As at one time Hannah, the mother of Samuel, prayed to God to give her a son, so did Anna, the mother of Stephen. Praying thus in the Church of Blachernae before the icon of the Most-holy Theotokos, a light sleep overcame her, and she saw the Most-holy Virgin as radiant as the sun, and heard a voice from the icon: "Woman, depart in peace. In accordance with your prayer, you have a son in your womb." Anna indeed conceived and gave birth to a son, the holy Stephen. At sixteen, Stephen received the monastic tonsure on Mount Auxentius near Constantinople, from the elder John who also taught him divine wisdom and asceticism. When John entered into rest in the Lord, Stephen remained on the mountain in a life of strict asceticism, taking upon himself labor upon labor. His holiness attracted many disciples to him. When Emperor Constantine Copronymus was persecuting icons more ferociously than his foul father, Leo the Isaurian, Stephen showed himself a zealous defender of the veneration of holy icons. The demented emperor accepted various obscene slanders against Stephen and personally plotted intrigues to break Stephen and get him out of the way. Stephen was banished to the island of Proconnesus, then taken to Constantinople, chained and cast into prison, where he was met by 342 monks, brought from all over and imprisoned for their veneration of the icons. There, in prison, they carried out the whole church typicon as in a monastery. Then the wicked emperor condemned Stephen to death. The saint foresaw his death forty days in advance, and asked forgiveness of the brethren. The emperor's servants dragged him from prison and, beating and pulling him, dragged him through the streets of Constantinople calling upon all those loyal to the emperor to stone this "enemy of the emperor." One of the heretics struck the saint on the head with a piece of wood, and the saint gave up his soul. As St. Stephen the Protomartyr suffered at the hands of the Jews, so this Stephen suffered at the hands of the iconoclastic heretics. This glorious soldier of Christ suffered in the year 767 at the age of fifty-three, and was crowned with unfading glory.
Christos was an Albanian Christian living in Constantinople and a gardener by trade. As he was selling his vegetables one day, he offended a Turk, who then slandered him before a judge, saying that Christos had promised to become a Moslem and then recanted. After interrogation, he was chained and cast into prison. In prison, someone offered him food, which Christos refused, saying: "It is better that I appear before my Christ hungry." After that, he pulled out some money he had concealed under his belt and gave it to one of his fellow prisoners, requesting that the money be used for several Liturgies to be celebrated for his soul. He was beheaded by the Turks in the year 1748, and was glorified forever in the Kingdom of Christ God.
Anna was a woman of noble birth who, after her husband's death, was tonsured into monasticism by St. Stephen the New. Emperor Constantine Copronymus urged her to say that she had engaged in illicit physical relations with St. Stephen, in order to humiliate him before the people. However, this holy woman refused to join in the emperor's intrigue against the saint, whom she venerated as her spiritual father. For that, she was whipped and then cast into prison, where she gave up her holy soul to God.
Maurice was murdered with his six sons by Emperor Phocas in the year 602 (see "Reflection" below).
Of the same name as the first Stephen,
Stephen the New gave his life in battle, too.
The proud heretical emperor, coarse power incarnate,
Was armed to the teeth with earthly weapons.
Stephen's weapon was power not of a physical source,
A spiritual weapon, heavenly truth.
The emperor had soldiers, defenders of falsehood,
While Stephen was set at ease by the invisible God.
Serene as heaven, Stephen awaited torture,
Death and eternal life beyond this age.
While in his rage, the emperor roared
And signed the order for death and torment for the righteous man.
Stephen was not dismayed, though beaten and pressed,
Bound as he was by spirit and prayer to the heavens.
The emperor, stronger than the saint's body, crushed his body;
Yet the saint was stronger in spirit, and finished in victory.
O Saint Stephen, spiritual knight,
Help us avoid the nets of the devil,
And to venerate the holy icons with honor,
And that we might always follow your wondrous example.
Reading the examples of perseverance in the Faith and generosity of the saints of God, we also become persevering in the Faith and generous. When Copronymus's men urged St. Stephen to reject the veneration of icons to please the iconoclastic emperor, Stephen extended his hand, clenched his fist and said: "If I had in myself only a fist full of blood, I would shed it for the icon of Christ."
Emperor Maurice had six sons of which the sixth and youngest was not yet weaned. For this youngest son, the emperor kept a special wet-nurse at court who fed it. A terrible fate came upon Emperor Maurice: Phocas ousted him from the throne and condemned him to death together with all of his six sons. Before Maurice's eyes, his sons were slain, one after the other. When the wet-nurse had to hand over the emperor's sixth son to be slain, she genuinely felt sorrow over the fate of the unfortunate emperor and his children, and in a moment, decided to save the life of at least one of the emperor's sons. So, when they sought the emperor's son from her breast, she gave them her own young son and he was beheaded. Finally, the Emperor Maurice was beheaded. The emperor's youngest son grew up believing his wet-nurse to be his mother. However, when the wet-nurse revealed the secret to him, he became very serious, then resolutely left the world and withdrew to Mount Sinai, where he was tonsured a monk and dedicated himself to God. He did this to requite that innocent young child who was put to death in his place.
Contemplate God's wonderful Paradise (Genesis 2):
on how the faithful must grow
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ (Ephesians 4:15).
Brethren, here is all that is asked of us on this earthly journey: that we hold to the truth and that we live in love. Truth is revealed by Christ the Lord, and the example of love is given in Christ the Lord. Neither can one come to the truth apart from Christ the Lord nor find an example of true love apart from Him. Seeing this only true path to light and salvation in the confusion of many false paths, the Apostle Paul reminds us beforehand: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). Only God can reveal the truth; only God can show true love. One man can know more than another man, but only God can reveal the truth. Thoughts come to man like the wind, and illusions can seem to be truth to him. Deluded by his own thoughts, one man deludes another; deceived by illusions, one man then deceives another; but truth is in God and of God. Brethren, Christ is our whole truth and our whole love. When we think of Christ, we think of truth; when we act according to Christ, we act correctly; when we love Christ, we love Love itself. By Christ we live, by Christ we grow, by Christ we become immortal and are glorified. He is our Head-not merely the titular head of a group, but the actual head of a living body, of which we are members. Adhering to truth and love, we are made worthy to dwell eternally in this Body of Christ.
O Lord Christ, our most wonderful truth and our endearing love, enter into us and receive us into Thyself. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.