Saint Stephen, celebrated every year on 26 December, was the first of seven deacons elected in Jerusalem by Christians in order to help the apostles in spreading the Words of God.
His extraordinary importance is due to the fact that he was the first martyr of history, the first Christian who sacrificed his own life, as a witness of Jesus Christ, to spread the Holy Gospels.
Let’s revisit together the story and the martyrdom of St Stephen.
St Stephen’s Martyrdom
Born in an uncertain date, the story does not dispose of accurate biographical and genealogical data about the martyr, despite the immense historical and theological value of this Israelite Saint with a Greek name (Stephen comes from the ancient Greek Στέφανος).
Venerated as protodeacon and protomartyr, his great fame is mainly due to his martyrdom, happened for stoning, accurately described in the Acts of the Apostles. A famous character who assisted the martyrdom was Paul of Tarsus (Saul), who converted to Christianity along his way to Damascus.
Lapidation was the prescribed penalty in the Mosaic law for the most serious sins, such as blasphemy or adultery and it was not prescribed in the Roman Law. This important particular allowed the historians to place St Stephen’s death in a definite historic period: 36 AD, while Palestine was completely free of government work. This happened after that Pontius Pilate, who condemned Jesus to crucifixion, left his charge: crucifixion was the method that Romans used to employ in the territories they ruled.
For this reason, the culprit of his martyrdom can be considered the Sanhedrin, the great assembly of Jerusalem, composed by 71 members in charge of issuing the executive laws and ensuring justice.
In the Holy Bible it is said that Stephen antagonized some freemen who did not see in such a good way the spreading of the new Belief. This pursued them to accuse him of blasphemy with the help of false witnesses.
During his process, Stephen spoke to the folk preaching one last time about the magnificence of God, but it caused the people’s worst anger. They dragged him out of the tribunal and lynched him.
According to the tradition, St Stephen peacefully welcomed his own death, invoking God to accept his soul in the Kingdom of Heaven and not to charge his murderers their great sin.
The Worship of St Stephen, celebrated on 26 December
St Stephen is celebrated from both the Catholic and the Orthodox Church in almost all Europe. He is the Saint Patron of Serbia, which celebrates him on 9 January, as it observes the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar.
As he was the first Christian martyr of the story, the Feast of St Stephen is celebrated on 26 December, only one day after Christmas. This is due to the fact that in the next days after the arrival of Jesus Christ on Earth, the feasts of the Comites Christi have been settled close to 25 December, as a recognition of the martyrs for their invaluable courage and faith.
St Stephan's Basilica, Budapest, Hungary.
If some of your loved ones is particularly attached to the character of St Stephen, or simply brings his name, you may consider the idea of giving him/her as a present the celebrative religious medal dedicated to the first Christian martyr, the Saint Protector of stonecutters and bricklayers.