Monday, December 26, 2011

Crowned With Love

Stephanos, in Greek, means crown, wreath. How apt a name for St. Stephen the Deacon, first martyr of the Christian community. Luke the Evangelist tells Stephen's story in Chapters 6:1-8:1 of his Acts of the Apostles, noting his connection with Saul, persecutor of the early Christian community, who later underwent a dramatic conversion and became St. Paul the Apostle. St. Fulgentius (c. 465 - 527 or 533), Bishop of Ruspe in North Africa, also writes beautifully of St. Stephen in one of his sermons:

"...Strengthened by the power of his love, [Stephen] overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won the persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition. Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen  he exalts, with Stephen he reigns...This, surely, is the true life, beloved, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen's death, and Stephen delights in Paul's companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen's love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul's love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven. Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense, and the way that leads to heaven. Whoever walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides, protects, and brings the one who loves to the journey's end. Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together." 

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