+++ The Holy Protomartyr Stephen the Archdeacon
He was a kinsman of the Apostle Paul and one of those Jews who lived in a Hellenic milieu. Stephen was the first of the seven deacons whom the holy apostles ordained for the service of the poor in Jerusalem. This is why he is called the Archdeacon - the first, or chief, of them. By the power of his faith, Stephen worked many wonders among the people. The wicked Jews disputed with him, but were always confounded by his wisdom and the power of the Spirit who acted through him. Then the shameful Jews, adept at calumny and slander, stirred up the people and leaders against this innocent man. They slandered Stephen, saying that he had blasphemed against God and against Moses, and quickly found false witnesses who supported their assertion. Then Stephen stood before the people, and all saw his face "like the face of an angel": that is, his face was illumined by the light of grace as was the face of Moses when he talked with God. Stephen opened his mouth and spoke of God"s manifold works and marvels, performed in the past for the People of Israel, and of the people"s manifold transgressions and opposition to God. He especially denounced them for the slaying of Christ the Lord, calling them "betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52). While they ground their teeth, Stephen looked and saw the heavens open and the glory of God, and spoke to the Jews of what he saw: "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God" (7:56). Then the malicious men took him out of the city and stoned him to death. Among his murderers was his kinsman Saul, later the Apostle Paul. At that time, the most holy Mother of God was standing on a rock at a distance with St John the Theologian, and witnessed the martyrdom of this first martyr for the truth of her Son and God, and she prayed for Stephen. This happened exactly a year after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. St Stephen"s body was taken secretly and buried by Gamaliel in his own ground. He was a Jewish prince and a secret Christian. Thus this first of Christ"s martyrs made a glorious end and entered into the Kingdom of Christ our God.
Our Holy Fathers, the Martyrs Theodore and Theophanes the Branded
Brothers in the flesh, born in Palestine, they were skilled in both worldly and spiritual learning. They were monks in the community of St Sava the Sanctified, and were there ordained priest. They suffered harsh persecution for their defence of the icons under three Emperors: Leo the Armenian, Michael Balbus and Theophilus. The demented Theophilus beat them with his own hands, and ordered that they have mocking verses branded on their faces, from which they became known as "the Branded". They were thrown into prison in the town of Apamea in Bithynia, and Theodore died there of his wounds. Theophanes was freed in the time of the Emperors Theodore and Michael, and was made Metropolitan of Nicaea by Patriarch Methodius. He died in 845. These two wonderful brothers suffered for Christ, and received a glorious reward from Christ in the deathless Kingdom of light.
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