The Seven Deacons: Stephen, the Martyr

In Acts 6:1-6 we find mention of seven deacons. However, only two are well know. These two are Stephen and Philip.

Acts tells us these seven men were selected as men of good standing and full of the Spriit and wisdom. They were appointed to care for the community, particuarly the widows and hungry.

Tradition states these seven men are part of the seventy disciples mentioned in Luke 10.

So, who were these men? What do you we know about them?

After the ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room, we are told of the choosing of seven deacons.

Of these seven, only Stephen and Philip are the best know.

So, who were these seven men and what do we know about them?

Stephen is probably the best known of the deacons and his faith which lead to martyrdom.

His name is Greek and means crown or wreath.

He is counted among the Seventy Apostles.

According to Orthodox belief, he was the eldest and is therefore called “archdeacon”.

Nothing is known about Stephen’s previous life, although some historians believe he may have been a Hellenistic Jew or converted to Judaism.

Acts 6:5,8 says Stephen was ” full of faith and the Holy Spirit and to have performed miracles among the people.”

He bested those in the Synagogues in debate and was dragged before the Sanhedrin where he was accused of blasphemy.

Acts 7 provides the long speech Stephen made, where he recounts the stories of the patriarchs, in regards to the charges brought against him. He also spoke out about Israel’s disobedience to God and chastised them for murdering Jesus.

The crowd became angry and he was stoned to death, becoming the first mentioned martyr of the Christian faith, after Jesus Christ.

However, Stephen looked up and cried, “Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God!” He said that the recently executed Jesus was standing by the side of God.  {Acts 7:54}

We also know Saul, who later became Paul, was present. “he people from the crowd, who threw the first stones, laid their coats down so as to be able to do this, at the feet of a “young man named Saul”. Stephen prayed that the Lord would receive his spirit and his killers be forgiven, sank to his knees, and “fell asleep”.  {Acts 7:58-60}

The exact site of his stoning is unknown. One archeologists states the event occurred at the North Gate and another claims it happened at the Eastern Gate. The Crusaders called the North Gate “Saint Stephen’s Gate” at the beginning of the era, and the name was transferred to the Eastern Gate by the end of the Crusader period.

Acts 8:2 says, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him”.  The exact location is unknown.

Legend states his relics are said to have been revealed to a priest named Lucian in 415AD and interred beside Saint Lawrence. The Holy Roman Empire is said to have a gold and jewel encrusted box soaked with his blood and his right arm at Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in Russia.

December 26, is called Saint Stephen’s Day. The Feast of Stephen is mentioned in the English Christmas Carol “Good King Wenceslas”.

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