26 December 2009

Stephen, first martyr

26 DECEMBER 2009. Today, the second day in the Octave of Christmas, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Saint Stephen was also the first in the early church to be given the title of Archdeacon.

Saint Stephen's martyrdom is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, and was overseen by Saul (Acts 8, 1), prior to his conversion to the great Christian disciple Paul. After being chosen as a deacon to provide for the widows that had been neglected in the community's distributions (Acts 6, 5-6), Saint Stephen was accused of blashemy and speaking against the temple and the law (Acts 6, 11-14).

Saint Stephen was tried by the Sanhedrin and stoned to death in A.D. 34-35. Before his death, Saint Stephen made a speech against the Jews who have persecuted the prophets:
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors.Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.
(Acts 7, 51-53). During his trial and persecution, Saint Stephen experienced a theophany, seeing both God the Father and God the Son at the same time: "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." (Acts 7, 56)

Saint Stephen's Day is celebrated as a national holiday in many countries of Christian origin, including England and Poland.

IMAGE: Byzantine Icon, (eleventh century).

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