Friday, September 15, 2017

Finding of the Relics of the Holy Protomartyr Stephen

Finding of the Relic of the Holy Protomartyr Stephen (Feast Day - September 15)

Verses

The finding of Stephen was common to the people,
The great majestic first-struggler of God.

After the First Martyr Stephen had been stoned to death (see Dec. 27), Gamaliel, his teacher, encouraged certain of the Christians to go by night and take up the Saint's body and bury it in his field, which was at a distance of some twenty miles from Jerusalem and was called by his name, "Caphargamala", that is, "the field of Gamala," where Gamaliel himself was later buried.

In the year 304, a certain venerable priest named Lucian was sleeping in his bed, in the baptistery of a church which stood on the field of Gamaliel, where he commonly lay, in order to guard the sacred vessels of the church. Being half awake, he saw a tall comely old man of a venerable aspect, with a long white beard, clothed in a white garment, edged with small plates of gold, marked with crosses, and holding a golden wand in his hand. This person approached Lucian, and calling him thrice by his name, bid him go to Jerusalem, and tell Patriarch John to come and open the tombs in which his remains, and those of certain other servants of Christ lay, that through their means God might open to many the gates of his mercy. Lucian asked his name? “I am,” said he, “Gamaliel, who instructed Paul the apostle in the law; and on the east side of the monument lies Stephen who was stoned by the Jews outside the north gate. His body was left there exposed one day and one night; but was not touched by birds or beasts. I exhorted the faithful to carry it off in the night-time, which when they had done, I caused it to be carried secretly to my house in the country, where I celebrated his funeral rites forty days, and then caused his body to be laid in my own tomb to the east. Nikodemos, who came to Jesus by night, lies there in another coffin. He was excommunicated by the Jews for following Christ, and banished out of Jerusalem. Whereupon I received him into my house in the country, and there maintained him to the end of his life; after his death I buried him honorably near Stephen. I likewise buried there my son Abibas, who died before me at the age of twenty years. His body is in the third coffin which stands higher up, where I myself was also interred after my death. My wife Ethna, and my eldest son Semelias, who were not willing to embrace the faith of Christ, were buried in another ground, called Capharsemalia.”

Lucian, fearing to pass for an impostor if he was too credulous, prayed, that if the vision was from God, he might be favored with it a second and a third time; and he continued to fast on bread and water. On the Friday following Gamaliel appeared again to him in the same form as before, and commanded him to obey. As emblems of the relics he brought and showed Lucian four baskets, three of gold and one of silver. The golden baskets were full of roses; two of white and one of red roses; the silver basket was full of saffron of a most delicious smell. Lucian asked what these were? Gamaliel said: “They are our relics. The red roses represent Stephen, who lies at the entrance of the sepulchre; the second basket Nikodemos, who is near the door; the silver basket represents my son Abibas, who departed this life without stain; his basket is contiguous to mine.” Having said this he disappeared. Lucian then awoke, gave thanks to God, and continued his fasts.

In the third week, on the same day, and at the same hour, Gamaliel appeared again to him, and with threats upbraided him with his neglect, adding, that the drought which then afflicted the world, would be removed only by his obedience, and the discovery of their relics. Lucian being now terrified, promised he would no longer defer it.

After this last vision, Lucian went to Jerusalem, and laid the whole affair before Patriarch John, who wept for joy, and bid him go and search for the relics, which the patriarch concluded would be found under a heap of small stones, which lay in a field near his church. Lucian said he imagined the same thing, and returning to his field, summoned the inhabitants to meet the next day in the morning, in order to search under the heap of stones. As Lucian was going the following morning to see the place dug up, he was met by Migetius, a monk of a pure and holy life, who told him that Gamaliel had appeared to him, and bade him inform Lucian that they labored in vain in that place. “We were laid there,” said he, “at the time of our funeral obsequies, according to the ancient custom; and that heap of stones was a mark of the mourning of our friends. Search elsewhere, in a place called Debatalia. In effect,” said Migetius, continuing in relating his vision, “I found myself suddenly in the same field, where I saw a neglected ruinous tomb, and in it three beds adorned with gold; in one of them more elevated than the others, lay two men, an old man and a young one, and one in each of the other beds.” Lucian having heard Migetius’s report, praised God for having another witness of his revelation, and having removed to no purpose the heap of stones, went to the other place. In digging up the earth here three coffins or chests were found, as above mentioned, whereon were engraved these words in very large characters: Cheliel, Nasuam, Gamaliel, Abibas. The two first are the Syriac names of Stephen, or "crowned", and Nikodemos, or "victory of the people". Lucian immediately sent the news to Patriarch John. He was then at the Synod of Diospolis, and taking along with him Eutonius, bishop of Sebaste, and Eleutherius, bishop of Jericho, came to the place. Upon the opening of Saint Stephen’s coffin there was an earthquake, and there came out of the coffin such a fragrance, that no one remembered to have ever smelt any thing like it. And from the heavens they heard angelic voices, which could be heard for a great distance, saying: "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, to men of good pleasure." There was a vast multitude of people assembled in that place, among whom were many persons afflicted with diverse distempers; of whom seventy-three recovered their health upon the spot. Some were freed from evil spirits, others cured of scrophulous tumours of various kinds, others of fevers, fistulas, the bloody flux, the falling sickness, headaches, and pains in the bowels. They kissed the holy relics, and then shut them up. The patriarch claimed those of Saint Stephen for the Church of Jerusalem, of which he had been deacon; the rest were left at Caphargamala. The Protomartyr’s body was reduced to dust, excepting the bones, which were whole, and in their natural situation. The patriarch consented to leave a small portion of them at Caphargamala; the rest were carried in the coffin with singing of psalms and hymns to the Church of Zion at Jerusalem. At the time of this translation there fell a great deal of rain, which refreshed the country after a long drought. The translation was performed on the 26th of December, on which day the Church ever since honors the memory of Saint Stephen. Later the Church moved this feast of Saint Stephen to December 27th, and the translation of the relics of Saint Stephen to Constantinople is celebrated on August 2nd.


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