My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE HOLY FEAST DAY OF THE HOLY PROTOMARTYR (FIRST-MARTYR) AND ARCHDEACON STEFANOS (STEPHEN) (December 27th)
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Protomartyr. Fourth Tone
For the struggles you endured for Christ God, a royal diadem crowns your head, O First Champion of Martyrs. For you refuted the folly of the Jews and beheld your Savior on the right hand of the Father. Ever beseech Him, therefore, for our souls.
Kontakion Hymn of the Feast-Day. Fourth Tone
Yesterday the Master arrived in the flesh, today the servant departs from the flesh. He Who reigns was born. Today the servant dies for Him by stoning, the Protomartyr, the divine Stefanos.
After the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the fire-bearing words of the Apostles and the signs and wonder that accompanied them inspired many conversions. As soon as the believers had become members of the Body of Christ through Holy Baptism, they sold all their goods and laid the proceeds at the Apostles' feet; then, being free of all worldly ties and interests, they led a life in common, and were of one heart and of one soul. After fulfilling the customary observances in the Temple, they would meet in their homes to attend to the Apostles' teaching, to offer praise to the Lord Jesus Christ and to share with gladness in the banquet of eternal life, the seal of their communion with God and of their love for one another-the Holy Eucharist (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-34).
In order that the Twelve might devote themselves without distraction to prayer and to teaching as the number of disciples continued to increase, they decided to appoint seven of the brethren, who were well-respected for their wisdom and full of the Holy Spirit, to relieve them of the task of looking after the material welfare of the community, especially of waiting on the brethren when they ate together and of assisting the widows and the needy. The seven deacons upon whom the Holy Apostles laid their hands were: Stefanos (Stephen), Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas (Acts 6:1-6). The activity of Stefanos, who was their head, extended well beyond providing for the material needs of the community. Being filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, he worked miracles and spoke with the authority of a messenger from God. All the people admired him to such an extent that their leaders, angry because they were incapable of answering his arguments, brought him before the Sanhendrin, the high priest's council, and accused him falsely of blasphemy and of intending to subvert the ordinances of the law.
The young man stepped forward fearlessly to face his judges and, inspired by the Spirit that Christ has promised to His Disciples in such an event (St. Matthew 10:19), in ardent tones he reminded the stone-hearted Jews of the constant loving kindness and patience that God had always shown towards His people, giving the promise of His Covenant to the Patriarchs and never failing to come to the help of His elect. By signs and wonders, mighty works and promises, and by the awesome revelations delivered to Moses at Sinai and in the wilderness, God was indefatigable in all that He did throughout the history of Israel to raise His chosen people above their attachment to created things and to deliver them from idolatry; but they ever resisted, and when the Righteous One, the Savior and Redeemer, the promise of the Patriarchs and the fulfillment of the prophecies came on earth, they showed the same uncircumcised heart, the same obstinate resistance to the way so the Holy Spirit: "As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, Whom you have now betrayed and murdered" (Acts 7:51-52).
These inspired words sprang from Saint Stefano's mouth through the grace of God, which filled his heart and made it heavenly, while also spreading over his body, and illumining his face with a Divine Light as it illumined the Savior on the day of the Transfiguration (St. Matthew 17:6; St. Luke 9:29). All who sat gazing at him in the council saw him thus clothed in shining glory like an Angel (Acts 6:15) and they ground their teeth in hatred. Their anger burst forth when Saint Stefanos, lifting his eyes to Heaven and beholding the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the Father's right hand as clearly as when He shall come at the end of time, cried out: "I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). Unable to bear this revelation of the exaltation to Heaven of Jesus Christ and of His dwelling bodily in the Blessed Trinity, the Jews stopped their ears and, rushing on Stefanos, they took him out of the city and stoned him.
Saint Stefanos exulted with joy to be put to death after the example of his Master; and for him the stones they threw were so many steps up to the glorious vision of Christ which he had just caught sight of. He breathed his last like Jesus on the Cross, calling upon the name of the Lord with the cry of supreme love for his enemies: "Lord, do not hold his sin against them" (Acts 7:60; cf. St. Luke 23:34).
Adorning the Church with the costly pearls of his blood, Saint Stefanos was the first to take the path to Heaven that Christ opened by His Passion. His voluntary death for the Truth opened Paradise to him and enabled him to see the glory of God. His perfect love for God and for his neighbor, which extended to forgiving those who slew him, had placed him in the forefront of the friends of God. Therefore the Martyr-loving faithful, who today contemplate the resplendent light of his countenance mingled with that of the Star of Bethlehem, rely confidently on his intercession.
The body of Saint Stefanos (Stephen), which pious men had buried, was discovered by the priest Lucian at Caphargamala in 415 AD, following an apparition. It was translated to the church that the Empress Evdokia, the wife of Theodosius II, built in honor of the Protomartyr in Jerusalem. Saint Stefano's holy relics were later taken to Constantinople.
(Resources: Adapted from the Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, Vol. 2, compiled by Hieromonk Mkarios of Simonos Petra and translated from the French by Christopher Hookway.)
Homily I on Saint Stefanos the Protomartyr
By Saint Gregory of Nyssa
"How lovely is the inspiration exhibited by those who are good, and how sweet is the joy which they disclose! See, we acquire a feast from a feast and grace from grace. Yesterday the Lord of the universe welcomed us whereas today it is the imitator (Stefanos) of the Lord. How are they related to each other? One assumed human nature on our behalf while the other shed it for his Lord. One accepted the cave of this life for us, and the other left it for Him. One was wrapped in swaddling clothes for us, and the other was stoned for Him. One destroyed death, and the other scorned it.
Brethren, let us hasten to the stadium where the great athlete contends against the wicked adversary of human life by stripping himself in the arena by his confession [of faith] (cf. 1 Cor. 4-9). Indeed, as Saint Paul has said [Hebrews 12:4], Saint Stephen (Stefanos) has become a spectacle to the world, Angels and to men. He was the first to have received the crown [stephanos] of martyrdom, the first to have passed the way for the chorus of martyrs and the first to have resisted sin to the point of shedding blood. It seems to me that the entire host of transcendent powers, Angels, and myriads both assist and accompany them [i.e., the martyrs]. If we hear anything honorable in the heavens from among the Principalities, Powers, Thrones, Ruling Forces and the entire heavenly assembly, their words provide an athletic spectacle by contending with an opponent [cf. Col. 1:16; Ephesians 1:21]."
"...From this point began the Apostles' journey throughout the entire world and their preaching. If it were not for (Saint Stefano's) murder and the Jews' rage against the Apostles, perhaps the grace of the Gospel would have been confined to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Having been driven out by the Jews to another nation, the teaching of the (Christian) mysteries expelled the devil from the world. Thus Samaria received the preaching [cf. Acts 8:14]; salvation reached the eunuch through Saint Philip (Acts 8:26ff); Saint Paul was a great vessel of election armed against the devil's wrath and his threats against whose arrows he raised a shield (Acts 9:15), thereby abolishing him from the entire earth and making all places accessible to the faith of Christ. As a result, Egyptians, Syrians, Parthians, Mesopotamians, Galatians, Illurians, Macedonians as well as nations from everywhere hastened to hear the preaching. Do you see Saint Stefano's athletic powers and how the adversary was brought down to ruin although he appeared more excellent than his adversary by making false accusations?
"...How did Saint Stefanos see transcendent glory? Who had bare heaven's gates for him? Was this the work of men? Which of the Angels enabled inferior [human] nature soar to that height? Saint Stefanos was not alone when he was generously filled with power coming from the Angels which enabled him to see what he saw. What was recorded? "Stefanos was filled with the Holy Spirit and saw the glory of God and His Only-Begotten Son" (Acts 7:55). As the Prophet says, "light cannot be seen unless one is filled with Light: 'In Your Light we shall see Light" (Psalm 35:10) (If observation of the light does not share this same Light, how can anyone deprived of the sun's rays see it?). Since the Father's Light makes this possible, the Only Begotten [Son's] Light emanates through the Holy Spirit which makes it visible. Therefore the Spirit's glory enables us to perceive the glory of both the Father and Son. But can we say that the Gospel is true which says that "no man has ever seen God" (St. John 1:18)? How do the Apostle's words agree with the following, "No man has seen nor can see [God]" (1 Timothy 6:16)? If human nature and power can perceive the glory of the Father and the Son, their vision must indeed be mistaken. However, history is true and cannot lie. The evil deed of the pneumatomachoi is indeed made clear because Holy Scripture bears witness to similar situations. For Saint Stefanos beholds God not in human nature and power but is united by grace to the Holy Spirit Who elevates him in order to comprehend God. Therefore, one cannot say that Jesus is Lord apart from the Spirit, as the Apostle says [cf. 1 Timothy 6:16, 1 Cor. 12:3]. One cannot contemplate the Father's glory because where the Spirit is the Son is seen and is grasped the Father's glory..."
Brothers and sisters, you should ponder our words and thoughts and hold them as introductory remarks since Saint Stefanos' vision provokes reflection. We are not only spectators of Saint Stefanos' contest but since we are full of the Holy Spirit, we share his grace and eradicate adversaries for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ to whom be glory and power forever and ever. Amen."
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in the Divine Birth of Our Savior,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God