Thursday, December 26, 2013

“On the feast of Stephen ...”

From a sermon by Saint Fulgentius, Bishop

Yesterday we were celebrating the Birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of one of his soldiers. Yesterday our King, clothed in the robe of our flesh, was pleased to come forth from his royal palace of the Virgin's womb to visit the world. Today his soldier, laying aside the tabernacle of the body, entereth in triumph into the palace of heaven. The One, preserving unchanged that majesty of the Godhead which he had before the world was, girded himself with the lowliness of our flesh in the form of a servant, and entered the battlefield of this world. The other, putting off the corruptible garment of our flesh, entered into the heavenly mansion, there to reign for ever. The One cometh down, and is veiled in the flesh of his human birth. The other goeth up, and is robed with a glory which is red with the blood of his temporal death.

The One cometh down amid the jubilation of Angels. The other goeth up amid the stoning of Jewry. Yesterday the holy Angels rejoiced in the song: Glory to God in the highest. Today they rejoice in the welcome whereby they do receive Stephen into their company. Yesterday the Lord came forth from the Virgin's womb. Today his soldier is delivered from the prison of the body. Yesterday Christ was for our sakes wrapped in swaddling bands. Today he girdeth Stephen with a robe of immortality. Yesterday the new-born Christ lay in a narrow manger. Today Stephen entereth victorious into the boundless heavens. The Lord came down, one and alone, that he might raise many up. Our King descended to our low estate that he might set his soldiers, such as Stephen, in high places.

Now let us consider, brethren, by what arms Stephen conquered the hatred and persecution of Jewry in such wise as to win so blessed a triumph. Verily he had no arms or armour other than charity. Love it was that armed him in that struggle, and strengthened him to conquer on all sides, and brought him to the crown whereof his name is a prophecy. The love of God strengthened him against the hatred of Jewry. The love of his neighbour made him pray even for his murderers. Through love he rebuked them, in their perversities that they might be corrected. Through love he prayed for them that stoned him that they might not be punished. By the might of his charity he overcame Saul, his cruel persecutor, and earned, as a comrade in heaven, the very man who had done him to death upon earth.

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