My Dear Parishioners,
From my earliest years, I have been fascinated by the Saints Days which follow Christmas Day, namely, St. Stephen, St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, and the Feast of Holy Innocents. It was a joy to observe these days in a real and meaningful way in past years. Nowadays unfortunately, we never seem to get the opportunity to do that, except for Holy Innocents’ Day which is becoming a big thing for us in the Diocese, and in other places where some emphasis is put on improving the welfare of children and youth; so that marches and rallies are being observed - all intended to point our young people in a positive direction. Let us look then, at these three saints days in an effort to learn something about their significance for the church and its people.
Firstly, St. Stephen: He was among the seven deacons appointed by the apostles ‘to serve tables’ in the early Church; that is to say, to look after the distribution of alms to the faithful (especially the widows) and to help in the ministry of preaching. He is also remembered as being the first Christian martyr - the first to die for the Christian faith. In the Acts of the Apostles we are told that Saul (later to be called Paul) held the clothes of those who stoned Stephen. This means that Saul no doubt consented to Stephen’s death. Probably a Hellenistic Jew, Stephen was learned in the Scriptures and in the history of Judaism besides being eloquent and forceful. These were necessary skills needed for the proclamation of the Gospel.
When it comes to St. John Apostle and Evangelist, he was a son of Zebedee who with his brother James, and with Peter, belonged to a small group of Apostles of Christ. These three were privileged witnesses of special events such as the raising of Jairus’ daughter and especially the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. The tradition that identifies John as the author of the Fourth Gospel goes back to the second century. There is no valid reason to dispute Johannine authorship and there is strong support by both internal and external sources. Also there is no compelling reason for rejecting the identification of John with the ‘beloved disciple’ of the Gospel who was indeed a witness to the events he describes.
Thirdly, we come to the Holy Innocents. These were male children all under two years of age, whom Herod slew because he did not want any rivalry to his dominion. When the Wisemen came to his court enquiring about Baby Jesus, Herod was angry. He summoned to him all the learned intelligentsia to find out more about the birth of this Prince. King Herod could not tolerate any rivalry to his throne. It was when he was told about the forecast related to this birth decades before, that Herod became suspicious and wished to destroy Baby Jesus by killing those Innocents
In honouring them, the Church honours all who die in a state of innocence and consoles parents of dead children, with the conviction that these also will share the glory of the Infant Jesus. May their souls rest in peace. Amen.
With all good wishes and prayers Archdeacon Emeritus