The Feast of St. Stephen the Martyr

Today (December 26) is observed as the Feast of Stephen the first martyr.

The Collect

GRANT, O Lord, that, in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of thy truth, we may stedfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and, being filled with the Holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those who suffer for thee. our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

The Epistle
Acts vii. 55.

STEPHEN, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

The Gospel
St. Matthew xxiii. 34.

BEHOLD, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

One Comment

  1. I would like to add this devotional thought:
    St. Stephen’s feast is historically placed as the feast directly after the birth of Christ, because he is the first martyr after the resurrection of Christ. The Church has since the beginning connected Jesus’s birth and Incarnation with his death and Resurrection. As such, the first Christian martyr is shown even in Scripture to be the first “Christ-bearer”. This is why Stephen’s death parallels Jesus’s death by showing Stephen praying in a similar way to Jesus for the forgiveness of his persecutors. Stephen’s heart had been transformed into a heart like Christ, who has the faith and love to forgive even his enemies has he dies an unjust death.
    As such, Stephen is the first to “follow the life of Christ.” This is important for us in our liturgical year because this is what we are seeking to do in our yearly observance. We begin with Christ’s birth, follow him in his baptism and public ministry; remember his miracles and merciful acts, and learn from him the Truth and the Way. But if we are to be his disciples we cannot stop there, we must follow him as he enters Jerusalem and goes through the heart breaking steps that lead him to betrayal by one of his own disciples, and even to being forsaken by his closest followers.
    But Stephen, shows us a disciple who has been changed by the Resurrection. A disciple who followed Jesus to the cross, showing us the new way of life available now after Jesus’s conquering of sin and death at the Resurrection. And it is this resurrection which ascended Jesus above all names and thrones to sit at the right hand of the Father. And this is exactly where Stephen, that holy deacon, saw Jesus: at the right hand of the Father. But Jesus was standing, standing to receive Stephen into his arms safe from all evil and persecution. And completing Jesus’ task to create people who will follow God in love and obedience, Stephen, like his Lord before him, cried out to for God to receive his spirit.
    But in completing this cycle, Stephen started an entire new cycle. The cycle of those redeemed who now can bear the cross all the way to their death, and as they are dying to die with a clean heart of forgiveness and good will toward men: the incarnation now alive in their heart and the resurrection power transforming them already. With St. Stephen we are welcomed into the cycle of the martyrs and saints.
    And so Stephen is the first of the saints we remember after the birth of Christ, because Stephen shows us the first of the new births that would come by Christ’s sacrifice and death.
    Merry Christmas and may we all be deacons of our dear Lord as we serve the creation he loved so much he became a part of it.
    Fr. Isaac

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