It is fitting that the Church celebrates Christianity’s first martyr, the Feast of St. Stephen, on December 26th each year, the day after Christmas. At first glance, this may seem out of place…after all, isn’t Christmas supposed to be all about a sweet little baby being born and placed in a soft manger by His nice, but naïve, parents Joseph and Mary? Not Quite.
The Church, in her wisdom, shows us the implications of the incarnation when she places St. Stephen’s example of martyrdom in front of us at the beginning of the Christmas Octave. St. Stephen was one of the first deacons of the church and the first martyr when he was condemned to die by being stoned because of his belief in the truth, Jesus.
A martyr is one who is willing to suffer, even death, rather than to deny the truth.
The celebration of the life of St. Stephen fits perfectly with Christmas, because it shows us in a profound way what following Christ demands of each of us. Far from a sappy, saccharin cult aimed at teaching us all to be nice to each other, Christianity demands men to abandon living how they want, and to seek the fullness of truth which is embodied in Christ.
When St. Stephen encountered Christ, he bumped into real love which compelled him to share his experience with everyone, even at the cost of his own life. The love that I am speaking of is not the sentimental, fluttery feeling kind of love that our culture has erroneously re-defined it to be.
Christian love is free, total, faithful and fruitful. Anyone who looks upon the image of a crucifix can clearly see what this love looks like. The love that St. Stephen encountered “kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob, his love of neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. This kind of love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend”. “Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven”. **
Train like a Martyr
For all of us, there is no more guess work in what God’s will is for our life. We are all called to be Saints.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
With this call in mind we ought to know what it takes to be a martyr; someone who is willing to suffer, even death, rather than to deny the truth. I believe each of us can apply this concept to our daily lives.
Through identifying simple truths that we all know, we can practice putting to death our inordinate passions, attachments and omissions rather than deny that truth.
Here is how it works.
Identify a simple truth that we encounter in our daily activities, like:
- Improved physical conditioning is good for us and has proven short and long term health benefits
- Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and NO sugar and keep intake levels that will support exercise but not body fat
- Control the use of technology, don’t let it control you
- If you are more up to date on the current Dallas Cowboy’s stats than your family’s needs, there is a problem
You can begin to train like a martyr by grabbing a hold of one of these truths and when you encounter an opportunity to fall to your passions and deny it, make the choice to kill that passion rather than to deny the truth.
Training like a martyr can begin in the kitchen when one becomes intentional about choosing to eat a clean meal, which may involve a little suffering, rather than to deny the simple truth of good nutrition.
Through this gradual process of dying to self in these small ways we can train our will to become comfortable holding to the truth, regardless of what suffering comes our way. This process of acclimating our lives to that of a martyr, will enable us to live the life of Christ, who is truth itself.
“Put on the armor of God” (Eph 6:11).
**Sermon by Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe, Bishop