December 26 – Synaxis of the Theotokos; Sunday after the Nativity; Stephen

The Synaxis* of the Theotokos commemorates the role of the most holy Mother of God (that’s Mary) (in case you didn’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.

The Sunday after the Nativity is (obviously) a moveable feast, but if Christmas falls on a Sunday, it is assigned to December 26, so I’m putting it here. This feast combines a Hebronic (“of Hebron”) commemoration of the Patriarch Jacob with 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, although always James the Never Less Than Just). Eventually the patriarch faded from the picture like Marty McFly, to be replaced with King David and Joseph the Betrothed of Mary.

David, 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 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.

In 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.