Very probably a Hellenistic Jew, Stephen was one of the “seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3), who were chosen by the apostles to relieve them of the administrative burden of waiting on tables and caring for the widows. By this appointment to assist the apostles, Stephen, the first named of those whom the New Testament calls “the Seven”, became the first to do what the Church traditionally considers to be the work and ministry of a deacon.
It is apparent from that Stephen’s ministry involved more than serving tables, for the Acts of the Apostles speaks of his preaching and performing many miracles. These activities led him into conflict with some of the Jews, who accused him of blasphemy, and brought him before the Sanhedrin. His powerful sermon before the Council is recorded in the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. His denunciations of the Sanhedrin and against the Temple so enraged the members of the council that, without a trial, they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death.
Saul, later called Paul, stood by, consenting to Stephen’s death, but Stephen’s example of steadfast faith in Jesus, and of intercession for his persecutors, was to find fruit in the mission and witness of the Apostle Paul after his conversion.
- From Lesser Feasts and Fasts
We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
The lessons appointed for the commemoration of Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr, are published on the Lectionary Page website.
The image of the mosaic icon of Saint Stephen is taken from the webpage of the Royal Academy of the Art’s Byzantium exhibition.