On this day in 1895, America’s first auto race started, with six cars going fifty-five miles. The winner averaged seven miles per hour. He could have gone faster, but he got pulled over for speeding at least once daily.
Stephen the New (ca. 715 – 767), also called Stephen the Younger, was born after his parents had two daughters, despite their constant prayers for a son. When those prayers were finally answered, they dedicated Stephen to the Lord, and on his sixteenth birthday they took him to Mt. St. Auxentius in Bithynia, and apprenticed him to the hermit John. When John died, Stephen soldiered on as a hermit, until he was surrounded by a monastery’s worth of wannabe monks seeking wisdom, and he was obliged to found a monastery.
Now the emperor at the time was Leo the Isaurion, who was an iconoclast and a persecutor of monastics besides. Iconoclasm was in its heyday, and soon most of the positions of power in and around Constantinople were filled with iconoclasts (with some packing material, mostly straw, around the edges). Leo was succeeded by Constantine Copronymous (which literally means, and I am not fooling although I am cleaning it up in case children are reading along, “poopy-name”), who was an even worse iconoclast. Stephen boldly decried iconoclasm, and in revenge the powers that be accused him of (NSFW) sexual improprieties with his mother. Nobody believed this, and Anna (his mum) denied it under waterboarding (or the eighth century equivalent), but eventually Stephen was arrested and brought to trial anyway.
At his trial, Stephen took a coin with an image of the emperor’s face on it, he asked, “What would it signify if I spat on this coin, threw it to the ground, and stomped on it?” “It would signify that you were going to die soon and unpleasantly,” he was told. “If that is considered an affront to the emperor, how much more of an affront is it to our Lord and His mother when you trample their icons underfoot?” And with that he spat on the coin, threw it to the ground, and trampled it.
Rather than die soon, however, Stephen was exiled to various islands, at each of which he founded a monastery. Finally he was dragged back (or wandered back freely) to the capital, still boldly decrying iconoclasm. He was thrown in jail, where he consoled and instructed exactly 342 iconodules (man, I love that word) imprisoned with him. The emperor sent (and this must be important but nobody says why) twin brothers to slay Stephen, but when they saw him shining with Uncreated Light, they thought better of it, and returned to the emperor, lying that they had done the deed. (They fall out of the story here and one hopes they got away.) The emperor then sent a contingent of soldiers who dragged the saint through the streets and tossed him into a pit, dead. The next day a fiery cloud appeared over Mt. St. Auxentius, and a hail storm in the capital killed many people. He is one of the saints depicted in the icon “The Triumph of Orthodoxy,” and is, delightfully, the patron saint of numismatists.
Symeon Metaphrastes (“the Compiler”) (d. 960), also called Symeon the Logothete (an office in the Byzantine Empire roughly equivalent to Secretary of State), was (roughly) Secretary of State of the Byzantine Empire. To reward Symeon for his service in successful negotiations with Arab cretins (um, Cretan Arabs) (although I guess there’s no reason they couldn’t have been both), Emperor Constantine IV Porphyrogenitus (“born in the purple”) promised to give him anything he wanted. What Symeon wanted was to retire to a monastery, so in sorrow the emperor let him go. “Pray for me!” Connie cried as the blessed saint strode away. (cue: “Happy Trails to You.”)
Symeon spent the rest of his days collecting and translating lives of the saints (mio paisano!), compiling the vast majority of what we of the Orthodox/Byzantine Catholic persuasion call the Menologion. He also wrote prayers, one of which is included in the Byzantine “prayers before holy communion.” (The one starting “O only pure and incorruptible Lord.”) His feast day on Eastern calendars is November 9.
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
This Day in History for 28th November
Monkmartyr and Confessor Stephen the New of Mt St Auxentius (OCA) – Main source
Stephen the New (Orthodox Wiki)
Stephen the Younger (Wikipedia)
Fresco (?) of Stephen (detail) from OCA (copyright unknown)
Orthodox Saints commemorated in November (Abba Moses) – Main source
Symeon the Metaphrast (Wikipedia)
Fortescue, Adrian. Symeon Metaphrastes (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Saint Simeon the Logothete (SQPN)
Icon of Symeon via Wikimedia (Public domain according to this rule).