Feast: Stephen, Deacon and Proto-Martyr

26 December 2007

st-stephen.jpgToday is one of my favorite liturgical clevernesses.  The whole liturgical calendar is suffused with meaning, sometimes clear, sometimes ambiguous, sometimes obscure.Today there is nothing but clarity.  The Church puts the feast of St. Stephen, the first person to die for the Christian faith, today.  One day after Christmas, and somebody’s already dying.  Usually, I post an icon, but today I post a regular, old painting.  I post it because not only does Stephen wear a Renaissance dalmatic, but we wears the very stones that killed him.  This is one of the reasons I love religious art.  Here is St. Stephen, and here are his stones!

Not as grisly and disturbing as Holy Innocents (in two days!), but still a sobering liturgical wake-up call.  “Don’t get all wrapped up in that Baby from yesterday,” the liturgical calendar seems to be saying.  “Today might be your day to witness!  Stand up straight!  Comb your hair!  The day of the Lord is here, and it might be the day of the Lord for you! “

Okay, so maybe that’s a little intense for a liturgical calendar, but still.  Christ is born yesterday, and someone —the first someone!— is dying today.  Christ comes not for life but for death, but through that death, death dies and we are born to eternal life.

And let us not forget that in the Lukan account of his death, the only one we have, Stephen prayed for his enemies as they stoned him.  Would we pray for them?

Let us remember St. Stephen, first among martyrs.

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the
first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed
for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at
your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer.


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