STEPHEN, ARCHDEACON & FIRST MARTYR
Stephen, Archdeacon & First Martyr, Afterfeast of the Nativity, Theodore the Confessor, brother of Saint Theophanes the Poet, Theodore, Patriarch of Constantinople
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 6:8-15; 7:1-5, 47-60
In those days, Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated men, who said, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses who said, "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us." And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
And the high priest said, "Is this so?" And Stephen said: "Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, 'Depart from your land and from your kindred and go into the land which I will show you.' Then he departed from the land of the Chaldeans, and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living; yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him in possession and to his posterity after him, though he had no child.
But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?'
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
The Lord said this parable, “There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?'”
The third day of the Nativity is dedicated to the Protomartyr Saint Stephen. This is the third day of the three day Winter Pascha.
The Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen was the eldest of the seven deacons, appointed by the Apostles themselves, and therefore he is called “archdeacon.” He was the first Christian martyr, and he suffered for Christ when he was about thirty. In the words of Asterias, he was “the starting point of the martyrs, the instructor of suffering for Christ, the foundation of righteous confession, since Stephen was the first to shed his blood for the Gospel.”
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Saint Stephen preached Christianity and defeated Jewish teachers of the Law in debate. The Jews maligned Saint Stephen, saying that he had uttered blasphemy against God and against Moses. Saint Stephen came before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest to answer these charges. He gave a fiery speech, in which he recounted the history of the Jewish nation, and denounced the Jews for persecuting the prophets, and also for executing the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ (Acts ch. 7).
During his speech, Saint Stephen suddenly saw the heavens opened and Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God. The Jews shouted and covered their ears, and rushed at him. They dragged him out of the city and stoned him, but the holy martyr prayed for his murderers. Far off on the heights stood the Mother of God with the holy Apostle John the Theologian, and She prayed fervently for the martyr. Before his death Saint Stephen said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. O Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Then he joyfully gave up his pure soul to Christ.
The body of the holy Protomartyr Stephen, left to be eaten by beasts, was secretly taken up by the Jewish teacher Gamaliel and his son Habib, who buried Stephen on his estate. They both believed in Christ, and later received holy Baptism.
Saint Stephen is also commemorated on August 2 (Translation of his relics) and on September 15 (Uncovering of his relics in the year 415).
Saint Theodore the Confessor, and his brother Theophanes (October 11) were born in Jerusalem of Christian parents. From early childhood Theodore shunned childish amusements and loved to attend church services. With his younger brother Theophanes (October 11), he was sent to the Lavra of Saint Savva to be educated by a pious priest. Both brothers became monks, and Saint Theodore was ordained to the holy priesthood.
The iconoclast emperor Leo V the Armenian (813-820) expelled and replaced the pious ruler Michael I Rhangabe (811-813). In the beginning, Leo concealed his heretical views, but later declared himself an iconoclast. The Patriarch of Jerusalem sent the two brothers to Constantinople to defend the holy icons. Theodore refuted Leo’s arguments, proving the falseness of his beliefs. Leo ordered that both brothers be beaten mercilessly, and then had them sent into exile, forbidding anyone to help them in any way.
Under the subsequent emperors, Michael II (820-829), and particularly under the iconoclast Theophilus (829-842), both brothers returned from exile. Again they were urged to accept iconoclasm, but they bravely endured all the tortures. They were sent into exile once more, but later returned. This time they were subjected to fierce torture, and finally, their faces were branded with the verses of a poem which mocked the holy confessors. Therefore, the brothers were called “the Branded.”
The city prefect asked Saint Theodore to take communion with the iconoclasts just once, promising him freedom if he did. But the holy martyr replied, “Your proposal is the same as saying: ‘Let me cut off your head once, and then you may go wherever you wish.’”
After torture the holy brothers were banished to Apamea in Bithynia, where Saint Theodore died around the year 840. Saint Theophanes survived until the end of the iconoclast heresy, and died as Bishop of Nicea. Saint Theophanes was author of many writings in defense of Orthodoxy. The relics of Saint Theodore were transferred to Chalcedon, where they worked many healings.
Saint Theodore, Archbishop of Constantinople, was a native of Constantinople, led a pious life, was ordained as a priest and served in the cathedral of Hagia Sophia, where he was also the keeper of the sacred vessels.
In the year 676 he was chosen to be Patriarch of Constantinople, although after two years he was deposed because of slander. But truth triumphed, and Saint Theodore was restored to the Patriarchal throne in 683. He then guided the Church of Constantinople to the very end of his life. He died around the year 686.
The All-Merciful Kykko Icon of the Mother of God: This icon was painted, according to Tradition, by the holy Evangelist Luke. It received its name “Kykkiotisa” from Mount Kykkos, on the island of Cyprus. Here it was placed in an imperial monastery (so designated because it was built with donations from the Emperor), in a church named for it. Before coming to the island of Cyprus, the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God was brought throughout the region by the will of God. At first, it was in one the earliest Christian communities in Egypt, and then it was taken to Constantinople in 980, where it remained in the time of Emperor Alexius Comnenos (end of the eleventh to early twelfth century).
During these years it was revealed to the Elder Isaiah through a miraculous sign, that by his efforts the wonderworking image painted by the Evangelist Luke would be transferred to Cyprus. The Elder exerted much effort to fulfill the divine revelation.
When the icon of the Mother of God arrived on the island, many miracles were performed. The Elder Isaiah was instrumental in building a church dedicated to the Theotokos, and placing the Kykko Icon in it. From ancient times up to the present day, those afflicted by every sort of infirmity flock to the monastery of the Mother of God the Merciful, and they receive healing according to their faith. The Orthodox are not the only ones who believe in the miraculous power of the holy icon, but those of other faiths also pray before it in misfortune and illness.
Inexhaustible is the mercy of the Most Holy Theotokos, Mediatrix for all the suffering, and Her icon fittingly bears the name, the “Merciful.” The wonderworking “Kykkiotisa” Icon of the Mother of God possesses a remarkable peculiarity: from what time period is unknown, but it is covered by a half shroud from the upper left corner to the lower right, so that no one is able to see the faces of the Mother of God and the Divine Infant. The depiction of the Mother of God appears to be of the Hodēgḗtria (“Directress”) type, as is also the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God. The head of the Mother of God is adorned with a crown.
A copy of this icon is particularly venerated at the women’s Nikolsk monastery in the city of Mukachev.