We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at
your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
We don't have much information on St. Stephen, the Protomartyr. All the information we have comes from chapters 6 and 7 of the Acts of the Apostles, the second volume of the work attributed to St. Luke. One of the first disputes in the early Church involved the assistance programs for needy widows, and this dispute fell along the lines of language, as the Greek-speaking members of the community in Jerusalem complained that their widows were being ignored in favor of the widows of the Aramaic speakers. The apostles were fed-up with the dispute and realized that they couldn't go out and preach the Good News and take care of administrative and financial matters, so they told the community to select seven persons from the group, persons who were respected and of sound judgement and filled with the Holy Spirit. Seven men were selected, and among them was Stephen.
Stephen was quite a preacher. His sermons brought folks to repentance and to seek baptism, but his sermons could also really anger those in authority. One day he went too far and was stoned by a mob who had become enraged by his sermon. I guess they didn't like being called "stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, forever opposing the Holy Spirit." They dragged him outside of the city and stoned him, leaving their coats with one Saul, who approved of their killing him. Stephen didn't hold their anger against them, saying, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" just as he died. I guess that's one reason not to call people names when preaching.
He is the first martyr of the Church and his example of forgiving his persecutors as they killed shows that Stephen paid attention to what Jesus said and taught. We can only hope to be as great a witness as Stephen.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Feast of St. Stephen
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