Commemorated on November 28
MonkMartyr and Confessor Stephen the New was born in 715 at Constantinople
into a pious Christian family. His parents, having two daughters, prayed the
Lord for the birth of a son. The mother of the new-born Stephen took him to the
Blakhernae church in honour of the MostHoly Mother of God and dedicated him to
During the time of
the emperor Leo the Isaurian (716-741) there began persecution against holy
icons and against those venerating them. With the support of the emperor, the
adherents of the Iconoclast heresy seized control of the supreme positions of
authority in the empire and in the Church. Persecuted by the powers of this
world, Orthodoxy was preserved in monasteries distant from the capital, in
solitary cells and in the brave and faithful hearts of its followers. The
Orthodox parents of Saint Stephen, grieved by the surrounding impiety, fled
from Constantinople to Bithynia, and they gave over their sixteen year old son
in obedience to Blessed John, who asceticised in a solitary place on the Mount
of Saint Auxentios. Saint Stephen dwelt more than 15 years with Blessed John,
having devoted himself totally to this spirit-bearing elder, and learning
monastic activity from him. Here then Stephen received the news that his father
was dead, and his mother and sisters had taken monastic tonsure.
After a certain while
his teacher, Blessed John, also died. With deep sorrow Saint Stephen buried his
venerable body, and by himself continued with monastic effort in his cave. Soon
monks began to come to the ascetic, desiring to learn from him the virtuous and
salvific life, and there gradually emerged a monastery, the hegumen of which
was Saint Stephen. At forty-two years of age Stephen left the monastery founded
by him, and he went to another mountain, on the summit of which he dwelt in
deep seclusion in a solitary cell. But here also soon gathered a community of
monks, seeking the spiritual guidance of Saint Stephen.
Leo the Isaurian was
succeeded by Constantine Copronymos (741-775), a still more fierce persecutor
of the Orthodox pious, and still more zealous an iconoclast. The emperor
convened an Iconoclast council, to which came 358 bishops from the Eastern
provinces. However, except for the archbishop of Constantinople Constantine, –
illegitimately raised up onto the patriarchal throne by the power of Copronymos,
not one of the other patriarchs bothered to participate in the wicked doings of
this council, thus making it all the less able to usurp the term
"oecumenical". This council of heretics, at the instigation of the
emperor and the archbishop, described icons as idols, and proscribed anathema
on all who venerate icons in the Orthodox manner, and it described icon
veneration as heresy.
monastery of Saint Stephen and its hegumen became known of in the capital. They
told the emperor about the ascetic life of the monks, about their Orthodox
piety, about the gift of wonderworking of the hegumen Stephen, and about how
the news of Saint Stephen had spread far beyond the region of the monastery,
and that the name of its head was accorded universal respect and love. The open
encouragement of icon-veneration and therein the rebuff to the persecutors of
Orthodoxy within the monastery of Saint Stephen especially angered the emperor.
Archbishop Constantine perceived, that in the person of Saint Stephen he had a
strong and implacable opponent to his iconoclastic intentions, and he took
great efforts – either to draw him over to his side or else destroy him.
They tried to entice
Saint Stephen into the Iconoclast camp, at first with flattery and bribery,
then by threats, but in vain. Then they slandered the saint, accusing him of
co-habiting with nuns. But his guilt was not proven, since the slandered nun
courageously denied guilt and died under torture and beatings. Finally, the
emperor gave orders to lock up the saint in prison, and to destroy his
monastery. Iconoclast-bishops were sent to Saint Stephen in prison, trying to
persuade him of the dogmatic correctness of the Iconoclast position. But the
saint easily refuted all the arguments of the heretics and he remained true to
Then the emperor gave
orders to exile the saint to one of the islands in the Sea of Marmora. The monk
settled into a cave, and there also soon gathered his disciples. After a
certain while the saint left the brethren and took upon himself the exploit of pillar-dweller.
News about the Pillar-Dweller Stephen, and about the miracles worked by his
prayers, spread throughout all the empire and strengthened the faith and spirit
of Orthodoxy in the people.
The emperor gave
orders to transfer Saint Stephen to prison on the island of Pharos, and then to
bring him to trial. At the trial, the saint refuted the arguments of the
heretics sitting in judgement upon him. He explained the dogmatic essence of
icon‑veneration, and he denounced the Iconoclasts for this, – that in
blaspheming icons, they gave blasphemy to Christ and the Mother of God. The
saint pointed to a golden coin in proof, upon which was the depiction of the
emperor. He asked the judges, what they would do with a man, who having thrown
down the money, would then trample it under his feet. They answered him, that
such a man would certainly be punished for having dishonoured the image of the
emperor. To this the saint said, that an even greater punishment awaited anyone
who would dishonour the image of the King of Heaven and His Saints, and with
that he cast down the coin upon the ground and began to grind it underfoot.
The emperor gave
orders to take away the saint to prison, where already there were languishing
342 elders, condemned for the veneration of icons. And In this prison Saint
Stephen spent eleven months, consoling the imprisoned. Together with them he
made the singing of prayer, often doing the tropar to the Image of the Saviour
Not‑Wrought-by-Hand. The people in crowds came to the prison and asked
Saint Stephen to pray for them.
The emperor, –
having learned that in prison the saint had organised a monastery, where
constantly there was prayer amidst which they venerated holy icons, – sent two
of his own dearest servants, twin-brothers, to beat the saint to death. When
these brothers went to the prison and beheld the face of the monk shining with
a Divine light, they fell down on their knees to him, asking his forgiveness
and prayers, but they told the emperor that his command had been carried out.
But the emperor learned the truth and he resorted to still another lie.
Informing his soldiers, that the saint had intentions to topple him from the
throne, he dispatched them to the prison. The holy confessor himself came out
half the way to the furious soldiers, who seized hold of him and dragged him
through the streets of the city. They then threw the lacerated body of the
martyr into a pit, where they were wont to bury criminals.
On the following
morning over Mount Auxentios there appeared a fiery cloud, and then an heavy
darkness descended upon the capital with a fierce thunderstorm, which struck at
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.