Sunday, August 2, 2015

St. Stephen the Protomartyr, "the Censer of Grace"

St. Stephen the Protomartyr (Feast Days - December 27 & August 2)

By His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria

Saint Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople, the disciple of Saint John Chrysostom, when speaking of the angel-looking Deacon of the New Testament, the Holy Protomartyr and Protodeacon Stephen, the translation of whose sacred relics our Holy Church celebrates today, calls him "the censer of the grace of God."

"Stephen was the censer of grace, 
the extra incense of holiness."1

Saint Stephen was a censer, because he was an offshoot of faith, a most fragrant rose of love, an unfading flower of hope, a most blossoming scion of the grace of God.

Saint Stephen was a censer, because he had, according to Saint Proclus, the fullness of good works and words.

He was a sturdy tower of confession, the bulwark of patience, the armed crusader of temperance, the undefeated soldier of piety, and the animated general.

Saint Proclus says these things, because he had in view the words of the Evangelist Luke, who wrote of him in the Book of Acts as being "full of grace and power," who "showed signs and great wonders among the people."

A first characteristic feature of this rare figure, whose prayer was the cause of the shift of the persecutor Saul to later become the Apostle to the Nations Paul, is that he was a deacon who offered his service.

He was a deacon of the people of God, sacrificing his ego in his ministry to others, imitating the great Deacon Christ, "Who came not to be served, but to serve."2

Thus, in the early Church he served the tables of the widows and orphans and to the poor he gave the wealth of his love and humility.

In the faces of others he saw the face of Christ, offering himself above all and beyond all on the altar of humility and table of love.

And for someone to become first, according to the words of Christ ("whosoever wishes to be first must be the last of all and serve all"3), they must be a deacon to all and serve all, for as Saint Paisios says, the more a person lowers themselves, the more they rise in the eyes of God.

The second feature of Saint Stephen is his offering of the word of God. Man is not only material, but also spiritual. Both require nourishment.

The spirit feeds on immortal food, which is the Body and Blood of Christ, and is enlivened by the offering of the word of God.

This is why Saint Stephen, who along with physical food, offered spiritual food as well.

His words were strong, edifying, christocentric, interventionist, catalytic as well as rebuking, like a heavenly dew giving rest to the hearts of the early Christians, and were as dynamite that demolishes the walls of sin and the strongholds of the enemy.

"They could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking,"4 notes Luke the Evangelist.

And the third feature of Saint Stephen, who was as incense reaching the Throne of the Slain Lamb, was the offering of his life.

His persecutors covered him with stones, thinking in this way they would be able to cover the truth. And these stones, together with his prayer "Lord, do not hold this sin against them,"5 built the motionless tower of the Church of Christ.

This offering of the martyrdom of blood, which burned on the censer of holiness, is summed up in one word: "reposed!"6

The Christian, the Martyr, the struggler, the disciple of Christ, does not die. The body sleeps, while the soul is transferred "to the heavenly chambers" and lives in the glory of the majesty of God.

The example of Saint Stephen is needed today in our impersonal times.

We have need of people that will serve, that will help, that will support, that will offer, according to the apostolic words, bread and blankets to the people who suffer today. Our goods are not our own. They do not belong to us. They belong to God and to those in need. The offering of love is what will accompany us in the life beyond the grave, in eternity.

We have need today of people that will offer help in spiritual almsgiving, which is the offering of the word of God and everything that will give rest to the weary and burdened.

We have need of testimonies and confessions of the name of Christ, which are the result of our deep faith and the communion we have with Him.

Saint Stephen reminds us today and invites us to become his imitators.

Notes:

1. Homily 17, "Encomium to the Holy Protomartyr Stephen".

2. Mk. 10:45.

3. Mk. 9:35.

4. Acts 6:10.

5. Acts 7:60

6. Ibid.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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