MONDAY, DECEMBER 26: “Good King Wenceslas looked out”—today, on the Feast of St. Stephen! As King Wenceslas and St. Stephen were renowned for their charitable ways and martyrdom for the Church, they were connected in a song quite appropriate for today. Christians interested in honoring these men can display charitable ways by volunteering, donating or even giving away a recently received Christmas present. (Get more ideas at CatholicCulture.org.) In Britain, a “St. Stephen’s box” was traditionally set next to the Christmas tree, serving as a collecting bin for gifts to be sent to the poor.
In the history of the Church, St. Stephen was known for more than just a giving spirit—he was also the first martyr of the New Testament. The Acts of the Apostles depicts a gruesome scene of St. Stephen’s death by stoning, yet during his torture, St. Stephen prayed for his enemies. (Wikipedia has details.) As Stephen’s name is derived from Stephanos, or “crown” in Greek, he is often shown with a crown of martyrdom in icons and artwork.
Three days of martyrdom follow Christmas: the Feast of St. Stephen, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist and the Feast of the Holy Innocents. While St. Stephen knowingly gave his life with joy and then prayed for his enemies, St. John the Evangelist was only a martyr by “will and love,” never called upon in deed; the Holy Innocents gave their lives but are seen as too young to understand the desire to become a martyr. (Learn more from FishEaters.)
Eastern Christians mark the Feast of St. Stephen tomorrow.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.