Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day from the Scripture readings all of us have heard about how the Church of God was persecuted by those who oppose it and refused to believe in the truth of Christ. We heard how St. Stephen the Deacon and Protomartyr, the first martyr of the Church, died defending his faith, after standing up for the Lord and proclaiming the fullness of His truth before the Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders, the elders and the chief priests refused to listen to the truth, they covered their ears, refusing to listen to the truth, as true and painfully real as it was to them, which St. Stephen had delivered to them. They hardened their hearts and closed the doors of their minds, rejecting the truth to continue living in the denial of the truth. That was why they persecuted the Lord, and then the disciples and followers of the Lord afterwards.
And what was this truth that St. Stephen had so boldly and courageously proclaimed? If we paid close attention to his testimony, it is about the Lord and His great love for each and every one of us, which had been manifested through the coming of the One Who is the Saviour of the whole world and of all mankind, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
In the Gospel today, we heard the Lord Jesus Himself, telling the people who doubted Him and wanted Him to show them a miraculous sign from heaven, that He is the real and true miracle beyond any other miracles, far greater than all the miraculous deeds He had performed before the people in various places, greater than all the healing and the opening of the eyes of the blind, the making of deaf and mute people to be able to hear and speak again, and the healing of the paralytic and lepers.
It was by giving Himself as the Bread of Life for all those who have received Him and accepted His truth that the Lord had revealed Himself wonderfully before all people. He brought forth a new life for those who have accepted Him as their Lord and Saviour, and through the giving of His Body and Blood, He has reunited us all with Himself, reconciling us with the One Who gave us life.
It was for this truth and for this Lord, that St. Stephen had stood up for his faith for, as he refused to remain idle and silent while the chief priests and the elders tried hard to deny the truth of Jesus, and also about His resurrection from the dead. St. Stephen spoke up for the Lord, in front of the people, so that all those who have ears and listened, might be touched in their hearts and be converted to the Lord, even though there were perhaps many others who remained stubborn.
Today, we also celebrate the feast of St. Athanasius, a renowned and holy saint, who lived through a particularly difficult time for the Church. As one of the most prominent of the leaders of the Church at his time, leading the Church in Alexandria in Egypt, he had to deal with the enormous impact of the heresy caused by one Arius, the one who brought about the Arian heresy.
Arius was a popular preacher who swayed many people to follow his false teachings and therefore into heresy. There were many of the faithful, priests and even bishops who believed in Arius’ teachings, claiming that Jesus our Lord, was not God and Man as the Church had taught, but only merely Man, a created Being instead of the Creator. This false teachings had misled many of the faithful into the wrong path.
And St. Athanasius was determined to root out the heresy from among his flock, persevering against opposition and challenges that he had to encounter as he went about preaching the truth against the heresies that Arius had preached. St. Athanasius remained firm in his convictions to guide his flock, the people of God entrusted to his care, into the right path, and therefore, even though there were priests and bishops who opposed him, slandered him and accused him wrongly with false accusations, St. Athanasius never stopped his hard work.
In total, St. Athanasius had to endure five exiles from his See, because of all the oppositions he encountered. And every time, his enemies and all those who refused to listen to the truth St. Athanasius preached came about with new reason to accuse him of wrongdoing, resulting in great difficulties that the holy saint had to endure. Yet, St. Athanasius never gave up, and continued to do great deeds among the people, converting countless souls to the Lord.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, shall we all follow in the footsteps of St. Athanasius? Shall we walk in the path of his faith, his commitment and devotion to serve the Lord? There will indeed be challenges, opposition and difficulties, as once encountered by St. Stephen the Martyr, St. Athanasius himself, and many other holy saints and martyrs of the Church. But they all placed their trust in God, and never gave up, for if they had given up, many souls would have been lost to hell.
Let us all renew therefore our own conviction in faith, our commitment and devotion to the Lord and His ways. May the Lord bless us and strengthen our faith, so that we may continue to grow closer to Him, and remain true and faithful to Him as St. Stephen, St. Athanasius and the other holy men and women of God had done. May God be with us all, in our lives, now and forever. Amen.