:: Friday, December 27, 2002 ::
On the Feast of St. Stephen
Today is the feast day of the Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen, my patron saint.
Here is a short description of his life from Holy Transfiguration Monastery:
"Saint Stephen was a Jew, and as some say, a disciple of Gamaliel, the teacher of the Law mentioned in Acts 5:34 and 22:3. He was the first of the seven deacons whom the Apostles established in Jerusalem to Care for the poor, and to distribute alms to them. Being a man hill of faith and of the Holy Spirit, he performed great signs and wonders among the people. While disputing with the Jews concerning Jesus, and wisely refuting their every contradiction, so that no one was able to withstand the wisdom and the spirit whereby he spake, he was slandered as a blasphemer and was dragged off to the Sanhedrin of the elders. There with boldness be proved from the divine Scriptures the coming of the Just One (Jesus), of Whom they had become the betrayers and murderers, and he reproved their faithless and hardheartedness. And finally, gazing into Heaven and beholding the divine glory, he said: "Lo, I see the Heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." But when they heard this, they stopped up their ears, and with anger cast him out of the city and stoned him, while he was calling out and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then, imitating the long-suffering of the Master, he bent his knees and prayed in a loud voice for them that were stoning him, and he said, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge," And saying this, he fell asleep (Acts 6, 7), thus becoming the first among the Martyrs of the Church of Christ."
I have always loved the story of St. Stephen and have seen in him a kindred spirit. I admire his tenacity and courage to stand up and proclaim the truth to people in his life who needed to hear it. His faithfulness, his meekness and his deep desire to see his brethren "come to the knowledge of the truth" is something I hope to emulate, with the help of his prayers.
But St. Stephen had another quality I hope to attain, by the grace of God--purity of heart.
He was a perfect example of someone who practiced a life of asceticism, service in the church, humility, and love of his brethren. Through this life lived in the Church, St. Stephen shows us fiery, intellectual, arrogant types how to bring our natural talents and desires under the reign of love and humility. He was able to chastise and teach others only after he had achieved a level of holiness that would enable him to do that work. Like the Psalmist says, it is only AFTER we experience and live out "the joy of thy salvation" that we are able to effectively bring others to the truth.
"Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors thy ways,
and sinners will return to thee." Ps. 51:12-13.
At every Divine Liturgy, during the reading of the Beatitudes, I remember St. Stephen when I hear, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." Purity of heart, ascetic labors, the sacramental life of the Church, our daily rule of prayer, almsgiving and many other ways of cooperating with God are needed before we try and teach others the truth of Orthodoxy.
When I was being enrolled into the catecumanate 5 years ago, my priest told me a saying he had heard at St. Vladimir's Seminary: A new convert to Orthodoxy should not write, teach, instruct, debate or in any way attempt to talk about Orthodoxy with others until they had actually LIVED THE LIFE of the Church for at least 3-4 years! A little tongue in cheek of course, but I've never forgotten it....and though I'm entering my 5th year as an Orthodox Christian, I feel as thought I still have a long way to go in holiness before I can ever do the works St. Stephen did. But with his prayers and the intercessions of the Theotokos and all the saints, I press on in truth and in love.
Troparion in tone 4 for St. Stephen--
O Protomartyr and mighty warrior of Christ our God,
You are victorious in battle and crowned with glory, O holy Stephen!
You confounded the council of your persecutors,
Beholding your Savior enthroned at the right hand of the Father.
Never cease to intercede for the salvation of our souls!
Kontakion in tone 3 for St. Stephen--
Yesterday the Master assumed our flesh and became our guest;
Today His servant is stoned to death and departs in the flesh,
The glorious Protomartyr Stephen.
:: Karl :: 9:39:00 AM [Link] ::