St Stephen (right) with another defender of the icons, St Theodore the Studite
On Nov 28, the memory of the Holy Confessor and Martyr Stephen “the New” of Mount Auxentios. Born after numerous prayers for a child from his pious parents, John and Anna, St Stephen was born in Constantinople in 715 and dedicated to God from an early age. During the iconoclast controversy under Emperor Leo the Isaurian (716-741), Stephen’s parents fled the heresy that had taken over Constantinople and settled in Bithniya, giving the youngster over to the care of the monks of Mount Auxentios (now Mt Kayışdağ).
Stephen soon became a model of obedience and was raised to the position of abbot. At the same time, the new Emperor Constantine V turned out to be a fiercer iconoclast than Leo and moreover hated monasticism due to the intransigence of the monks’ icon-veneration. In 754 he held a council that outlawed the veneration of icons. Due to Stephen’s defence of icon veneration, the emperor accused the abbot of having an affair with a nun named Anna and sent him into exile, despite the nun denying any wrong-doing to the point of dying under torture. In exile, the saint performed healing through the holy icons and so turned more people from iconoclasm.
The enraged emperor transferred the saint to the island of Pharos for trial. Before the judges, Stephen bravely and eloquently defended the veneration of icons. Holding a coin bearing the emperor’s face, he asked, “If any man trample upon the emperor’s image, is he liable to punishment?”. When the judges replied yes, the saint said that an even greater punishment awaited anyone who would dishonor the image of the King of Heaven and His Saints. With that, he spat on the coin, threw it to the ground, and began to trample it underfoot. Dragged from the court, he was imprisoned for a further 11 months. Later, after more deceit from the Emperor Constantine, St Stephen was dragged from his cell, beaten and stoned to death; thus Stephen is given the title “New”, after the similar fate of the first-martyr Stephen. The year was 767.
Lovers of the feasts, from the heart with hymns let us praise in faith
godlike Stephen the lover of the Trinity,
for he honored the fair icon of the Master and of His Mother.
Now let us rejoice together and cry out to him with love:
“Rejoice, ever glorious Father.”
(Kontakion of the feast)
Life of St Stephen the New (OCA website)
Life of St Theodore the Studite (celebrated Nov 11)