Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
But Stephen, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:55-60)
Orthodox biblical scholar Theodore Stylianopoulos comments on the martyrdom of St Stephen by considering a teaching of St Silouan the Athonite in which we are called upon to pray for our enemies in concern for them because their actions are actually bringing God’s condemnation on themselves:
“But man is a supreme creation, and therefore if you see that he has gone astray and is bringing destruction upon himself pray for him… the soul that acts after this fashion is loved of the Lord, for she is like unto Him.’ [St Silouan]
The highest expression of love, and the surest criterion of Christian truth, is love of enemies, says the Saint. True love cannot suffer a single soul to perish. For Christ there are no ‘enemies,’ for the very word implies rejection. They are brothers and sisters who need our love and prayers. Christ prayed for those who crucified Him. Saint Stephen the First Martyr prayed for those who stoned him. So we must urge ourselves to love those who revile or injure us. If we cannot love, at least let us not revile. A person who reviles or despises those who are against him, brings spiritual injury to himself and shows that an evil spirit is working in him. But divine love cannot be attained by human beings without divine grace. We cannot love our enemies without having the Holy Spirit. When we humble ourselves and pray for those who affront us, God works impossible things in the heart. On one occasion Silouan states that the soul is so wounded by divine love that it ‘loses its wits.’ Even devils can rouse its pity because they were once God’s creatures now fallen from the good.” (THE WAY OF CHRIST, pp 122-123)
We may feel it is not humanly possible for us to forgive our enemies as Christ did on the cross or as St Stephen the First Martyr did as he was being stoned to death. Many saints would agree with us – it is humanly impossible. That is why we need the Holy Spirit present in our life every day.
And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:33-34)