Tradition says that the body of the archdeacon Stephen was taken by the Rabbi Gamaliel, a secret disciple of Christ, and buried in a cave in the town of Capargamala. In the year 415, Gamaliel appeared in a dream to the priest Lucian in that town, and revealed the burial place of the Protomartyr. His relics were translated from Palestine to Constantinople.
Our venerable father Basil of Moscow, was a Fool-for-Christ in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. He came from a humble household, and was training to be a cobbler. At sixteen he went to Moscow to live his life as Fool for Christ. Purified by his great deeds and prayers of his souls, St. Basil was granted the gift of foreseeing the future. His holiness was renowned throughout the land, even after his death in 1557. The veneration of St. Basil the Blessed was always so strong that the Trinity temple, where the saint is buried, and the attached Protection church were renamed for him: the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
O martyr Stephen, your head was crowned with a kingly crown on account of all the struggles you endured for Christ our God. You beheld the vision of your Savior seated at the right hand of God. Do not cease to intercede with Him for the salvation of our souls.
O blessed Stephen worthy of all praise, you are the very first to have been planted in the earth by the Divine Gardener, the very first to have shed your blood for Christ, the very first to have been crowned with the crown of victory by Christ in heaven. You are the first to have suffered for Christ and to have received a martyr’s rewards.
Acts 6:8 – 7:5a, 47-60
Stephen was a man filled with grace and power, who worked great wonders and signs among the people. Certain members of the so-called “Synagogues of Roman Freedom” (that is, the Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia) would undertake to engage Stephen in debate, but they proved no match for the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke. They persuaded some men to make the charge that they had heard him speaking blasphemies against Moses and God, and in this way they incited the people, the elders, and the scribes. All together they confronted him, seized him, and led him off to the Sanhedrin. There they brought in false witnesses, who said: “This man never stops making statements against the holy place and the law. We have heard him claim that Jesus the Nazorean will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses handed down to us.” The members of the Sanhedrin who sat there stared at him intently. Throughout, Stephen’s face seemed like that of an angel.
The high priest asked whether the charges were true. To this Stephen replied: “My brothers! Fathers! Listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was still in Mesopotamia and before he settled in Haran. God said to him, Leave your country and your kinsfolk, and go to the land I will show you. So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After Abraham’s father died, God made him move from there to this land where you now dwell. God did not give him any of it as his heritage, not even a foot of land.
“It was Solomon, however, who constructed [the temple]. Yet the Most High does not dwell in buildings made by human hands, for as the prophet says: ‘The heavens are my throne, the earth is my footstool; what kind of house can you build me? asks the Lord. What is my resting-place to be like? Did not my hand make all these things?’
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always opposing the Holy Spirit just as your fathers did before you. Was there ever any prophet whom your fathers did not persecute? In their day, they put to death those who foretold the coming of the Just One; now you in your turn have become his betrayers and murderers. You who received the law through the ministry of angels have not obeyed it.”
Those who listened to his words were stung to the heart; they ground their teeth in anger at him. Stephen meanwhile, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked to the sky above and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. “Look!” he exclaimed, “I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand.” The onlookers were shouting aloud, holding their hands over their ears as they did so. Then they rushed at him as one man, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses meanwhile were oiling their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As Stephen was being stoned he could be heard praying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And with that he died.
Matthew 21: 33-42
The Lord said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, “Listen to another parable. There was a property owner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug out a vat, and erected a tower. Then he leased it out to tenant farmers and went on a journey. When vintage time arrived he dispatched his slaves to the tenants to obtain his share of the grapes. The tenants responded by seizing the slaves. They beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. A second time he dispatched even more slaves than before, but they treated them the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ When they saw the son, the tenants said to one another, ‘Here is the one who will inherit everything. Let us kill him and then we shall have his inheritance!’ With that they seized him, dragged him outside the vineyard, and killed him. What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to those tenants when he comes?”
They replied, “He will bring that wicked crowd to a bad end and lease his vineyard out to others who will see to it that he has grapes at vintage time.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the keystone of the structure. It was the Lord who did this and we find it marvelous to behold’?”
1 Corinthians 16: 4-12
Brothers and sisters: It is fitting that I should go myself [to take your gift to Jerusalem, those whom you have chosen for the task] will accompany me.
I shall come to you after I have passed through Macedonia. If it is at all possible, I should like to remain with you for some time – even to spend the winter with you – that you may provide me with what I need for the rest of my journey. I do not want to see you just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. I intend to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost. A door has been opened wide for my work, but at the same time there are many opposed. If Timothy should come, be sure to put him at ease among you. He does the Lord’s work just as I do, so let no one treat him disdainfully. Rather, help him come to me by sending him on his way in peace. I am expecting him with the brethren. As for our brother Apollos, I urged him strongly to go to you with the brethren, but he did not wish to go at this time. He will go when circumstances are more favorable.
Matthew 21: 28-32
The Lord said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “What do you think of this case? There was a man who had two sons. He approached the elder and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ The son replied, ‘I am on my way sir’; but never went. Then the man came to his second son and said the same thing. This son said in reply, ‘No, I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. Which of the two did what the father wanted?” They said, “The second.” Jesus said to them, “Let me make clear that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came preaching a way of holiness, you put no faith in him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe in him. Yet even when you saw that, you did not repent and believe him.”
Icon courtesy of Jack Figel, Eastern Christian Publications – ecpubs.com
Tuesday, August 1 –