The Passion of the Holy Apostle, Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen

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 TWENTY-SEVENTH DAY OF THE MONTH OF DECEMBER: THE PASSION OF THE HOLY APOSTLE, PROTOMARTYR AND ARCHDEACON STEPHEN (STEFANOS)

After accomplishing the mystery of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and sent down the Holy Spirit from the Father, in the form of fiery tongues. The faithful began to multiply in number, and "there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews" (Acts Ch. 6). The Greeks here referred to were not the pagan idolaters generally called the heathens in the Holy Scripture, for the time had not come for the door of faith to be opened to these, nor had the word of salvation been preached to them. It was only later, following St. Stephen's murder, that the heathen began to be numbered among the believers. (Acts, Ch. 14)

"...The Greek Christians who grumbled against the Jews soon after the day of Pentecost were not, then, converts from heathenism, but Jews obedient to the Law of Moses, dispersed among other nations. The Holy Apostle James addressed himself to them, opening his epistle, "To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting" (James, Ch. 1). Though they had not adopted the beliefs and customs of the Hellenes, they were called Greeks by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, because they spoke Greek. Saint John Chrysostom writes, "The Greeks mentioned in the book of Acts of the Apostles were, I believe, Greek-speaking Jews." Thus it was among Greeks of the Dispersion that "there arose a murmuring against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration:" (Acts Ch. 6) they were assigned the lowest tasks, or given poor and insufficient food and clothing.

Because of this, the Twelve Apostles "assembled the multitude of the disciples" and said, "It is not reasonable that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.  Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen (Stefanos), a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochoros, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicholas, a proselyte of Antioch", The very names of these men, which are Greek, show that they were not Jews from Jerusalem, but came from other lands. Saint Stephanos (St. Stephen), for example, was a relative of Saul, known as Saint Paul after he was called to the faith and the Apostolic dignity; and it is known that Saint Paul was from Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts, Ch. 21 and 22). Because the Apostles wished to placate and silence the Hellenes, who were offended by the injustices done to their widows, all seven men appointed were Greeks. The candidates were "set before the Apostles, who, when they had prayed, laid their hands on them, making them Deacons.

Saint Stephen, being full of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit was the foremost of the seven and received the title archdeacon. He "did great wonders and miracles among the people" (Acts, Ch. 6), although these are described in the Holy Scripture. Actually, not even Christ's, miracles are fully recorded, for it says in the Gospel, "There are also other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written" (John, Ch. 21). Nonetheless, we may state without hesitation that Saint Stephen, 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.

Once Saint Stephen came upon Jews, Pharisees, Saducees, and Greek Jews quarreling about the Lord Jesus Christ: some of them saying that He was a prophet, others that He was a deceiver, still others that He was the Son of God. Standing on a high place, the Saint proclaimed Christ the Lord, saying, "Brethren, why are you at odds with one another, disturbing all Jerusalem? Blessed are they that believe in Jesus Christ, Who bowed the heavens and came down to cleanse our sins, and was born of the Holy and immaculate Maiden chosen before the world's creation. He took upon Himself our infirmities, granting sight to the blind, cleansing lepers, and expelling demons".

At this the Jews began to argue with him, blaspheming the Lord. According to the Acts of the Apostles, "there arose certain of the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen" (Acts, Ch. 6). From this passage it is clear that each group of Jews in Jerusalem had its synagogue, where it sent its own children to learn the Law of God...

"...Neither the Libertines, nor the Cyrenians, nor any of the others who contended with Saint Stephen were "able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake" (Acts, Ch. 6). Consequently, the word of truth vanquished at that time the three continents Europe, Asia, and Africa: Europe, by conquering the Libertines, who came from Rome; Asia, by prevailing over the Cilicians; and Africa, by overcoming the Cyrenians and Alexandrians. 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 blasphemed 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 council of Jewish teachers. Then "they set up the false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not 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 Stephen 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 Stephen 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 was the fathers of the Jewish people that were blasphemers, rebelling against Moses, "and in their hearts" turning "back again into Egypt" (Acts, Ch.7). Then he denied the Jews' charge that he had uttered sacrilegious words against the Holy Place, saying, "Solomon built" the Lord "a house." By this he meant, "I revere the holy Temple built most wisely by King Solomon with God's permission, and sanctified by the glory of the Lord, which appeared in the form of a cloud. I respect the house erected by men to exalt God; nonetheless, 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 built 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 Saint Stephen's heart as it had Elijah's in ancient times, and the Saint began to censure the entire assembly. "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears," he said, "ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the Messiah's coming" (Acts, Ch. 7).

When they heard the Saint say this, the High Priest, scribes, and the entire crowd of Jews were filled with hatred. "They were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth," but he was not afraid in the least, for he was full of the grace of the Holy Spirit, which emboldened 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 him that where the Master is, there shall the servant be (Acts, Ch. 7).

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 Stephen was led out of the city, like his Lord, Who deigned to suffer outside of 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 Saul, a kinsman of the victim, Saul, it is written, "was consenting unto Stephen's death" (Acts, Ch. 23), being more infuriated with him than any of the others, on account of his fanatical devotion to the ancient Law. "He was sorry," Saint John Chrysostom tells us, "that he did not had innumerable hands with which to stone Stephen, 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 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 Saint Stephen and enable him to endure, and that He receive the Archdeacon's soul into His hands...Bloody, weak, and dying, but still standing, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts, Ch. 7), 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 (First-Martyr) finished his course, lying and 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 twenty-seventh day of December, during the year following Christ's Ascension. He was just over thirty years old and was a handsome man, but the beauty of his soul far surpassed that of his countenance.

Saint Stephen's holy relics (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 remains 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 Theodosius the Lesser, went to Jerusalem. At the place where the holy Protomartyr Stephen 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)

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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.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in Our Incarnate Lord and Savior,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George