Surrender to God like St. Stephen
FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN, FIRST MARTYR. FEAST DAY – 26th DECEMBER
Myself and brother deacon’s all over the world celebrated the feast of St. Stephen on December 26th. He was a great role model for deacon’s and for all who surrender to God in our every day lives.
Stephen was one of the seven men chosen by the apostles to be a deacon so that they might be able to carry on with their ministry of prayer. The deacons (the Greek word diakonos meaning ‘servant’) were men “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3) chosen to help serve the material needs of the faithful.
St. Stephen, in particular, continues to serve the Church as a model of what it means to follow Christ to the end. That is why we as deacon’s hold close to our hearts his feat day and to live our ministry like him. So a little about him and what can we learn and live like he did.
Stephen, (c. 5 – c. 34 AD) traditionally venerated as the first martyr of Christianity, was, according to the Acts of the Apostles, a deacon in the early Church at Jerusalem who angered members of various synagogues by his teachings. Accused of blasphemy at his trial, he made a speech denouncing the Jewish authorities who were sitting in judgment on him and was then stoned to death. His martyrdom was witnessed and participated by Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul, a Pharisee and Roman citizen who would later become a Christian apostle.
The only source for information about Stephen is the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles. Stephen is mentioned in Acts 6 as one of the Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jews selected to participate in a fairer distribution of welfare to Greek widows.
The Catholic, Anglican, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox Churches, Lutheran and the Church of the East view Stephen as a saint. Artistic representations often show Stephen with a crown symbolizing martyrdom, three stones, martyr’s palm frond, censer, and often holding a miniature church building. Stephen is often shown as a young, beardless man with a tonsure, wearing a deacon’s vestments.
Stephen is first mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as one of seven deacons appointed by the Apostles to distribute food and charitable aid to poorer members of the community in the early church. According to Orthodox belief, he was the eldest and is therefore called “archdeacon”. As another deacon, Nicholas of Antioch, is specifically stated to have been a convert to Judaism, it may be assumed that Stephen was born Jewish, but nothing more is known about his previous life.
The reason for the appointment of the deacons is stated to have been dissatisfaction among Hellenistic (that is, Greek-influenced and Greek-speaking) Jews that their widows were being slighted in preference to Hebraic ones in the daily distribution of food. Since the name “Stephanos” is Greek, it has been assumed that he was one of these Hellenistic Jews. Stephen is stated to have been full of faith and the Holy Spirit and to have performed miracles among the people. [Acts 6:5, 8]
He performed his teachings and “signs and wonders” among synagogues of Hellenistic Jews, since it is said that he aroused the opposition of the “Synagogue of the Freedmen”, and “of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of them that were of Cilicia and Asia”. Members of these synagogues had challenged Stephen’s teachings, but Stephen had bested them in debate. Furious at this humiliation, they gave false testimony that Stephen had preached blasphemy against Moses and God.
They dragged him to appear before the Sanhedrin, the supreme legal court of Jewish elders, accusing him of preaching against the Temple and the Mosaic Law. Stephen is said to have been unperturbed, his face looking like “that of an angel”. Thus castigated, the crowd could contain their anger no longer. However, Stephen looked up and cried, “Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God!” He said that the recently executed Jesus was standing by the side of God.
The people from the crowd, who threw the first stones laid their coats down so as to be able to do this, at the feet of a young man named Saul, (later known as Paul the Apostle). Stephen prayed that the Lord would receive his spirit and his killers be forgiven, sank to his knees, and breathed his last. Saul approved of their killing him. In the aftermath of Stephen’s death, the remaining disciples fled.
In Luke’s Gospel Christ’s last words are, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Stephen’s last words are actually to pray for his persecutors, but just before that he says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He recognizes Jesus as Lord and surrenders himself into the merciful hands of God. Stephen was granted a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, ready to welcome him into the Kingdom, just before his death and Stephen stood ready to meet him as the accusers gathered the stones.
We, too, must be ready and willing to surrender ourselves to the Lord. Not only when trials, difficulties, and death come, but in everyday life. Stephen shows us that the true measure of discipleship comes at the cost of our lives: not in other people taking our lives, but in our own self-entrustment into the hands of the Father. May we strive to become more like St. Stephen, the unabashed imitator of Christ and the first martyr for the faith.
May God Bless you always,