December 2007 - St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr and Archdeacon
Feast Day December 27
A kinsman of the Apostle Paul, the Holy Stephen was one of the seven deacons first appointed by the Church to minister to the people; and it pleased God to receive him as the Church's first Martyr for Christ. Read the long, beautiful and edifying account of his witness in the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 6-8. When Stephen, "full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people," (Acts 6:8), some members of a synagogue in Jerusalem came to dispute with him and, enraged by his proclamation of Christ, stoned him to death. In his death St Stephen revealed Christ's erasure of the boundary between heaven and earth, and the new communion between man and God: his face shone with the light of the Transfiguration, and he was granted a vision of Christ enthroned at the Father's right hand. His dying words were "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge"(Acts7:60).
According to holy tradition, the martyrdom of St Stephen occurred exactly a year after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. His body was taken and secretly buried by Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhendrin and secretly a Christian.
Saint Stephen's relics were discovered by the priest Lucian in 415 following a vision. They were translated to the church built for them in Jerusalem by the Empress Eudocia, and later taken to Constantinople.
The Saint's missionary speech before his death (like that of the deacon St Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch) reminds us that those appointed to serve the Church are expected to proclaim the glorious Gospel of Christ.