The seat at the table before the book faces a large picture window, giving the person who takes this place an excellent view of the northern California mountain landscape outside, as well as the beautiful icon of the Holy Theotokos in a corner of the room to the right. This particular place at the table is perfect for reading and reflection.
The book on the table was opened to readings for the day, so I settled in and began reading slowly. I was deep in reflection when I suddenly felt a presence in the room.
I looked up to see the Abbot waiting to bless the evening meal and the monks lined up ready to pray and eat. I hadn’t heard anyone enter. I was happy to learn, though, that the Abbot wasn’t waiting for me, and several others soon arrived to take their place in line.
The monk who takes care of the kitchen and refectory told me about the history of the book, a volume of The Prologue of Ohrid by St. Nikolai Velimirović, and he seemed pleased that it had captivated me.
By the time I left the monastery, I had made a commitment to reflect on the material in Ohrid every day.
The Prologue of Ohrid is a compilation of the lives of saints, hymns of praise, reflections, contemplations, and homilies for each day of the year. It’s basically, St. Nikolai says, “an expanded and explained Calendar.”
St. Nikolai, a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church assigned to Ohrid when the Prologue was first published, describes the work as “…a centuries-old reader of the Orthodox people, who have been brought up with it throughout the long centuries of difficult temptations, both in bondage and in freedom.”
St. Nikolai based his reader on a Slavic Prologue of his youth that was no longer widely accessible in his adult years. The reader is called a Prologue, he tells us, because the Slavic Fathers used this word in place of the Greek word Synaxarion.
While some may find some of the lives of the saints to rely far too much on legend for their modern taste, I find them to be inspiring, allegorical stories with a large amount of truth about heroic Christians worthy of praise and emulation.
Here you can read of numerous Slavic, Eastern, and Western saints and the pain, suffering, and glory they endured for the faith. We read about them, St. Nikolai explains, because “The saints are cleansed mirrors in which the beauty and might of the majestic person of Christ is seen.”
Reading about the saints teaches us much, but the Prologue also includes excellent daily reflections, contemplations, and homilies.
While the contemplations open up selected scripture passages by placing you in the scene of the passage, much like that found in Ignatian practice, the reflections and homilies offer unique insight into Christian Scripture and Christian life.
A recent reflection that I continue to turn over in my mind focuses on the value of silence: “When a man begins to train himself in keeping silent, silence seems to him to be lesser than speech; but when he is trained in silence, then he knows that speech is lesser than silence.”
To illustrate his point, St. Nikolai then provides the response of an elder to a monk: “How can we preserve the heart when the gate to our heart—the tongue—stands open?”
He closes this short reflection, only a paragraph in total, with the response of the nephew of a Spartan ruler to a question about “why his uncle issued so few laws”: “For those who speak little, many laws are not needed.”
It’s not a wonder that our talkative nation, regrettably imitated by the world, has so many laws, and is constantly in the business of making many more, while in Our Lord’s kingdom silence is valued and there are few laws.
The Prologue of Ohrid contains passages as rich as this for reflection for every day of the year. It is a great treasure, a worthy companion for sojourners on the narrow way.