Besides St. Stephen, the Great Martyr, the first martyr of the Christian Church, and St. Stephen the Great, the defender of Orthodoxy and of entire Europe, another saint Stephen celebrated today, November 28th, according to the Romanian Christian-Orthodox calendar.
This is The Monk Martyr, Saint Stephen the New, who lived in the 8th century in Constantinople (nowadays Istanbul). He lived off of what he worked with his own hands and was merciful to those suffering.
His parents, Gregory and Anna, and his two sisters lived in the area known as the “Place of the Cross” at that time. The future mother of Saint Stephen the New suffered because she did not have a boy, but only girls. And she prayed earnestly to the Mother of God and the saints, especially in the Church of Blachernae.
One of her prayers was this: “The shelter of those who run to you, Mother of God, the anchor and the companion of those who is in sorrow, they seek you; the saving refuge of those sunk in sorrow in the avalanche of life, and of those who, discouraged, ask for your help, quick to help; the glory of the nuns and the adornment of the virgins, who has turned in all women the condemnation of ancestor Eve into joyous boldness through your divine birth; have mercy on me and hear me, and break the bond that is in me, like in your mother – that is, Anna when she gave birth to you – and show me with your mother’s message, to give birth to a male child, so that I may bring him to your Son and God!” She fell asleep once while praying, and the Blessed Virgin Mary stood her up and told her: “Go, woman, and rejoice, for you will have a son!”
Shortly after this, the woman became pregnant and was blessed by the high priest with the formula: “The fruit of your womb, according to your faith, woman, may the Lord bless him, through the prayers of the Mother of God and of Stephen, the first martyr”. Born a son, she baptized him Stephen and brought the child to the Church of Blachernae, saying: “Enjoy, immaculate Virgin, for you have unleashed the sterility of the birth of male children. Rejoice, merciful Virgin, for you turned my sorrow into joy. Rejoice, the salvation of those who seek you, for I, the sinner, have sought and found you and have taken a son, and his name I have received from your servant. And our shepherd “.
As a child, Stefan stood out as studious and conscientious.
During this time, Leon of Idumea started the war against the icons. Those who considered the icons to be idols were called iconoclasts, and iconoclasm was condemned as heresy by the Christian Church.
Stephen was one of those who appeared before the emperor and protested. Stephen, with his parents, chose the way of exile at that time, going to Chalcedon (where four centuries before the fourth ecumenical council had taken place), to Mount Horeb, and Father Axentius. There, they stayed in a cave. Father Axentius took Stephen as his apprentice, telling him:
“Happy are you, son Stephen, for today you have your second baptism, clothed in light and the second watch; happy are you, son, for the voice of Christ, fulfill him today evangelically, leaving his father, mother, sisters, and all those that are today and tomorrow, and you bear His cross on your shoulders, to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Happy are you, son, for, in the light of the prophecy, you have chosen to be in the house of God rather than live in the dwellings and cities of the heretics humiliating Christians.
See, son, the calling of the monastic worth, for it is not the fight against the blood and the body, but against the choirs of angels and the darkness of this century, against the spirits of wickedness for the heavenly ones, as told by Paul’s vessel of choice. Therefore, see, my son, with whom you are ordained, that you shall not miss your parents again, but for God, for he has built you and saved you; and those that they loved, they lost and gave them to work, as the teacher of the shining ladder says. Therefore, see, son, do not return to those you have left behind, for it is also written: “No one, as they grabbed their plough and returned, is set to the kingdom of heaven.”
The parents of St. Stephen the New left him and went to live in the city. Under Father Axentius’ obedience and guidance, Stephen the New fasted and prayed a lot, enduring cold, hunger, and thirst (the water was brought from a great distance).
Axentius, a clairvoyant before, told St. Stephen that he would face a great confrontation with the iconoclasts and strengthened his heart.
After a while, Gregory, Stephen’s father, died. Stephen buried him and divided the inheritance among the poor. Then he took his mother and one of his sisters to a convent, and they decided to become nuns. Stephen’s other sister was already a nun in another monastery. He returned to the cave where his confessor was, but he died shortly afterward. Stephen buried him. The body of his spiritual father, John Axentius, was buried in his parents’ cemetery.
Stephen made his cave into a cell and began to instruct the disciples who came to follow him and become ascetic on that mountain. After a while, he moved to the top of the mountain, where he built a cell, which looked more like a tomb. It didn’t even have a roof. He was rudimentarily dressed.
Many began to come to him, hearing about his asceticism, for advice. He advised and strengthened them, and many of those who came to him became monks.
Iconoclasm experienced a new period of triumph in the time of Emperor Constantine Copronim, and many persecuted people found their relief and strength in the words of Saint Stephen the New. He advised Christians to flee from this persecution to Scythia, Gothia, Livia, and Rome.
Saint Stephen the New defended and praised those who defended Christianity, spoke, and acted before the emperor because it was fair for the iconoclasts to be named as what they were: heretics and criminals.
Thus, Christians who fled from Byzantium were exiled, foreigners, and refugees at that time, while the icons were burned, scraped, destroyed, and the remaining hierarchs were forced to abide by the new rules. Constantine Copronim, having control over the Patriarchate of Constantinople, anathematized all Christians who disobeyed the iconoclasm.
As emperor Constantine Copronim knew the importance of Stephen’s word for the people, he sent Calist as a spokesman to persuade St. Stephen to sign a decision of the iconoclasts. However, seeing that they could not convince him or buy him, Calist and his men locked him and the monks who were with him in the cemetery where the holy tomb of St. Axentius was. They stayed locked for 6 days, then released and returned to the mountain.
In the meantime, the emperor began to persecute the disciples of St. Stephen the New to persuade anyone to speak ill of him before the emperor and discredit him.
As the emperor failed in all his plans and attempts, he had the monks’ dwellings on the mountain burnt and took the saint to be judged as a thief. He was beaten and then imprisoned in the monastery of Philip. The Emperor ordered that those found after that on the Mount of Axentius be killed.
Being tortured, St. Stephen the New said: “If anyone does not worship our Lord Jesus Christ in the icon, after their meal, he shall be anathematized and be among those who have shouted:” Take Him, take Him! Crucify Him!”. So he was starved for 17 days and locked there for 11 months.
Angered by the lack of results of all the means he used against the saint, the emperor ordered that the saint be beaten with stones and wood. One who executed the sentence split his head with a piece of wood. His body was thrown into the sea, recovered, and buried by Christians.
Many of the emperor’s soldiers withdrew from service and became monks, some becoming martyrs for the same reason.
Text Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant 2015-present. This text is a summarization of an original Romanian article published on Doxologia. Translation by Cristiana Brezeanu of the article “Sf. mucenic Ştefan cel Nou “was published initially by Marcus Victor Grant in Romanian on November 28th, 2015, on Discerne. Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant, all rights reserved. You may freely republish and distribute the full content of the article with the request of crediting my name.
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