Apostle Stephen, Protomartyr





After Pentecost, Christians in Jerusalem were a close-knit community. Many sold their property and gave the proceeds to the Church so that all could be distributed according to everyone's needs. The Christians went to the Temple to pray but they began to partake of the Lord’s Mystical Supper in their own homes.

God worked many miracles through these early Christians. Sick people would gather at the Temple so the Apostles might touch them on their way to prayer. The church grew very rapidly so that they had to appoint seven deacons to distribute the goods to the needy widows. Stephen was one of these.

Stephen was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. According to Acts 6:13 he was accused of speaking against the temple and the law of Moses. Stephen had discovered the inadequacy of a mere formalism and ceremonialism of the temple worship from the teaching of Christ who, through His words to the Samaritan woman, made him aware that the true worship of God is not confined to the Temple.

The way was open for Gentile evangelism so he went and preached in the Hellenistic Synagogues. From Luke’s reporting in Acts, we know that there were many who disputed Stephen. They could not beat Stephen in debate and so they left to secretly influence Jewish leaders by falsely accusing Stephen. They stirred up the elders and the scribes and many people misrepresenting Stephen’s views. They said he spoke against Moses making Stephen a blasphemer of God. They accused him of being a radical, speaking revolutionary statements against the Temple and the Law. These were similar charges made against Christ. To many Jews, Christianity threatened to overthrow their religion as well as Jewish nationalism.

The members of the Sanhedrin saw Stephen’s face as if it were the “face of an angel.” His face shone from divine grace.They allowed Stephen to answer the false accusations in front of this council. For Stephen, the new religion was only the divinely ordered development of the old. He saw the real blasphemers as the disobedient Jews who rejected the revelation and killed Christ.

While there, Stephen had a vision sent from Heaven where he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right side of God and said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens having been opened and the Son of Man standing on the right of God.” This vision of Jesus standing implied that Jesus was fighting for him from the heavens. This caused the council to break up and forgo the formality of pronouncing a sentence. The the council rushed on him casting him outside of the city and they began to stone him. Based on what they had charged him with, the law of that time would have only called for forty lashings, not death by stoning. Further, the Romans had not granted the council the power of capital punishment.

When Stephen was led to the place of his execution, the Mother of God followed at a distance. She stood on a nearby hill with Saint John the Theologian. The witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man, named Saul who would later become Paul. He not only consented to Stephen’s death, but he failed to show any pity for one of his own blood who was facing death.

Witnessing this martyric end, the Theotokos fervently prayed to the Lord to strengthen His Martyr and to receive his soul. While Stephan was sustaining the rain of stones beating on his body, he knelt down and with a loud voice cried, “Lord, do not make this sin stand against them.” After uttering these words he fell asleep (Acts 7:58-60).

The death of Stephen was a double loss for he was held by all as one who was most gracious and amiable. His remains were left by the Jews for the dogs to eat. However God’s providence prevailed and at night, two days later, as the martyr's body lay in an open place, the Jewish teacher of Saul, Gamaliel who was a secret follower of Christ, came and took Stephen’s relics to Caphargamala and buried the relics with his own hand in a cave. Later in 415 these relics were discovered by the Priest Lucian, after receiving a vision. This is commemorated on September 15th. The relics were translated to Jerusalem where they were laid in a church built in honor of Athenais-Evdokia, augusta and wife of Theodosios II. Later the relics were taken to Constantinople which is celebrated on the 2nd of August. We celebrate Saint Stephen on December 27th.







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