Third Day of the Feast of the Nativity. Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen (34). Ven. Theodore Graptus (“the Branded”), Confessor and brother of St.Theophanes the Hymnographer (ca. 840). St. Theodore, Archbishop of Constantinople (ca. 686).
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).
TROPARIA AND KONTAKIA
Troparion of the Nativity, tone 4
Your Nativity, O Christ our God, Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshiped the stars, Were taught by a Star to adore You, The Sun of Righteousness, And to know You, the Orient from on High. O Lord, glory to You!
Troparion of the saint, tone 4
Protomartyr and mighty warrior of Christ our God, you were victorious in battle and crowned with glory, holy Stephen. You confounded the council of those who persecuted you, beholding your Savior enthroned at the Father’s right hand. Never cease praying that our souls may be saved!
Kontakion of the saint, tone 3
Yesterday the Master appeared in the flesh among us, today His servant departs from the flesh. Yesterday the King was born, and today His servant is stoned to death; for His sake, the divine Protomartyr Stephen is perfected through martyrdom.
Kontakion of the Nativity, tone 3
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels with shepherds glorify Him! The wise men journey with a star! Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!
Acts 6:8-15; 7:1-5, 47-60 (Epistle, Saint)
- And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
- Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen.
- And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.
- Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
- And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, 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.”
- And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.
- Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?”
- And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran,
- and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’
- Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell.
- And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him.
- But Solomon built Him a house.
- However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:
- ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, or what is the place of My rest?
- Has My hand not made all these things?’
- 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.”
- When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, 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 at him with one accord;
- and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
- And 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 had said this, he fell asleep.
Matthew 21:33-42 (Gospel, Saint)
- Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.
- Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.
- And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another.
- Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them.
- Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
- But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’
- So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.
- Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”
- They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
- Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?