December 26 Saints of the Day – Synaxis of the Theotokos, Sunday after the Nativity, and Stephen

On this day in 1947, 25.8″ of snow fell on New York City in 16 hours, while Los Angeles set a record high of 84°F. Many New Yorkers told their west coast relatives “I don’t want to hear about it” in the days that followed.

Synaxis of the TheotokosThe Synaxis of the Theotokos commemorates the role of the most holy Mother of God (that’s Mary) (in case you don’t know) in the incarnation of Christ. It should go without saying that without the Theotokos, Christ could not have been born. (If that doesn’t go without saying, you may need a remedial course in biology.) As she herself predicted, all generations call her blessed, and rightly so.

“Synaxis” (as everyone knows) means “gathering” or “assembly.” On the day after a feast, it was the custom in Constantinople in olden days (none of my sources is any too generous with dates) to gather and celebrate the Divine Liturgy (and maybe Orthros and a nice coffee hour) at a church dedicated to one of the key players in the previous day’s feast. Thus, on the day after Theophany (Christ’s baptism), they celebrated a Synaxis to John the Baptist, and on the day after the Nativity they celebrated a Synaxis to the Mother of God. From Constantinople this custom spread to the whole Orthodox Church, although most of us just stay in our own parish, where we know how to operate the coffeemaker.

James the JustThe Sunday after the Nativity is (obviously) a moveable feast, but if Christmas falls on a Sunday, it is assigned to December 26. This feast is a Synaxis in the other sense – a feast that gathers commemorations of many saints into a single day, either because they go together in some way (like all the saints of a particular country), or because their days were close to each other, and combining them means workers get fewer days off with pay. This feast combines a Hebronic (“of Hebron”) commemoration of the Patriarch Jacob and a Syrian feast of James the Just (the first bishop of Jerusalem and the brother of Jesus) (aka James the Less, but never James the Less Just). Eventually the patriarch faded from the picture like Marty McFly, to be replaced with King David and Joseph the Betrothed of Mary.

King DavidDavid, as you know, was the second king of ancient Israel, and had a penchant for dancing naked and seducing women (these two activities may be unrelated). Yet for all this he is called “the man after God’s own heart,” and God let him write most of the Psalms. Did I mention he was really good at repenting? There’s a lesson there.

Joseph the BetrothedJoseph was the betrothed of Mary, and thus Jesus’ stepdad. He is mentioned very briefly in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels, and drops out of the narrative completely after the incident in the temple when our Lord was twelve. Church tradition and the “Cherry Tree Carol” (the version by Joan Baez is killer, by the way) say he was an old man when he married Mary, and it is believed he died before Jesus began his public ministry.

Stephen the ProtomartyrIn the famous song, Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen the Protomartyr (first martyr) (d. ca. 33), one of the first deacons of the church as per the Acts of the Apostles (chapters 6–7). Stephen was a preacher and wonderworker, and aroused the ire of the “Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians,” whoever they were. They brought him before the Sanhedrin, to whom he gave an earful. He then saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God, and injudiciously (or not, depending on how you look at it) said so.

Accusing him of blasphemy, they dragged him outside the city and stoned him to death, while Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul, guarded their cloaks (cloak thieves were notorious in those parts — you set down your cloak to murder somebody, turn around, and bam! it’s gone). Stephen manages to get in two famous last wordses, “Lord Jesus, receive my soul” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He is the patron saint of coffeemakers. Sorry, coffin makers.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

This Day in History for 26th December
Synaxis of the Most Holy Mother of God (OCA) – Main source
Synaxis (Wikipedia)
Icon of the Synaxis of the Theotokos from OCA (copyright unknown)
Sunday after the Nativity: Commemoration of the Holy Righteous David the King, Joseph the Betrothed, and James the Brother of the Lord (OCA) – Main source
Illumination of David (ca. 1501) by Girolamo dai Libri from the Metropolitan Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
Photo by M0tty (Antoine Motte dit Falisse) of Saint Joseph Holding the Christ (sixteenth century) (detail) via Wikimedia Commons used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license . Use does not imply approval of image owner of this page or this use.
Icon of James (detail) via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
Saint Stephen the Martyr (SQPN) – Main source
Saint Stephen (Wikipedia)
The Bible (There are many great Bible resources online; my favorite is Bible Gateway .)
San Estaban (1575) by Luis de Morales (detail) from the Prado Museum, via Wikimedia (public domain)


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

3 comments on “December 26 Saints of the Day – Synaxis of the Theotokos, Sunday after the Nativity, and Stephen

  1. So who *is* the patron of coffeemakers?

  2. […] Either way, in the Orthodox tradition, it’s the Synaxis of the Theotokos. You can read about it here. Or […]

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