Friday, December 26, 2008

St. Stephen, first Christian Martyr



Source: Apostleship of Prayer

Furthermore, Musings from a Catholic Bookstore gives us insight into the first martyr:

December 26th is the feast of St. Stephen, one of the first deacons and the first Christian martyr.

Dissatisfaction concerning the distribution of alms from the community’s fund having arisen in the Church, seven men were selected and specially ordained by the Apostles to take care of the temporal relief of the poorer members. Of these first seven deacons, St. Stephen is the first mentioned and the best known through the ages.

St. Stephen’s life, previous to this appointment, remains almost entirely a mystery. His name is Greek and suggests he was a Hellenist - one of those Jews who had been born in some foreign land and whose native tongue was Greek. However, according to a fifth century tradition, the name Stephanos was only a Greek equivalent for the Aramaic Kelil, which may be the holy proto-martyr’s original name and was inscribed on a slab found in his tomb.

We do not know when and in what circumstances he became a Christian; although there is the statement of St. Epiphanius numbering Stephen among the seventy disciples. His ministry as deacon appears to have been mostly among the Hellenist converts with whom the Apostles were at first less familiar. St. Stephen was preeminently fitted for the work amongst the Hellenist Jews - his abilities and character, which St. Luke (in Acts) dwells upon so fervently, are the best indication. The Church had, by selecting him for a deacon, publicly acknowledged him as a man “of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). Great as was the efficacy of “the wisdom and the spirit that spoke” (verse 10), still it could not bend the minds of the unwilling - to these the forceful preacher fatally was soon to become an enemy.

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