On the third day of Christmas we commemorate the Protomartyr and Deacon Stephen. Scripture tells us that Stephen was martyred. As the hymns of the feast declare the persecution and death of Christians is an inevitable result of the coming of Christ. Jesus Himself came to speak the truth of God’s love which is perfectly actualized in the giving of one’s life for another as Jesus did for us on the Cross.
We also pause on this day to remember the modern day martyrs. We have many examples of modern day martyrs to draw upon for inspiration. On Christmas day, for example, we saw the bombing of several Christian Churches in Nigeria and other places. The Christians were gathered to celebrate the King of Peace and they died a martyrs death. There are of course, many other examples of those who have gone before us.
How do we deal with situations like the martyrdom of so many on the Day of Christmas? How are we as Christians to deal with situations like this when so many are taken in what only can be described as a senseless situation. We have to deal with it as Jesus taught us, with love and forgiveness.
On Christmas morning I celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. I love the words of this Liturgy and wish we used it more often during the year. After the consecration there is a long prayer that many do not hear spoken as the choir is singing during this time. Part of the prayer calls on us to pray for those who love us and for those who hate us! That’s right we are to pray for those who hate us! We are REQUIRED to pray for those who are trying to destroy us and our faith. This is not optional for a Christian and if we are filled with hate then we are no better than those who try and kill us. Hatred does not come from God because God is love. Hatred comes from the Evil One and has no place in the life of a Christian. Hatred is what drives people to kill and we, as Christians, can have no part of that.
Today, on this Feast of St. Stephen, we read the account of his martyrdom from the Acts of the Apostles. At the end of periscope we read,
“And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Stephen did not cry out that the Lord should crush them and send them to hell, no he asked God to show mercy on them. We need to do the same. Anger and hatred have no place in the life of a Christian and we need to pray each day that the Lord help us to overcome these dark feelings and sow us the way to love everyone.
Yesterday the Master arrived in the flesh, today the servant departs from the flesh. Yesterday He who reigns was born. Today the servant dies for Him by stoning, the Protomartyr, the divine Stephen. (Kontakion of St. Stephen)