CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΓΕΝΝΑΤΑΙ! ΔΟΞΑΣΑΤΕ!
THE MARTYRDOM OF THE HOLY PROTOMARTYR AND
ARCHDEACON STEFANOS (Stephen).
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone
THE crown of the Kingdom hath adorned the brow of thy head
because of the contests that thou hast endured for Christ God,
thou first of the martyred Saints; for when thou hadst censured
the Jews’ madness, thou sawest Christ thy Savior standing at
the Right hand of the Father. O Stefanos, ever pray to Him for
us, that He would save our souls.
Kontakion Hymn. Third Tone
YESTERDAY the Master came, to be with us in the body; and today
His faithful slave departeth out of the body; yesterday the King was
born in the flesh for our sakes; today the servant suffereth
death by stoning; and for His sake is perfected the First of Martyrs,
Stefanos the truly divine.
“And Stefanos (Stephen), full of faith and power, did great Wonders
and Signs among the people…” (Acts 6:8).
“…But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw
the Glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and said, ‘Look! I see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of
God!’ …and they cast him out of the city AND STONED HIM” (Acts 7:55-58).
“… And they stoned Stefanos as he was calling on God and saying, ‘LORD JESUS,
RECEIVE MY SPIRIT.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘LORD,
DO NOT CHARGE THEM WITH THIS SIN.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep”
STEFANOS (Stephen), being full of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, was the foremost of the Seven Deacons and received the title Archdeacon. He did “great Wonders and Miracles among the people” (Acts, Ch. 6), although these are not described in the Holy Scripture. Actually, not even Christ’s miracles are full recorded, for it says, in the Gospel, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that seen the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John, Ch. 21). Nonetheless, like the Twelve Apostles, laid his hands on many sick people and returned them to health. Being a man mighty in word, he confirmed the believers in the faith as well, and from the Law and the Prophets proved to the Jews that Jesus, Whom THEY SLEW OUT OF MALICE, was the Son of God, the Messiah awaited from ancient times.
Confuted by the truth, which shone brighter than the sun, the Jews burned with anger and paid men to accuse Stephen before the High Priest of having blasphemous Moses and God. In addition, they “stirred up the people, and the elders. and the scribes,” and “came upon” Saint Stephen, “and caught him,” and “brought him” to the High Priest and the council of Jewish teachers. Then they “set up the false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the Law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
As the holy Stefanos stood in the midst of the murderers, HIS FACE SHONE WITH DIVINE GRACE, like Moses’ in days of old. His flesh was gloriously transfigured, “and all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw HIS FACE AS IF IT HAD BEEN THE FACE OF AN ANGEL.” The High Priest asked whether the things said by the accusers were true, and Stefanos replied by recounting the history of the Hebrew people from the time of Abraham (who was first among them to receive the Promise of the Messiah) till Moses. He spoke reverently and respectfully, demonstrating clearly that he was neither a reviler of Moses nor of the Law given by God through the Prophet, as his slanderers alleged. He showed that it as the fathers of the Jewish people that were blasphemous, REBELLING AGAINST MOSES, “and in their hearts” turning “back again into Egypt” (Acts, Ch. 7).
I confess that the Lord DWELLS CHIEFLY IN IMMATERIAL TEMPLES NOT CONSTRUCTED BY HUMAN CRAFT, THAT IS, HE ABIDES IN THE HEARTS OF THE PURE. “The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands, as saith the Prophet. Heaven is My Throne, and earth is My footstool: what house will ye build Me? Or what is the place of My rest? Hath not My hand made all these things?” (Isaiah, Ch. 66).
With that, divine zeal filled Stephen’s heart as it had Elijah’s in ancient times, and the Saint began to censure the entire assembly. When they heard the Saint say this, the High Priest, Scribes, and the entire crowd of Jews were filled with hatred, but he was not afraid in the least, for HE WAS FULL OF GRACE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, WHICH EMBOLDENED HIM AND ENABLED HIM TO SPEAK THE WORD OF GOD WITHOUT HESITATION. Looking up “INTO HEAVEN,” he “SAW THE GLORY OF GOD,” which he had long hoped to behold. As his end drew near, he transcended the flesh and received the first fruits of his reward: HE GAZED UPON CHRIST JESUS THE LORD BECKONING HIM AND REMINDING HKM THAT WHERE THE MASTER IS, THERE SHALL BE THE SERVANT BE. (John, Ch.12). WITHOUT A LOUD VOICE STEPHEN PROCLAIMED: “I SEE THE HEAVENS OPENED, AND THE SON OF MAN STANDING ON THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD” (Acts Ch. 7).
Unlike other Saints, who, out of humility, concealed divine revelations granted them, Saint Stefanos made known HIS VISION TO ALL, so that believers would be confirmed in the faith and unbelievers roused. He wished to assure those who would be martyred after him that they would encounter no obstacle or resistance on their way to judgment, but that the path would be open and that the Ruler of the contest awaited them in Divine Glory at the celestial gates. Declaring boldly what he saw, the holy Protomartyr summoned others TO WIN THE CROWN OF SUFFERING.
The malicious Jews, however, who slew the Prophets and rose up against the Lord Himself, the Fulfiller of the Law and the sayings of the Prophets, could not endure hearing Saint Stefanos SPEAK THE TRUTH. “They cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,” laying murderous hands on him. Then Saint Stefanos was led out of the city, like his Lord, Who deigned to suffer outside Jerusalem. The bloodthirsty hypocrites, preparing to stone Christ’s good and faithful servant, removed their outer garments so that they could move more freely, and laid them at the feet of a young man named Soul, (the future Saint Paul), a kinsman of the victim. Saul, it is written, was “CONSENTING UNTO” Stephen’s death. (Acts, Ch. 8), being more infuriated with him than any of the others, o account of his fanatical devotion to the ancient Law. “He was sorry,” Saint John Chrysostom tells us, “that he did not have innumerable hands with which to stone Saint Stefanos, but consoled himself with the thought that many false witnesses were found to kill the Martyr, and that he was able to guard their clothing.”
While the Saint was being murdered in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The Valley of Jehoshaphat is situated between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Through it runs the torrent of Kedron, which has many rocks scattered on the banks, the Most Pure Virgin, with Saint John the Theologian, was standing on a hill some distance away, praying fervently to her Son and Lord that He strengthen Stefanos and enable him to endure, and that He receive the Archdeacon’s soul into His hands. Oh, how sweet was the death of the holy Protomartyr! As the Lord Jesus watched from Heaven and His sweetest Mother and the Beloved Disciple looked down from the heights, stones rained upon him. Bloody, weak, and dying, but still standing, he called out, “LORD JESUS, RECEIVE MY SPIRIT,” then his thoughts turned to his slayers, and “he fell prostrate.” He prayed more fervently for them than he had for himself: his heart ached WITH COMPASSION FOR THE MURDERERS, AND HE “CRIED WITH A LOUD VOICE, LORD. LAY NOT THIS SIN TO THEIR CHARGE. AND WHEN HE HAD SAID THIS, HE FELL ASLEEP.” Thus the Valiant struggler and Protomartyr finished his course, lying amid blood-stained rocks. His soul flew up through the heavens to reign forever with the King and Lord of Glory, Whom he had been deemed worthy to behold before his death.
The holy Archdeacon was ordained by the holy Apostles soon after Pentecost. He suffered on the 27th day of December, during the year following Christ’s Ascension. He was just over 30 years old and was a handsome man, but the beauty of his soul far surpassed that of his countenance.
Saint Stephen’s corpse was thrown out to become food for beasts and birds and lay a day and a night without burial. On the second night Gamaliel, the renowned teacher of the Jews of Jerusalem (who later, with his son Abib, believed in Christ), sent honorable and trustworthy men to remove the holy relics secretly. Shedding bitter tears, they reverently buried the holy relics on Gamaliel’s property in the village called Kaphargamala, which was two miles from Jerusalem. And who would not have wept, asks, Saint John Chrysostom, seeing the gentle lamb’s dead body, battered by stones?
Many years later the pious Empress Evdokia, wife of Theodosios the Lesser, went to Jerusalem. At the place where the holy Protomartyr Stefanos was killed and his blood stained the ground, the Empress, wishing to honor Christ, built a magnificent church dedicated to the Saint. Unto our God be glory forever. Amen [Source: The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints]
Please note: The words of Saint Stephanos the Protomartyr are reminiscent of Christ’s words from the Cross (Luke 23:34). Also, the Martyrdom of Saint Stefanos was the beginning OF THE FIRST WIDESPREAD PERSECUTION OF THE EARLY CHRISTIANS. In response to it they “scattered throughout the regions” of Palestine, using the opportunity to spread the Gospel.
“Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in Our Incarnate God,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God