Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day after Christmas day we always celebrate the occasion of the Feast of the Protomartyr or the first martyr of the Church, namely St. Stephen the Deacon, one of the first seven holy deacons of the Church mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. He was chosen with the other deacons to minister to the people of God in the early Church, in the distribution of goods and care for them.
He was assailed by the enemies of the Church, the chief priests and the Pharisees who were annoyed and felt threatened by his preachings among the people about Jesus the Lord and Saviour and his great wisdom, which none of them could match, because the Lord and His Holy Spirit was with him, guiding his works and words. As we heard in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Stephen spoke courageously with guidance of the Holy Spirit, chastising the people for their lack of faith in God Who has shown them His ways for a long time.
St. Stephen was not afraid to stand up and defend his faith, even though he was alone against a large crowd who were hostile to him, and refused to listen to him earnestly. He preached to them the truth, and pointed out to them how their ancestors had treated the prophets and messengers sent by God to them in the same manner, persecuting them, torturing them and killing them.
And thus, the enemies of the Lord rushed against St. Stephen and stoned him to death. He became the very first martyr of the Church, as martyrs are those who died defending their faith in the Lord, refusing to give up and abandon their faith and their God. There were many martyrs who followed after St. Stephen, having to suffer and die for their faith in God, against the Jewish authorities, against the Roman Emperor and the authorities, and more.
You may be wondering, why is it that on this joyous and festive occasion of Christmas, that we celebrate the memory of a martyr, who died a painful death and was the first among the many holy martyrs of the Church, a memory of the difficult and terrible years of the early Church, when being a Christian could equate with imprisonment, torture, suffering, exile, being ostracised and death?
That is because Christmas reminds each and every one of us as Christians of our true calling and mission, that we ought to proclaim the truth of God, Who was born two millennia ago and celebrated as Christmas, as the Man, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. Many at that time, and even until this very day, refused to believe in this truth, as they refused to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah or Saviour, while others refused to acknowledge that He is the Son of God.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is this truth that St. Stephen had suffered and died defending for. He refused to choose life and abandoning his faith in the Lord, but rather, he stood up for the truth and died faithfully in the Lord, defending it. Yet, at the same time, following the example of Christ, he forgave his enemies, and prayed for their sake, that God would forgive him from the sin caused by their murder.
What should all of us as Christians make of this, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is a timely reminder for all of us as Christians, that this season of Christmas, while it is a joyful season, we must not be carried away with our celebrations and revelries, without understanding the full meaning of Christmas. As I have often mentioned, what is most important about Christmas, is God’s love for us, which He has given us through Jesus Christ, born into this world two millennia ago.
And as we remember this love which He has given us, then shall we not forget to love Him back in the same manner too? We can do this by devoting ourselves, our time and attention to Him, and while we do not need to go to the extent of the martyrs, who died defending their faith, shall we stand up for our faith whenever it is necessary to do so? Let us be sources of inspiration and strength for each other, in keeping ourselves faithful to the Lord, all the days of our life.
May the Lord, through His blessed servant, St. Stephen the Protomartyr, awaken in each and every one of us a strong zeal and love for Him, inflamed by the Holy Spirit, that we may proclaim His truth to the world, through our actions in life, taken and done while being ever mindful of God’s laws and commandments, that we may be true disciples of His, now and always. May God bless us always. Amen.