On December 27th (26th in the west) we celebrate Protomatyr Stephen. St. Stephen is called the first martyr, a holy apostle, and archdeacon! His celebration during the post-feast of the Nativity of Christ is singularly significant into the meaning of Christ’s birth. The connection between life and death is laid here.
About St. Stephen
In scripture, our first encounter with Stephen occurs at the occasion of his ordination by the apostles as Archdeacon. At around the age of thirty, tradition holds Stephen as the oldest of the seven deacons appointed by the Apostles. Descriptions of Stephen recall his being full of the Holy Spirit. And his ability to eloquently defeat the Jewish teachers of the law in debate. We recognize Stephen for his ability to preach the gospel, but also for his ability to instruct us regarding the suffering of Christ.
This St. Stephen did to the full when he died as the first martyr for Christ after the resurrection. Protomartyr Stephen reminds us to forgive and love our enemies, as he died while praying that God would not hold the offense of his death against his persecutors. Just as Christ on the cross proclaimed “forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”
- Consider the various elements of Christmas that remind us that Christ was born to die. Some examples of the reality of mortality surrounding Christ’s birth include the gift of Myrrh from the wise-men, Herod already seeking to kill Christ, and of course the placement of the feast of St. Stephen during the Christmas season.
- Red is the colour of martyrs and also used in Christmas decorations. Consider arranging some of your red decor prominently today in honour of the first martyr
- Pray today’s festal prayers and tropars in your icon corner, particularly if you are unable to make it to church.
Feast Day Prayers and Tropars
Epistle: Acts 6:8-7, Acts 5: 47-60
Gospel: Matthew 21:33-42
Troparion: (tone 4)
O apostle and first martyr for Christ, you fought the good fight, exposing the wickedness of your persecutors. For when you were stoned to death at the hands of the lawless, you received a crown from God’s right hand on high. All the while you cried out to Him: “O Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”
Kontakion: (tone 3)
Yesterday, the Master came to us incarnate, but His servant departs today from the flesh. Yesterday, the one who now reigns in the flesh was born, but today, His servant is killed by stoning. For His sake the first martyr, the divine Stephen, gives up his life.
Prokeimenon: (tone 8)
Their utterance has gone forth to the ends of the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.
Verse: The Heavens tell the glory of God, and the firmament declares the work of His hands.
The Byzantine Life
Thank you for checking out this week’s article. And if you haven’t already, you can check out our various Nativity Fast and Chritsmastide articles:
- Celebrating the Nativity Fast,
- Advent Music playlist!
- Christmas Eve Traditions
- Synaxis of the Theotokos
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