rd), he was probably a Slav* and he preached the Gospel among the Slavs in the region around Nis and Pirot. The great impression that Nikita made on the Slavs is best shown by the hymn that St Paulinus composed in his honour:
'Oh, what a happy change!
The hilly, impassable haunts of bloodthirsty robbers
now shelter peace-loving dwellers,
Where once the rule of the wild beast held sway,
the choir of angels is now to be heard.
The righteous now dwell in the caves
where before were infamous men.'
St Nikita's capital was the city of Remesiana, which some people reckon to be Pirot. He wrote several books, six of them on the Faith and one on a fallen woman who awoke many to repentance. St Nikita entered into rest in the Lord in about 414.
*Author's Note: Philaret says in his book: 'The Saints of the Southern Slavs', that Nikita was a Slav and lived in Pirot.
3. The Holy Martyrs Orentius, Pharnacius, Eros, Firmus, Firminus, Cyriacus and Longinus.
They were all brothers, Roman soldiers during the reign of the Emperor Maximian. When the Romans were waging war against the Scythians beyond the Danube, St Orentius fought a duel with Marathom, the Goliath of the Scythians, and killed him. In thanksgiving, the Roman army offered sacrifice to idols, but Orentius and his brothers declared themselves to be Christians and therefore unable to offer sacrifice to deaf and dumb idols. With no consideration for their military valour, they were tried and sentenced to exile in the Caspian region, but all of them died on the way, one after the other, from hunger and torture, and they went to their rest in the Kingdom of Christ.
One of the differences between the eloquent philosophy of the Greeks [Hellenes] and the Christian Faith is that the entire Hellenistic philosophy can clearly be expressed with words and comprehended by reading, while the Christian Faith cannot be clearly expressed by words and even less comprehended by reading alone. When you are expounding the Christian Faith, for its understanding and acceptance, both reading and the practice of what is read are necessary. When Patriarch Photius read the words of Mark the Ascetic concerning the spiritual life he noticed a certain unclarity with the author for which he wisely said: "That [unclarity] does not proceed from the obscurity of expression but from that truth which is expressed there; it is better understood by means of practice (rather than by means of words) and that cannot be explained by words only." And this, the great patriarch adds, "It is not the case with these homilies nor only with these men but rather with all of those who attempted to expound the ascetical rules, passions and instructions, which are better understood from practice alone."
To contemplate the miraculous recognition of the Elder Simeon the Receiver of God:
"And he came by inspiration of the Spirit into the Temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him according to the custom of the Law:" (St. Luke 2:27):
How this holy elder recognized by the spirit the helpless Child as Lord and Messiah, while the blinded scribes and priests did not recognize Him neither then nor when He worked numerous miracles and revealed unheard of wisdom;
How also my soul, if it grew old in sin, cannot recognize the Lord.
Against malicious rejoicing
"Rejoice not when your enemy falls and when he stumbles, let not your heart exult" (Proverbs 24:17).
He is a man, do not rejoice in his fall. He is your brother, let not your heart skip for joy when he stumbles. God created him for life and God does not rejoice in his fall. And you also, do not rejoice at that which grieves God. When man falls, God loses; would you rejoice in the loss of your Creator, your Parent? When the angels weep would you rejoice?
When your enemy falls, pray to God for him that God will save him and give thanks to God that you did not also fall in the same manner. You are of the same material, both you and he, as two vessels from the hand of the potter. If one vessel breaks should the other smile and rejoice? Behold, a small stone, which broke that vessel waits only for another's hand to raise it and then to destroy this vessel also. Both vessels are of the same material and a small stone can destroy a hundred vessels.
When one sheep is lost, should the remaining flock rejoice? No. They should not rejoice. For behold, the shepherd leaves his flock and, concerned, goes to seek the lost sheep. The loss of the shepherd is the loss of the flock. Therefore, do not rejoice when your enemy falls, for neither your shepherd nor his shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, rejoices in his fall.
O Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, extricate malicious joy from our hearts and in its place, plant in our hearts compassion and brotherly love.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.