Diocese of Hexham & Newcastle Guild of St Stephen

The Life & Death of Saint Stephen

Stephens name in greek Stephanos means "crown," and he was the first disciple of Jesus to receive the martyr's crown. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian Church.

The Apostles had found that they needed helpers to look after the care of the widows and the poor. So they ordained seven deacons, by selecting Stephen for a Deacon publicly acknowledged him as a man of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom He was a man of faith and full of grace.

God worked many miracles through St. Stephen and he spoke with such wisdom and grace that many of his hearers became followers of Jesus. The enemies of the Church of Jesus were furious to see how successful Stephen's preaching was

Stephen was prepared to engage in controversy with them, eager to point out that, according to the Master, the old law had been superseded. He was continually quoting Jesus and the prophets to the effect that external usages and all the ancient holy rites were of less importance than the spirit; that even the Temple might be destroyed, as it had been in the past, without damage to the true and eternal religion. It was talk of this sort, carried by hearsay and rumour about the city, and often misquoted, intentionally or not, that was to draw down upon Stephen the wrath of the Jewish priestly class.

Conflict broke out when in a certain synagogue of Jews called that of the Freedmen, and of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians and of those from Cilicia that Stephen chiefly disouted and was challenged to a dispute, the elders of the synagogues came out completely discomfited, wounded pride so inflamed their hatred that they suborned false witnesses to testify that they heard him speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.

The elders and scribes were stirred up and brought him before the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish tribunal, which had the authority in both civil and religious matters. False witnesses accused Stephen of saying that Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this palce (the temple) and shall change the traditions which Moses delivered unto them.

Stephen defended himself ably, finally turning his defence into a bitter accusation by saying:

"yet not in houses made by hands does the Most High dwell, even as the Prophet says .... Stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ear, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; as your Father did, so you do also. Which of the prophets have not your Fathers persecuted? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you have now been the betrayers and murderers, you who recieved the Law as an Ordinance of Angels and did not keep it"

The saint spoke about Jesus, showing that He is the Savior, God had promised to send. He scolded his enemies for not having believed in Jesus. At that, they rose up in great anger and shouted at him. But Stephen looked up to Heaven and said that he saw the heavens opening and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

The Crowd could not contain their anger no longer and thus rushed Stephen out of the City to the palce appointed, and stoned Him to death. At this time Jewish Law permitted the death penalty of stoning for blasphemy.

Stephen full of grace and fortitude to the very end, met the great test of his devotion to His faith without flinching, Praying to the Lord to recieve his Spirit and not to lay this Sin against the people.

So Perished the first Martyr, his dying breath spent in prayer for those who killed Him. Among those present at the sence and approving of the killing of Stephen was a young Jewish man named Saul later to be known as Saint Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles: His own conversion to Christanity was to take place within a few short Months.

     

                The Martyrdom on Saint Stephen