December 27th (I - 9)
Icon of the First-Martyr and Arch Deacon Stephen and Monk Theodore the Confessor
Disciple First-Martyr and ArchDeacon Stephen (+ c. 34). Monk Theodore the Confessor, the Lettered-Upon (+ c. 840). Sainted Theodore, Archbishop of Constantinople (+ 686). Monk Pherapont of Mozhaisk, Luzhetsk (Uncovering of Relics, 1514). Monk Luke of Trigleia. Icon of the Mother of God "the Merciful" ("Milostivaya"; account located under 12 November).
The Holy Disciple (from the Seventy) First-Martyr and ArchDeacon Stephen was the eldest among the Seven Deacons, established by the Apostles themselves, and therefore he is called "archdeacon". He was the Christian First-Martyr, and he suffered for Christ at about age 30. In the words of Asterias, he was "the starting-point of the martyrs, the instructor of suffering for Christ, the foundation of righteous confession, in that Stephen was first to shed his blood for the Gospel".
Being filled of the Holy Spirit, Saint Stephen with daring persuasively preached the Christian teaching and defeated Jewish teachers of the Law in disputation. For this the Jews maligned Saint Stephen, saying that he had uttered blasphemy against God and against Moses. Under such charges, Saint Stephen came before the Sanhedrin and the high-priest. He spoke a fiery speech, in which he expounded the history of the Jewish nation, and he boldly denounced the Jews for persecuting the prophets and also the execution by them of the awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ. During the time of his speaking, Saint Stephen suddenly saw the heavens opened and Jesus Christ in glory, standing at the right side of God. He exclaimed loudly about this. Then the Jews, covering over their ears, rushed upon him, dragged him out of the city and stoned him, but the holy martyr prayed for his murderers. Afar off on the heights stood the Mother of God with the holy Apostle John the Theologian, and She prayed fervently for the martyr. Before death Saint Stephen uttered: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, wherein O Lord, impute this not to them in sin", -- and then with joy he gave up his pure soul to Christ. The body of the holy First-Martyr Stephen, left for devouring by beasts, was secretly taken up by the illustrious Jewish teacher Gamaliel and his son Habib, and given burial on his estate. And afterwards these both believed in Christ and accepted holy Baptism.
The Monk Theodore the Confessor, and his brother the Confessor Theophanes the Lettered-Upon, were born in Jerusalem of Christian parents. The elder was Theodore. From early childhood he shunned childish amusements and loved to visit church services. Together with his younger brother Theophanes (Comm. 11 October), he was sent for education to the presbyter at the Laura-monastery of Saint Sava. Both brothers accepted monasticism. Saint Theodore was raised to the dignity of presbyter.
When the iconoclast emperor, Leo V the Armenian (813-820), expelled and replaced the pious ruler Michael I Rangabes (811-813), he began to patronise the Iconoclast heresy. The Patriarch of Jerusalem sent both brothers to Constantinople for the defense of Orthodoxy. Arriving in the Byzantine capital, the holy confessors boldly entered into the defense of Icon-Veneration. In a contest of words Leo was humiliated. He gave orders to beat both brothers mercilessly, and then had them sent off into exile, strictly forbidding anyone to help them in any way.
Under the subsequent emperors, Michael II (820-829), and particularly under the harsh iconoclast Theophilos (829-842), both brothers returned from exile, and again they were urged to concur with the Iconoclast heresy, but they firmly and bravely endured all the tortures, and again they were sent off into exile. But later they again returned. This time they were subject to fierce torture, and finally, there was done upon them an unprecedented torment. With red-hot needles they marked branding upon their faces the writing as it were of their disgrace -- 12 poetic lines, in which it described the holy confessors as "vessels of superstitious errors". Hence the title ascribed to the holy brothers: "the Lettered-Upon" ("Nachertanni", "Graptoi"). Before torture the city official asked Saint Theodore to take communion with iconoclasts, -- for which they promised him freedom. But the holy martyr replied: "It is all the same, as they say: 'We shall only cut off thy head, and then go whither thou willest'". After torture the holy brothers were imprisoned in the locality of Apameia, where Saint Theodore died in about the year 840. Saint Theophanes survived the ending of the Iconoclast heresy, and died in the dignity of Bishop of Nicea. The Monk Theophanes was author of many compositions in defense of Orthodoxy. The relics of the MonkMartyr Theodore were transferred to Chalcedon, where healings were done by them.
Sainted Theodore, Archbishop of Constantinople, was a native of Constantinople, led a pious life, was raised to the dignity of presbyter and served in the cathedra of Saint Sophia, where also he was the keeper of vessels. In the year 676 he was chosen Patriarch of Constantinople, although after two years he was deposed through slander. But the truth triumphed, and Saint Theodore in 683 was again raised onto the Patriarchal throne, and he then guided the Constantinople Church to the very end of his life. He died in about the year 686.
The Monk Pherapont of Mozhaisk, Luzhetsk (Uncovering of Relics, 1514): The account about him is located under 27 May.
© 1998 by translator Fr. S. Janos