STEPHEN, DEACON AND MARTYR
Stephen was one of the Church’s first seven deacons who helped distribute food and other necessities to the poor in the growing Christian community in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin falsely charged him with blasphemy. Stephen’s confession of faith led to his martyrdom being stoned to death. Stephen is honored as the Church’s first martyr and for his words of commendation and forgiveness as he lay dying: “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 6 – 7)
JOHN, APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST
John was a son of Zebedee and brother of James, also called to be an apostle. John was among the first disciples to be called by Jesus (Matthew 4:18 – 22) and according to tradition became known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” as he refers to himself in the Gospel that bears his name (e.g. John 21:20). Of the Twelve, John alone did not forsake Jesus in the hours of His suffering and death. With the faithful women, he stood at the cross, where our Lord made him the guardian of His mother, Mary. After Pentecost, John spent his ministry in Jerusalem and at Ephesus, where he became a bishop. He wrote the fourth Gospel, the three Epistles that bear his name, and the Book of Revelation. John was banished to the island of Patmos by the Roman emperor Domitian. John lived to a very old age, a martyr in will but not in blood as the other Twelve, and died at Ephesus around 100 AD.
THE HOLY INNOCENTS, MARTYRS
The children, possibly some 14,000, who were murdered by King Herod in his attempt to kill Jesus, were martyrs in place of the Christ Child. For their innocent deaths, the faithful commend them to the saving blood of Jesus shed for all innocents from the blood of righteous Abel to the Last Day (Matthew 2:13 – 18.
DAVID, PROPHET AND KING
David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, ruled from about 1010 to 970 BC. The events of his life are found in 1 Samuel 18 – 1 Kings 2 and 1 Chronicles 10 – 29. The Psalms are also traditionally attributed to him as the song master of Israel. His public and private character displayed a mixture of good (for example his defeat of Goliath, 1 Samuel 17) and evil (for example his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah, 2 Samuel 11). David united the Twelve Tribes of Israel and established Jerusalem as the political and spiritual capital. David’s greatness lay in his fierce loyalty to the LORD coupled with his willingness to confess his sins and seek forgiveness (for example Psalm 51). Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior is descended from the line of David and fulfills the promise that the Son of David will rule forever.
THE NAME OF JESUS
This festival celebrates the naming of Jesus, the name given by the LORD that we may call upon and be saved. The A.D. marking of time, anno domini, in the year of our Lord, recognizes that Jesus is Lord of all, alpha and omega, beginning and the end (Luke 2:21, Philippians 2:9 – 13).
JOHANN KONRAD WILHELM LOEHE, RENEWER OF THE CHURCH, PASTOR, died 1872
Loehe, 1808 – 1872, was a Lutheran pastor in rural Germany. Despite this small setting, Loehe and the congregation he served founded the Neuendettelsau Foreign Mission Society that sent missionaries to North America, Australia, and Brazil. Loehe believed Holy Communion to be the center of the congregation’s life from which spiritual growth and service to others flowed.
KAJ MUNK, PASTOR AND MARTYR, died 1944
Munk, 1898 – 1944, was a Danish Lutheran pastor and playwright who resisted the Nazis occupation and supported the Danish resistance. His plays mirrored the battle with evil such as Herod the King and He Sits at the Melting Pot, which specifically dealt with Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. He was martyred, shot in the head and left on the road, on January 5, 1944. Four thousand people defied Nazis orders for his funeral. His death only strengthened the fight for freedom.
GEORGE FOX, RENEWER OF SOCIETY, died 1691
Fox (1624 – 1691), was founder of the Society of Friends, nicknamed the Quakers. In 1643 he experienced a call to forsake all ties to the world and base his life on the inner light of the living Christ. He began to preach trust in this inner voice of Christ and endured persecution. He helped begin the abolitionist movement to free all slaves in England. Fox’s friend, William Penn, founded the colony of Pennsylvania and helped advocate the right to freedom of religion – a concept preserved in the American Constitution.
EIVIND BERGGRAV, BISHOP AND TEACHER, died 1959
Berggrav (1884 – 1959), served as Lutheran Bishop of Norway and helped found the global Lutheran World Federation, some 72 million Lutheran Christians as of 2014. He was a steadfast opponent of Nazism and also a leader in the ecumenical movement among Christian churches in the 20th century.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., RENEWER OF SOCIETY, MARTYR, died 1968
King (1929 – 1968), was a Baptist minister who advocated civil rights for blacks in the American civil rights movement. Influenced by the peaceful civil disobedience of David Thoreau and Gandhi, King strived for social change using non-violence. He wrote, “We will not resort to violence. We will not degrade ourselves with hatred. Love will be returned for hate.” He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and was assassinated in 1967.
ANTONY OF EGYPT, RENEWER OF THE CHURCH, died around 356
Antony (251 – 356), gave away his sizable inheritance to the poor and became a hermit, the classic representative of the “desert fathers” in the early Church. He is regarded as the founder of Christian monasticism because he gathered hermits into communities. Antony was highly regarded for his wisdom and integrity. His biography, the Life of Antony, was written by Athanasius who knew him personally and is a spiritual classic.
PACHOMIUS, RENEWER OF THE CHURCH, died 346
Born in Egypt, Pachomius became a Christian while a soldier. He became a hermit (a solitary monk) and organized others into a religious community. His rule for monasteries influenced later ones in both the Eastern and Western churches.
THE CONFESSION OF ST. PETER
This day celebrates the confession of Peter that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (read Matthew 16:13 – 20). This festival marks the week of prayer for Christian unity.
HENRY, MISSIONARY and MARTYR, died 1156
Henry, born in the early twelfth century, became bishop of Sweden in 1152 where he worked to spread the Gospel. He joined King Erik IX on his crusade in Finland and, after the crusade, stayed to organize the church. Henry was martyred by pagans during his ministry in Finland.
Sarah was the wife (and half-sister) of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham (Genesis 11:29; 20:12). In obedience to divine command (Genesis 12:1), she made the long and arduous journey west, along with her husband and his relatives, from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran and then finally to the land of Canaan. She remained childless until old age. Then in keeping with God’s long-standing promise, she gave birth to a son and heir of the covenant (Genesis 21:1 – 3). She is remembered and honored as the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac, the second of the three patriarchs. She is also favorably noted for her hospitality to strangers (Genesis 18:1 – 8). Following her death at the age of 127, she was laid to rest in the Cave of Machpelah (Genesis 49:13), where her husband was later buried.
Agnes, around 304, was a girl of thirteen who refused marriage to a pagan because of her dedication to Christ. The Church at the time was enduring the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Ultimately she chose death over the forced marriage remaining a virgin for Christ. It is said that her execution shocked many in Rome and helped bring an end to the Roman persecutions.
TIMOTHY, PASTOR AND CONFESSOR
Timothy accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey and served at Thessalonia (read 1 Thessalonians 3:2) and Corinth (read 1 Corinthians 4:17). He was later with Paul at Rome and became the first Bishop of Ephesus where he was martyred in 97 AD. Two epistles are addressed to Timothy by Paul, part of the Pastoral Epistles, which describe the governance of the early churches.
THE CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL
The conversion of Paul is found at Acts 9:1 – 22 and Galatians 1:11 – 16. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, went on to write much of the New Testament. This observance closes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
TIMOTHY, TITUS, SILAS
Titus joined Paul at the apostolic council at Jerusalem (read Galatians 2:1, Acts 15). He became bishop of Crete. The Epistle to Titus rounds out the collection known as the Pastoral Epistles in the New Testament. On the two days following the celebration of the Conversion of Paul, his companions are remembered. Timothy, Titus, and Silas were missionary coworkers with Paul.
LYDIA, DORCAS, AND PHOEBE
Lydia, Paul’s first convert in Thyatira (read Acts 16:11 – 40), Dorcas, helper of the poor (read Acts 9:36 – 43), and Phoebe, a leader in Rome (read Romans 16:1 – 2) were all women leaders in the early churches recorded in the New Testament.
Thomas Aquinas was a brilliant and creative theologian who immersed himself in the thought of Aristotle and worked to explain Christian beliefs in the philosophical culture of the day.