Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Holy Martyr Stefan of Decani, King of Serbia

St. Stefan of Decani (Feast Day - November 11)

The Holy Martyr Stefan of Decani, King of Serbia was strangled in his old age. When he was blinded, St. Nicholas appeared to him in the church at Ovche Polje (Field of the Sheep) and showed him his eyes saying: "Stefan, be not afraid: behold your eyes in my palm. In due time, I will return them to you." Stefan spent five years in Constantinople as a prisoner in the Monastery of the Pantocrator. By his wisdom and asceticism, his meekness and piety, his patience and benevolence, Stefan not only surpassed all the monks in his monastery, but all monks in Constantinople. When five years had passed, St. Nicholas again appeared to him and said: "I came to fulfill my promise." He then traced the sign of the Cross on the blind king, and Stefan received his sight. In thanksgiving to God, Stefan built the Church of Decani, one of the most marvelous works of Byzantine artistic beauty, and one of the most famous monuments of Serbian piety. The holy King Stefan, with St. Sava and the holy Prince Lazar, constitute a most glorious trinity of holiness, nobility and self-sacrifice - the gift of the Serbian people. St. Stefan lived his earthly life as a martyr, and died as a martyr in the year 1336, receiving the wreath of immortal glory from the Almighty God Whom he had faithfully served.


Reflection

If ever there was a holy king who sat on the throne of an earthly kingdom, that was the holy King Stefan of Decani. The Greeks, who otherwise considered the Slavs barbarians, were amazed at the beauty of St. Stefan's soul as one of the rarest wonders of the time. When the Emperor Cantacuzene sent the abbot of the Monastery of the Pantocrator to Milutin on some official business, King Milutin inquired about his son Stefan. "O King, are you asking me about the second Job?" the abbot replied. "Be assured that his poverty stands above your royal greatness." For his part, the Byzantine emperor acted very cruelly toward the blind Stefan: he confined him to one area of the court and forbade everyone access to him. After that, he sent him to the Monastery of the Pantocrator, hoping that the monastery would force him into strict monastic asceticism, and that he would become weak and perish there. But God preserved the Blessed Stefan and he endured the ascetic labor of fasting and prayer like the best of monks. They began to speak of his wisdom throughout all of Constantinople, and the emperor began to respect him and often sought advice from him. For example, St. Stefan contributed to the defeat of the infamous heresy of Barlaam, against which St. Gregory of Palamas fought. Barlaam then resided in Constantinople, and by skillful intrigue, had won over many high-ranking clerics and civil officials to his way of thinking. In perplexity, the emperor summoned Stefan and asked him what he should do. The wise Stefan replied with the words of the Psalmist: "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee?" (Psalm 139:21), and also said: "Dangerous men must be banished from society." Heeding this, Emperor Cantacuzene drove Barlaam from the capital with dishonor.


HYMN OF PRAISE: The Holy Martyr Stefan of Decani, King of Serbia

Tortured and persecuted, Holy King Stefan of Decani
Endured pains and persecutions as a true Christian.
And when it seemed he was defeated by all,
He was actually victorious, powerful and unscathed.
He defeated his father by patient endurance,
And Cantacuzene by profound wisdom.
With silence he overcame malicious Simonida,
And with trust in God he overcame King Shishman.
He was even more powerful than his mighty son-
For those who do not sin are always more powerful.
Earthly power always ends without a glimmer,
But there is no end to heavenly power.
King Stefan of Decani, meek and beloved,
Drew his strength from heavenly power:
His power and glory were from Christ,
And from Christ was his life, throne and sovereignty.
Stefan understood this, and this he confessed;
That is why he defeated all adversaries in the end.
Pray for us, O wondrous king,
That God may grant us salvation and mercy.

Read also:

The Healing of St. Stefan of Decani by St. Nicholas

Visoki Decani Serbian Orthodox Monastery

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