Stoning of Holy Proto-martyr Stephen.
Why do we read Acts & the Gospel of John during the Pascha season?
I fervently hope my flock is reading from Acts and the Gospel of John regularly this Paschal season. These two books are read almost daily during this season, and their use is wholly appropriate. The Gospel of John is the best exposition in the universe about the God-man Jesus Christ. His resurrection, ascension into Heaven, the sending of the Holy Spirit, and the teaching which he entrusted to His disciples, and hence the church makes it possible for us to know Him. This is why we begin reading John during the Paschal season. We read Acts because it is the history of the Holy Spirit working in the church – which was not possible until the Lords passion and resurrection, and the sending of the Holy Spirit 50 days later.
Today we continue in Acts from yesterday, after the choosing of the seven deacons, among whom was Stephen, a man “full of faith and power”. His stoning is recounted today.
Government may be legal, but it is not always “lawful”.
I am struck by how often those in authority (in any epoch), who are sworn to uphold the law – are lawless. We see this today, with many governments, including that of the United States, presenting the murder of unborn children as a “legal” (and even “ethical”) right, and falling all over themselves to codify into law every kind of immoral and perverse sexual behavior. Now, as then, just because something is “legal”, that is, proclaimed by the legal authorities, does not make it moral, or according to God’s law, which is above all law.
We also see spiritual pusillanimity, acquiescence and even clandestine participation with immorality of all kinds in “established” churches. We are all well aware of the moral crisis the Roman Catholics are experiencing, The Orthodox church is not immune, and it seems to me that the less monastic in lifestyle and world view a local church is, the more immorality has seeped in and propagated.
We see in the stoning of Stephen a major passion which has been responsible for every kind of sin against humanity – wars, strifes, slanders, murders – jealousy. This was the reason why the Holy Proto-martyr , Deacon Stephen, was stoned. The Scripture tells us quite clearly that Stephen was full of faith and power, and did many signs and wonders. This alone would be enough for the “whited sepulchers”  in power to hate him, according to the Lord’s perfect description of many kinds of jealousy: “Is thine eye evil because I am good?” (Matthew 20:15)
As is the case today, so was the case then. Those in authority, who secretly opposed truth, attempted to calumniate those who were truth (not just proclaimed truth, but also lived according to it – make no mistake – if you live truth, you will always get the attention of those who are not true).
Since Stephen was “full of grace and power”, according to our Lord’s solemn promise :
“ 10 … they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake”
What follows is a look into the mechanism of government. Power is used to try to subvert the truth, ending with holy Stephen being stoned, with the “face of an angel”, and saying at the end: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge”.
Note how St Stephen’s defense was historical and theological. He knew the scripture, lived it, and applied theological truth to history. So should we. If we read TV guide or some gossip web page more than the scripture, we will be ill-equipped to “provide a defense” for our faith when called upon (and we are frequently called upon to do this) – we will neither have the “face as that of an angel”, because we have lived in a lazy and slipshod manner, nor will we know what we are talking about because we will not know the scripture!
Stephen’s argument could not be resisted by those in power precisely because he was holy. We see some of the attributes of holiness here: courage, deep calm and freedom from anger and judgment (which of course, will always be expressed by compassion and a willingness to forgive), and precise theological understanding.
Reading the Scripture: Compare, and “Take Note”.
As is always the case when we read scripture, we must strive to find personal benefit, usually by comparison and “taking note”.
Am I like Stephen or the Sanhedrin?
Do I live the scripture (and therefore understand it) as Stephen did?
Do I have the face of an angel? Why not?
Would I have Stephen’s courage?
Freedom from anger?
Ability to forgive my enemy?
How much do I know the Scripture?
Let’s “take note”:
Stephen was able to defend the truth because he lived the truth. That is why he had a face as that of an angel, and knew the scripture so well. This begs the question – how do we live?
Jealousy is a sin that is rarely admitted, but often present. Perhaps we are guilty of this sin, and have “taken up stones” against those we are jealous of.
Government is rarely true. Only God’s law is perfectly true, and it is usually in conflict with government and the world as a whole.
Acts 6:8-7:5, 47-60
8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. 9 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. 11 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. 12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, 13 And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: 14 For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. 15 And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel. 1 Then said the high priest, Are these things so? 2 And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, 3 And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. 4 Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell. 5 And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. 47 But Solomon built him an house. 48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, 49 Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? 50 Hath not my hand made all these things? 51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. 52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: 53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. 54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2010. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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 “Proto-martyr” = “first” martyr. St Stephen is remembered as the first martyr of the church after the resurrection.
 Matthew 23:27-28 KJV Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. (28) Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
 Luke 21:12-15 KJV But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. (13) And it shall turn to you for a testimony. (14) Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: (15) For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.