August 2, 2016

Translation of the Relics of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr

Translation of the Relics of Stephen the Protomartyr (Feast Day - August 2); 
Photo: St Stephen's right hand is preserved in the Serapionov chamber of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra.


Zion possesses numerous divine and amazing things.
Though dead Stephen is given to the city of Constantine.
On the second is the translation of the corpse of Stephen.

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.**

Saint Stephen’s body remained in the Church of Zion till the empress Eudocia, wife of Theodosius the Younger, went to Jerusalem in 439, built a stately church to God in his honor, about a furlong from the city, near the spot where he was stoned to death, into which she procured a portion of the body to be translated, and in which she was buried herself after her death, in 461. We also are informed that Eudocia had brought a portion of the relic of Saint Stephen to Constantinople in 439, which were venerated in the Church of Saint Lawrence, built by Eudocia, and he was celebrated there with Saints Laurence and Agnes on September 21st.

Another tradition says that before Eudocia built her church, after the relic of Saint Stephen was placed in the Church of Holy Zion, a church dedicated to Saint Stephen was built in Jerusalem by a certain senator from Constantinople named Alexander, who with the blessing of Patriarch John was able to procure the body of Saint Stephen and have it translated to this church. Five years later Alexander became ill and died. He had made arrangements for his body to be placed in a chest made of persea wood, exactly like that which contained the relic of Saint Stephen. Eight years later,*** the widow of the above mentioned Alexander, whose name was Juliana,**** wanted to return to Constantinople, because in Jerusalem many suitors desired to enter her into a second marriage due to her great beauty and wealth, though she did not want to remarry. Therefore, deciding to return to her homeland in Constantinople, she also made arrangements to have the body of her husband returned there as well.

At first Patriarch Cyril of Jerusalem did not allow her to remove the burial chest of her husband, but she wrote to her father in Constantinople concerning this matter, who in turn sent a letter to Patriarch Cyril with a royal order that Juliana should bring the burial chest of her husband to Constantinople. Patriarch Cyril therefore gave his permission. However, Juliana mistakenly took the wrong burial chest, by divine Providence, and instead of her husbands took that of Saint Stephen. This chest was enthroned on an ass, and carried to Ashkelon. Yet throughout the night it was heard from the heavens 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," and a most beautiful fragrance of myrrh filled the area. Meanwhile demons would yell out from far away that Stephen passing by them, and that they were invisibly being tormented. When they arrived in Ashkelon, fifty flora were payed for a boat to take them to Constantinople, and many miracles took place at that time.

When they arrived in Constantinople, news reached the emperor Constantine that the relic of the Protomartyr Stephen had arrived, to his great joy. The relic was received by the Archbishop and all the clergy, and a procession was made to bring it to the palace. The chest with the sacred relic was carried by mules on a carriage, and when they arrived at Constantianae, which was in fact the ancestral plot of Juliana at Constantinople, the mules stopped and would not proceed further. Then one mule spoke in a human voice and said: "Why do you beat us? The holy relic must be placed here." When the Archbishop and all those present heard the mule speak thus, they all glorified God with a loud voice. The emperor was gladdened when he heard about this, so he ordered a church be built there in honor of the Protomartyr to house the chest with his relics. This arrival of the relic is honored by the Church on August 2nd.


* Some say this actually took place in the year 415 and that everything mentioned here took place during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Younger rather than Constantine the Great.

** The history of this miraculous discovery and translation, was written by Lucian himself, and translated into Latin by Avitus, a Spanish priest, (native of Braga, then living at Jerusalem, an intimate friend of St. Jerome) and was published by the Benedictine monks in the appendix to the seventh tome of the works of St. Austin. This account is also attested by Chrysippus, an eminent and holy priest of the Church of Jerusalem (whose virtue is highly commended by the judicious author of the life of St. Euthymius); by Idatius and Marcellinus in their chronicles; by Bishop Basil of Seleucia, St. Austin, Bede, etc. It is mentioned by most of the historians, and in the sermons of the principal fathers of that age.

Also, the feast of St. Stephen was transferred from December 26 to December 27 in the Orthodox Church, to make room for the Synaxis of the Theotokos on December 26.

*** During the reign of Constantine the Great, when Metrophanis was Archbishop of Constantinople.

**** This was Juliana Anicia, daughter of Anicius Olybrius and of Placidia, granddaughter of Valentinian III and of Licinia Eudoxia, and therefore great-granddaughter of Theodosius II and of Athenais-Eudocia.


By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

In the middle of the dark night, Gamaliel appeared
To Lucian, and a wondrous mystery revealed.
Gamaliel appeared as an elder dignified:
A mysterious smile on his radiant face,
With gray hair and a long, gray beard,
And a garment of white, with a red cross adorned.

Gamaliel set four casks
In a cave, beside four graves.
Three were of gold, the fourth of silver;
Each one, with beautiful flowers, was filled.
The first was full of red flowers,
The remaining with white ones from the spring of Paradise.

"This golden cask," Gamaliel said,
"With flowers red, from which a fragrance flows,
Before the grave of Saint Stephen, is set,
Who, for the Living Christ, shed his blood.
The other two gold casks, with flowers so white,
By me, Gamaliel, and holy Nikodemos are shared:
Here is his body, and there is mine.

And the fourth, of purest silver,
With flowers white, is by where Abibus rests--
My only son, whom alive, I see.
His cask is white and his flowers are white
For his pure soul and pure body:
Young and baptized he died, like an early bloom.

My son, I buried, beside Saint Stephen
That the saint, my son Abibas, might help,
As he helps every Christian."

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
For the struggles you endured for Christ God, a royal diadem crowns your head, O First Champion of Martyrs. For you refuted the folly of the Jews and beheld your Savior on the right of the Father. Ever beseech Him, therefore, for our souls.

Another Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O Protomartyr and mighty warrior of Christ our God, You are victorious in battle and crowned with glory, O holy Stephen. You confounded the council of your persecutors, Beholding your Savior enthroned at the right hand of the Father. Never cease to intercede for the salvation of our souls.

Another Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Your relics have risen from the depths of the earth, like a treasury for the immortal life of all creation. The Church, rejoicing in the grace that she receives from them, duteously honors you, Protomartyr Stephen. Preserve us from error and heresy by your intercession.

Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
You were the first to be sown upon earth by the Heavenly Husbandman, O all-famed Stephen; you were the first to shed your blood upon the earth for Christ, O blessed one; you were the first to be honored by Him with the crown of victory in Heaven, as the spearhead of the athletes, O first crowned champion of the Martyrs.