St Stephen – Protomartyr (or First Martyr) of Christianity
(Died about 34AD)
Stephen has the double distinction of being the first deacon and the first martyr.
All that we know of him is contained in chapters 6 & 7 of the Acts of the Apostles.
The disciples were increasing in number through conversion, and the commitment to look after those in need was proving too much for the apostles ; and so it was that they asked the people to choose; ‘from amongst them, seven men of good standing; full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint for the task’.
The first listed is Stephen – "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit".
Stephen did a great deal to fulfil his ministry as deacon and spread the Gospel amongst the people, but he had many enemies, those who did not want to listen to his preaching, and eventually a group of men led Stephen out of the city where they stoned him to death
Before he died, Stephen cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”. In this way he imitated his Master who forgave the enemies who were crucifying Him.
Stephen’s feast has been kept from the fourth century or earlier. He became patron to deacons at an early stage. In art, he is usually depicted with a book of the Gospels, a stone or stones (as opposite) and the martyr’s palm. In more recent times, because of his service to God, he has become the patron saint of Altar Servers.
His feast day is on 26th December each year.
(For more information about deacons and the diaconate in the modern Church, click here )