The Life of Saint Stephen the Deacon and First Martyr
(Commemorated on December 27)
Stephen was a relative of St. Paul. He was the first of seven deacons whom the
holy apostles ordained for the service of the poor in Jerusalem. This is why
he is called the Archdeacon - the first, or chief, of them. St. Stephen did
many things for the poor and widows in Jerusalem and by the power of his faith,
he worked many miracles. He lived his life to be an example to everyone who
saw him of how Jesus came to serve and not be served.
The Jewish authorities argued with him, but were always beaten by his wisdom and the power of the Spirit who acted through him. Eventually, these men, who were very good at spreading rumors about people, stirred up the people and leaders against this innocent man. They said many things about him that weren’t true, that he had blasphemed against God and against Moses, and quickly found people to lie and act as witnesses to support these rumors. But Stephen stood before all the people, and everyone saw his face “like the face of an angel”: his face was illumined by the light of grace as was the face of Moses when he talked with God. Stephen opened his mouth and spoke about all of God’s marvelous works and miracles, performed in the past for the people of Israel, and he told of the peoples’ continued disobedience and ingratitude for what He had done. He especially denounced the people for the slaying of Jesus, the Christ, calling them betrayers and murderers (Acts 7:52).
While they ground their teeth, Stephen looked and saw the heavens open and the glory of God. He described what he saw: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Then the cruel-hearted people took him out of the city and stoned him to death. Among his murderers was his relative Saul, or Paul, who later became an apostle. At that time, the most holy Mother of God was standing on a rock at a distance with St. John the Theologian, and witnessed the martyrdom of this first martyr for the truth of her Son and God, and she prayed for Stephen.
This all occurred exactly one year after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, which we celebrate on Pentecost. St. Stephen’s body was taken secretly and buried by Gamaliel on his own land. Gamaliel was a Jewish prince and a secret Christian. Thus this first of Christ’s martyrs made a glorious end and entered into the Kingdom of Christ our God. 400 years later in a vision to the priest Lucian, Gamaliel revealed the precise location of St. Stephen’s relics. With the Patriarch’s blessing the priest dug up the grave and a strong and fragrant odor came from the relics. The relics were then brought to Jerusalem where they were buried with ceremony. Later they were later taken to Constantinople. Since the day they were found, many sick people have been healed by approaching his holy relics and praying for his aid.