Sunday, 25 December 2016

Feast of St Stephen

Nocturn I  (Acts 6:1-10; 7: 54-60)

[Psalms: 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10]

Reading 1: And in those days, the number of the disciples increasing, there arose a murmuring of the Greeks against the Hebrews, for that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve calling together the multitude of the disciples, said: It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.  But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

R. And Stephen, full of grace and power * Did great wonders and miracles among the people.
V. There arose certain of the synagogue, disputing with Stephen; and they were not able to resist the wisdom, and the Spirit which spake.
R. Did great wonders and miracles among the people.

Reading 2: And the saying was liked by all the multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles; and they praying, imposed hands upon them.

R. All that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on Stephen, saw * His face as it had been the face of an angel standing among them.
V. Full of grace and power, he did great wonders and miracles among the people.
R. His face as it had been the face of an angel standing among them.

Reading 3: And the word of the Lord increased; and the number of the disciples was multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly: a great multitude also of the priests obeyed the faith.  And Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people. Now there arose some of that which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of them that were of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen.  And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit that spoke.  Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed with their teeth at him.

R. The blessed Stephen looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and said
* Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of the power of God.
V. But Stephen, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and said
R. Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of the power of God.

Reading 4: But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And he said: Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. And they crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord ran violently upon him.  And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, invoking, and saying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord. And Saul was consenting to his death. [ ]

Nocturn II: Sermons of St Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspa.

[Psalms 14, 20, 23, 63, 64, 91]

Reading 5: Yesterday we were celebrating the birth in time of our Eternal King; to-day we celebrate the victory, through suffering, of one of His soldiers. Yesterday our King was pleased to come forth from His royal palace of the Virgin's womb, clothed in a robe of flesh, to visit the world; to-day His soldier, laying aside the tabernacle of the body, entereth in triumph into the heavenly palaces. The One, preserving unchanged that glory of the Godhead which He had before the world was, girded Himself with the form of a servant, and entered the arena of this world to fight sin; the other taketh off the garments of this corruptible body, and entereth into the heavenly mansions, where he will reign for ever. The One cometh down, veiled in flesh; the other goeth up, clothed in a robe of glory, red with blood.

R. They stoned Stephen, calling upon God and saying * Lord Jesus Christ, receive my spirit; and lay not this sin to their charge.
V. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, saying
R. Lord Jesus Christ, receive my spirit; and lay not this sin to their charge.

Reading 6: The One cometh down amid the jubilation of angels; the other goeth up amid the stoning of the Jews. Yesterday the holy angels were singing, Glory to God in the highest; to-day there is joy among them, for they receive Stephen into their company. Yesterday the Lord came forth from the Virgin's womb; to-day His soldier is delivered from the prison of the body.

R. They ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, calling upon God, and saying * Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
V. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul; and they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying
R. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Reading 7: Yesterday Christ was for our sakes wrapped in swaddling bands; to - day He girdeth Stephen with a robe of immortality. Yesterday the new-born Christ lay in a narrow manger; to-day Stephen entereth victorious into the boundless heavens. The Lord came down alone that He might raise many up; our King humbled Himself that He might set His soldiers in high places. Why brethren, it behoveth us to consider with what arms Stephen was able, amid all the cruelty of the Jews, to remain more than conqueror, and worthily to attain to so blessed a triumph.

R. The ungodly fell upon the righteous, to put him to death. * But he received the stones with joy, that he might earn a crown of glory.
V. They stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord.
R. But he received the stones with joy, that he might earn a crown of glory.

Reading 8: Stephen, in that struggle which brought him to the crown whereof his name is a prophecy, had for armour the love of God and man, and by it he remained victorious on all hands. The love of God strengthened him against the cruelty of the Jews; and the love of his neighbour made him pray even for his murderers. Through love he rebuked the wandering, that they might be corrected; through love he prayed for them that stoned him, that they might not be punished. By the might of his love he overcame Saul his cruel persecutor; and earned for a comrade in heaven, the very man who had done him to death upon earth.

Nocturn III: Homily of St Jerome

[Canticles: Ecclesiasticus 14:22, 15:3-4, 6; Jeremiah 17:7-8; Ecclesiasticus 31:8-11]

Reading 9:  From the holy Gospel according to Matthew - In that time Jesus said to the scribes and pharisee: I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you will put to death and crucify. And so on,

We have already remarked that the Lord's words, Fill ye up the measure of your fathers, refer in the first place to Himself, Whom the Jews afterwards put to death. In a secondary sense it may likewise be applied to His disciples, of whom He saith, Behold, I send unto you Prophets, and wise men, and Scribes. Here observe that, according to the Apostle writing to the Corinthians, there are diversities of gifts among Christ's followers. Some are Prophets of that which is to come; some are wise men, who know the due season for rebuke and exhortation; some are Scribes learned in the law. And of these they stoned Stephen, slew Paul with the sword, crucified Peter, and scourged the Disciples mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles.

R. Stephen, the servant of God, who was stoned by the Jews, saw the heavens opened he saw and entered in. * Blessed is he, unto whom the heavens were opened.
V. While his poor body was crushed by the hurtling shower of stones, God's brightness broke upon him out of the heavenly palaces.
R. Blessed is he unto whom the heavens were opened.

Reading 10: It is a subject of dispute among commentators who is meant by Zacharias the son of Barachias. We read of several persons of the name of Zacharias. But here, in order to prevent any mistake, it is particularly said, Whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. I have read various opinions in various places upon this question, and I will give each. First, some hold that Zacharias the son of Barachias is the eleventh of the twelve Minor Prophets; and this opinion is supported by the father's name. But the Bible nowhere telleth us that this Prophet was slain between the temple and the altar; and it is hardly possible that he can have been, for in his time it could scarcely be said that even the ruins of the temple were in existence.

R. The gates of heaven were opened to Christ's blessed martyr Stephen, and he is the first of all the martyrs. * Wherefore he reigneth crowned in heaven.
V. For he was the first to make an offering of his death to that Saviour Who vouchsafed to suffer death for us.
R. Wherefore he reigneth crowned in heaven.

Reading 11: Secondly, others maintain that this Zacharias was Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. This interpretation is derived from the dreams of the Apocryphal Gospels, wherein it is asserted that he was martyred for preaching Christ's coming. A third school will have it that this Zacharias, the son of Barachias, was that Zacharias of whom we read, that he was slain by Joash, king of Judah, between the temple and the altar.

Reading 12: Against this it is to be remarked, that that Zacharias was not the son of Barachias, but of Jehoiada the priest; whence it is written, Joash remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him. The question therefore ariseth, if this opinion be true, why, the name and manner of death both agreeing with this explanation, Zacharias is called the son, not of Jehoiada, but of Barachias. In Hebrew, Barachias signifieth the Blessed of the Lord, and Jehoiada proves his Righteousness. In the Gospel used by the Nazarenes the name of Jehoiada is used instead of Barachias.

R. Devout men buried Stephen * And made great mourning over him. * There was raised a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem
V. Saul was consenting to his death, made havock of the church
R. There was raised a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, * and to the Holy Ghost.
R. There was raised a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem

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