My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΓΕΝΝΑΤΑΙ! ΔΟΞΑΣΑΤΕ!
ON THE 27th OF DECEMBER, THE HOLY CHURCH COMMEMORATES THE HOLY APOSTLE STEFANOS (STEPHEN), PROTOMARTYR AND ARCHDEACON
Saint Stefanos (Stephen), the blessed First-Martyr and Archdeacon, was a Hebrew and disciple of Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law. He was first among the Seven Deacons established in Jerusalem by the Holy Apostles.
We read in the book of Acts of the Holy Apostles that the Jerusalem community was close-knit after the day of Pentecost. Many had anticipated the return of Christ within their lifetimes. We note that the Christians in Jerusalem shared all their material goods (Acts 2:44-45). Many sold their property and gave the proceeds to the Church, and distribution was made to all according to their need (Acts 4:34-35). Although the Christians still went to the temple to pray (Acts 2:46), yet they began partaking of the Lord's Mystical (Last) Supper in their own homes (Acts 2:42-46). God worked miracles of healing through these early Christians. Sick people would gather at the temple, so that the Holy Apostles might touch them on their way to prayer (Acts 5:12-16). The Church grew very rapidly so that the Holy Apostles had to appoint seven men to distribute goods to the needy widows (Acts 6:1-3).
Saint Stefanos (Stephen's) name, meaning "crown" in Greek, could indicate that he was a Hellenist or Greek-speaking Jew. The significance of the Hellenists is seen first in their numbers and the need for seven men to be in charge of the distribution of relief. Historical records indicate the presence of thousands of Christians in Jerusalem whose native tongue was Greek (Acts 6:1, 3, 7). The Hellenists had a crucial part in the early transition of the Gentiles into the Church. Though Jews and Gentiles were separated by the major barriers of race, geography, and language, still the Hellenistic Jews, many of whom lived outside of Palestine, had overcome part of the barriers and had learned to live with Gentiles. When converted to Christianity, they readily adapted the message to a Greek context, and of course, had access to the Septuagint (The Translation of the Old Testament by 72 Hebrew Scholars into the Greek language).
Now Stefanos (Stephen), full of faith and the Holy Spirit, did great wonders and miracles among the people (Acts 6:5, 8). According to Acts 6:13, he was accused by his critics of speaking against the temple and the Law of Moses. These charges were brought forth by Hellenistic Jews, who considered their ancestral faith the one thing worth living for; therefore, they were bitterly opposed to anything that might undermine their traditional faith.
But Stefanos (Stephen) had discovered the inadequacy of a mere formalism and ceremonialism in the temple worship. Christ's own words, to the Samaritan woman, had indicated to him and the early Church that True worship of God is not confined to the temple (St. John 4:20-24; St. Mark 13:2). Jesus had supported moderation in Jewish traditions and magnanimity in Sabbath observances (St. Mark 2:15f; 7:1-27; St. Luke 15:1f). Jesus had granted consideration to Gentiles (St. Matthew 8:5-13; St. Mark 24-30). On rare occasions He had superseded the law (St. Matthew 5:33-37; St. Mark 10: 2-12). Many of our Savior's followers were the common people who heard Him gladly (St. Mark 12:37); and it is clear that the observance of legal minutiae was not an absorbing concern with many of these people. Therefore, Stefanos (Stephen), with his broad background among those of the dispersion (diaspora), maintained these important aspects of Jesus' message and conduct and opened the way for future advance into Gentile evangelism.
How did they agitate the people against the spiritual insights of the Archdeacon? They misrepresented Stephen's views and aroused Jewish suspicions and fears. Seized by them, he was brought before the assembled council and, before pre-arranged false witnesses, charged with blasphemy (Acts 6:12-14). The accusations were twofold: He spoke against Moses, making Stefanos a blasphemer against God, and he was a radical, speaking revolutionary statements against the temple and the Law. Indeed the accusations against Saint Stefanos (Stephen) were remarkably similar to those leveled against Christ (St. Matthew 26:64; St. Mark 14:58; 13:2; 15:29). Therefore, the Archdeacon was accused of implied approval of the destruction of the temple and the change of the Law. To them, Christianity threatened to overthrow their religion and Jewish nationalism.
All those sitting in the Sanhedrin, having looked upon Stefanos, "saw his face as though it were a face of an angel." His face shone forth with divine grace, even as had the countenance of Moses.
The holy Stefanos (Stephen) was then permitted to answer their accusations in the council. While Saint Stefanos judged Old Testament history from the prophetic viewpoint, the council represented the legalistic view. For Saint Stefanos, the new religion was only the Divinely ordered development of the old. The real blasphemers were the disobedient Jews who rejected the Revelation and slew Christ.
Then Saint Stefanos, "being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed intently into the Heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right of God; and he said, 'behold, I see the heavens having been opened and the Son of Man standing on the right of God.' And they cried out with a loud voice, and they held their ears together, and rushed upon him with one accord. And they cast him outside of the city and began stoning him (Acts 7:55-58). [Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church]
(To be continued)
THE DIVINE SERVICES DECEMBER 27TH:
Orthros (Matins) at 9:00 a.m.
Divine Liturgy at 10:00 a.m.
Chapel of Nektarios
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" - Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in Our New Born King,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God