St. Stephen, chief of the deacons and the first martyr

In this episode of “Walking The Way with The Saints”, we focus on St. Stephen (?-35/36 A.D.) the illustrious saint, chief of the Deacons, and first of
the Martyrs. We commemorate him on January 8 according to the Syriac Orthodox Liturgical calendar. Quroyo deacon Yousif Abdul Wahid presents us with his research into this great saint’s life and how the first story of martyrdom in Christianity- after Christ- took place.

It is believed that St. Stephen was a Jew who spoke Greek although his place of birth is unrecorded. We do not have many original sources that talk about him and so we will mainly be looking at his story from the Book of Acts. The name Stephanos is a Greek name that means wreath or crown.

Video prepared by Yousif Abdul Wahid

His story is recited in the book of Acts in chapter 6. The story goes as follows: “1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ The people liked what the disciples proposed and appointed 7 men, the first of whom was St. Stephen.”

The bible testifies of his character on multiple occasions. For example, Acts 6:5 describes him as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” And later on in verse 8 of the same chapter it says of him: “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.”

The stoning of St. Stephen

Seeing how important he was in the early church, the devil went to work and stirred up Jewish laymen, the elders, and the scribes against him. Stephen was seized and taken to Sanhedrin (the Jewish Council). And when they failed to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke (refer to Luke 12:11-12), they appointed false witnesses to claim that he constantly speaks of blasphemy against the temple and the law (of the old testament). The people who were looking on stared at him saw his face as the face of an Angel (Acts 6:15)

He gave a big sermon and ended with rebuking the elders and the Jewish people with the same fervor as his Lord and St. John the Baptist. The Jews were furious and wouldn’t hear another word. With one motion they ran at him and took him outside the city to stone him. But he, says the Book of Acts in chapter 8, “55 being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 58 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Right before he was stoned to death , he prayed “59 … ‘‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7). Refer to John 11:26.

The Martyrdom of St. Eugenia and Companions

Before he was martyred he looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right side of God (Acts. 7:54-56). The murderers laid their clothes on the ground to be guarded by Saul, who would later become St. Paul.

St. Stephen means a lot to me personally as a Quroyo/Reader deacon. He is the first martyr in Christianity. He inspires me to be a good deacon especially when I feel discouraged because of the shortcomings of some of my deacon counterparts and myself. St. Stephanos is a great example of carrying one’s cross and following in the footsteps of the Lord. It seems to me like God rewards the people who love him by letting them partake of His passions which is why he says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, “11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’” (Matthew 5).

Let us look upon the life of this great saint and pray to God to let us partake of His earthly life as much as we can handle so that we are glorified with Him on the day when he returns. As Saint Paul says in his Letter to the Romans in chapter 8: “17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

May the prayers and blessing of St. Stephen be with us all and glory be to God forever, Amen!

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