Augustin Sokolovski

On August 15, Orthodox Churches following the Julian calendar celebrate the transfer of the relics of St Stephen. Orthodox tradition calls him the first of the deacons and protomartyr. This event, which is now perceived as just one of the reminiscences in the calendar, was of tremendous importance for the entire Christian history.

The fact is that in the Ancient Church the episcopal sees of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch had primacy. They were considered the main ones, since they were founded by the Apostles of Christ, and therefore were called apostolic. It was believed that the truth should be preserved in them intact.

The Church of Jerusalem, of course, was also originally apostolic. But because of the destruction of the Holy City by the Romans in the year 70, it disappeared. The new capital of the Roman Empire, the City of Constantinople was founded in 330. Therefore, he could not claim the apostolic status in any way. Both bishops, Jerusalem and Constantinople, were formally subordinate to the hierarchs of the neighboring metropolitans.

In our time, the memory of St. Stephen is solemnly celebrated by the Church on the second day after Christmas, and his summer remembrance goes unnoticed. In the Ancient Church, the veneration of Stephen was much more explicit. Stephen's suffering is described in detail in the Book of Acts.

According to the Church Fathers, in particular St Augustine (354-430), it was his prayer that led the Apostle Paul to faith. His suffering for the faith in Jesus from fellow tribesmen, in the image of the Lord Himself, became the normative norm for determining what later Christian holiness was to become. According to the Acts, at the Judgment of the Sanhedrin, the Resurrected Christ revealed Himself in Stephen, when his face became the Face of an Angel (Acts 6:15). In fact, Stephen is the first Christian saint in history. He is the prototype in all subsequent history of Christian holiness.

In 415 Stephen's relics were found in Palestine and transferred to Jerusalem. In accordance with the perception of the Christians of that time, such an acquisition of relics was significant evidence from above in favor of the establishment of the authority of the Jerusalem see.

At that time, the relics were not found and did not transfer "just like that." This had to be preceded by an indication from above, the event had to be accompanied by visible signs. Recall that a much later change in this practice and the actual banalization and even commercialization of the treatment of the relics of saints subsequently became one of the causes of the Reformation and split Western Christianity into Catholicism and Protestantism.

In fact, and this is very important, in the perception of the Christians of that time, it was not the transfer of relics, as some kind of relic, but the Translation of Stephen. The saint entered Jerusalem, from which, like the Lord Jesus, he had previously been wickedly expelled.

After about twelve years, a symbolic number in the relics of Stephen in 428 were transferred to Constantinople. For contemporaries, primarily hierarchs, and Emperor Theodosius II the Younger (408–450), this transfer served as a colossal argument in favor of the fact that henceforth Jerusalem and Constantinople were to be equated with the Churches founded by the Apostles themselves. In 451, this happened at the IV Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon.

It should not be forgotten that around the same time, in 448, the relics of the Apostle Barnabas were found in Cyprus. For the Council of Chalcedon, this served as an important proof that the Cypriot Church was of apostolic origin, and therefore its archbishop had to be supplied not from Antioch, but by the local Church itself.

The forgotten holiday of summer holiness recalls the times when the Tree of the Cross in the Universe was large, and the veneration of saints determined the course of world history.