Stephen the Great

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+ JULY 2

St. Stephen (also spelled Stefan) is honored as a saint throughout the Orthodox Church. Despite his earthly failings (somewhat comparable to the Psalmist and Patriarch David), he was a great defender of the True Faith against the onslaught of the Ottoman-Muslim empire during the last half of the fifteenth century.

St. Stephen defeated Mehmet at a famous and decisive battle in a place called Vasi Lui (not far south of Iasi in the province of Moldova in present day Romania). Had he not done so, little stood between Mehmet and the Ukraine -- and the obliteration of the rest of the Orthodox world. Mehmet met his match after shortly after having sacked Constantinople. With the rest of the Balkan penninsula falling to Islam's sword, Mehmet must have seemed unstoppable to Christians everywhere - yet none of the Western powers nor the Western Church would lift a finger against the Ottomans. Thus, Stephen stood more or less alone in defense of Christianity and his homeland.

Perhaps of equal or greater significance to this great saint’s life is that he built many churches and monasteries -- one after each of his 47 successful battles against the Ottomans, including many of the most beautiful monuments to Orthodoxy in the entire world. These monasteries still stand today and despite over 500 tumultuous years, including 50 years of Communist persecution of the Faith, they still thrive with thousands of monastics. Stephen's monasteries include the famous "painted" monasteries, referring to the fact that the outsides are frescoed and remarkably, have survived 500 years of weather - except on the north sides! These include the fabulous painted monasteries of Voronet, Moldovitsa, and Suceavitsa, as well as Putna (where Stephen reposes) and Neamst. At the west end of the south exterior wall of Voronet, interestingly enough, is a vibrantly colored fresco of the siege of Constantinople. Based undoubtedly on his zeal for the Church, he was commonly referred to as “holy