Monday, September 24, 2018
Martyrdom of Saint Stephen the Archdeacon
This day marks the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the Archdeacon and the first martyr (protomartyr). St. Luke testified about him in the Acts of the Apostles saying, 'Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.' (Acts 6:8) The Jews envied him and seized him and brought him to the Council. They also set up false witnesses who said, 'This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.' (Acts 6:12-13) And all who sat in the Council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel. (Acts 6:13) Then the high priest said, 'Are these things so?' St. Stephen answered with convincing words and told them the history from Abraham to Moses. The coming out of Abraham from Haran, the birth and the circumcision of Isaac, Jacob and his sons and their selling of Joseph, and how Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. St. Stephen continued to narrate to them all the events until the building of the temple. He concluded by saying, 'You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of Whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers; who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.' (Acts 7:51-53)
When they heard these things they were cut to their hearts, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 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 heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!' Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran toward him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. They stoned Stephen 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 said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:51-60) Devout men carried St. Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him.
May his prayers be with us. Amen.
Relocation of the Relics of Saint Stephen the Archdeacon
We celebrate on this day the transfer of the body of St. Stephen the archdeacon and protomartyr. Very many years had passed since his martyrdom, more than three hundred. After the reign of Emperor Constantine and when noble worship has spread, St. Stephen, the Striver, and martyr, appeared to Lucianus in the village where the honored body was buried and which was called the 'Village of Gamaliel,' near Jerusalem. He appeared to him several times and told him his name and where his body was buried. That man went to the bishop of Jerusalem and informed him of what he had seen in his sleep. The bishop rose up and took him with two bishops and the people of the church and went to the place where the body was and when they dug the ground, a mighty earthquake took place. The coffin wherein the holy body was lying was revealed. There came out from it the odor of a magnificent spice. They heard voices of angels praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.' This praise was repeated three times and the bishops bowed down before the coffin. They carried it away in the midst of songs and hymns and candles until they came to Zion. And after this, a man whose name was Alexander and who was from Constantinople built a church for St. Stephen in Jerusalem and placed the holy body in it.
Five years later, Alexander departed, and his wife buried him by the side of the coffin of the Saint. And eight years later, Alexander's wife decided to go to Constantinople and to take her husband's body with her. She came to the church, and she took the coffin wherein the body of St. Stephen had been laid thinking that it was the coffin wherein was her husband's body. She carried it away to Ascalon, and there she embarked with it in a ship to Constantinople. In the middle of the sea she heard singing and many praises coming from the coffin, and she marveled exceedingly. She rose up and examined the coffin and she knew that it was the coffin wherein the body of St. Stephen, and this was the Will of God, so she gave thanks to the Lord and went on her way until she arrived in Constantinople.
Then she went to the King and informed him about what had happened. The King, the archbishop, priests and the people of the city went forth to the ship, and they carried the coffin on their heads to the royal palace. And both on the ship and in the royal palace, God made manifest many signs.
They laid the holy body in a palanquin carried by two mules, and when they came to a place called Constantinus, the two mules stopped. When they beat the mules, they did not move but they heard the voice of one of them saying, 'It is meet to place the Saint here.' All those who saw and heard this marveled and they knew that He who had made the donkey of Balaam speak was He who had made this animal carrying the body of the Saint speak. The King ordered that a church is built for the Saint in that place. And they laid therein the pure gem, the holy body of St. Stephen, the apostle, and the martyr.
May his prayers and blessings are with us all, and Glory is to God forever. Amen.