Feast of Saint Stephen

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Feast of Saint Stephen

Saint Stephen, 14th century; written by Giotto; located at Horne Museum, Florence

Whatever we know about Saint Stephen we learn from the Bible, Acts 6-7.  By piecing together known historical facts we make conclusions about his life history.  His name, Stephanos, is Greek, meaning a crown or a king. The fact that he was living in Jerusalem and verbally sparring with Jewish authorities in the synagogue leads to the conclusion he was a Hellenistic Christian Jew.  The Jews who spoke Greek prayed in the synagogues in Greek, whereas the Jews of Palestine prayed in Hebrew.  The problem stemmed from the distribution of food and other necessities.  Widows and others were not getting their fair share.  Those not getting their fair share were very likely the Hellenist widows and orphans.  Stephen, one of seven men of good repute, is named first in the choice of deacons, over whom the Apostles prayed and laid hands. Stephen succeeded so well as a preacher of Christianity that the leaders of the synagogue, unable to down him in debate, had him arrested for blasphemy and brought before the Sanhedrin.  He spoke eloquently in his own defense and described a vision of Christ standing at the right hand of God.  His listeners “gnashed” their teeth and dragged him outside the city walls where they stoned him to death.  Because Jewish leaders had no right to punish anyone by death without permission of the Romans it is concluded that his execution occurred between the end of the term of Pontius Pilate and the beginning of the next appointed governor, historians placing the event in 34 or 35 A.D. While he was being stoned Stephen verbally asked God to forgive his murderers.  Saul, who held the cloaks and approved of the slaying, was among those for whom Stephen sought forgiveness. Not long afterwards Saul met Christ on the road to Damascus. 

Common license: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Stephen_11cent.jpg  Photo by: user:Shako
Stephen, 11th c. Byzantine icon, Hermitage
“The work of the first martyr was fulfilled in the work of St. Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles” (Butler, p.1). In The Church’s Year of Grace by Dr. Pius Parsch Volume One, Advent to Candlemas, Parsch writes:  In charity he (St. Stephen) corrected the erring that they would amend; in charity he prayed for his executors that they would not be punished.  By the virtue of charity he conquered the fire-breathing Saul and so merited to have his persecutor on earth as companion in heaven (p. 217).  Saint Stephen is patron of many churches including the cathedrals of Toulouse, Bourges, and Sens.  Forty-six ancient churches in England built after the Norman Conquest are named after him.

May Saint Stephen, first martyr, intercede for us.


 __________ 1. Butler‘s Lives of the Saints New Full edition December Revised by Kathleen Jones  pages 204-205, The Liturgical Press. 2.  The Church’s Year of Grace by Dr. Pius Parsch  Volume One Advent to Candlemas,  The Liturgical Press Pages 216-219. 3. Dictionary of Saints by John J. Delaney,  pages 533-534, Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1980.

—Sister Marie Therese Poliquin, OSB

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