St. Stephen was the first person to lay down his life in Jesus’ name after the death and Resurrection of Christ Himself.
Reflections on the readings for the Feast of St. Stephen (December 26, 2022): Acts 6:8-10;7:54-59; PS 31:3-4,6,8,16,17; MT 10:17-22
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St. Stephen was martyred around the year 35 A.D. It was the beginning of a series of persecutions, not only in the early years of the Church, but continuing until this very day.
While we know a good deal about the death of St. Stephen, we know much less about his early life. He is generally believed to have been a Greek-speaking Jew who became a follower of Jesus. However, we do not know if he knew Jesus during His life or was converted soon afterwards. The Acts of the Apostles praise Stephen as a person filled with grace and power and who performed signs and wonders. When it was found necessary to select some Church members to distribute food and assistance to Greek-speaking Christians, such as widows in need, St. Stephen was one of the seven chosen to become a deacon. Nevertheless, it was his spirited debating with those who opposed Christianity and his ardent preaching in synagogues, that made him subject to the anger of Jewish leaders who refused to see Jesus as Redeemer. Accused by them of blasphemy, Stephen spoke eloquently against them and, in turn, accused them of not following the true law of God as shown through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. At that point, they turned on St. Stephen who announced, “‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’” (Acts 7:56-59). Before he died, Stephen imitated Christ in forgiving those who killed him.
St. Stephen was martyred around the year 35 A.D. It was the beginning of a series of persecutions, not only in the early years of the Church, but continuing until this very day. We should also notice the presence of Saul, who would become St. Paul, at the killing of Stephen. While Saul continued for a time to seek out and arrest Christians, in time, Jesus would stop him on the road to Damascus, asking, “Why do you persecute Me?” So one of those forgiven by St. Stephen became St. Paul the great missionary. And like, Stephen, Paul never feared to preach the Good News and to draw as many people as he could into the gift of faith in Christ. And, about thirty years later, St. Paul would follow St. Stephen as a martyr in the faith and service of our Lord and Savior, our Brother and King.