We celebrate St Stephens day on 27 December.He was one of the first Deacons and the first Christian Martyr.He was a "man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" (Acts VI,5)
During the time when the disciples were growing in number , there was a disagreement between the Jews and the Greeks.The Greeks were complaining that their widows and orphans were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.The Twelve Apostles called a meeting and decided to appoint seven good men from the Body of the Church to deal with these matters . Amongst these seven was Stephen. It is here that he is first mentioned in the Bible. We are in the dark about his life previous to this appointment. His name is Greek and suggests he was a Hellenist-a Jew born in a foreign land, whose native tongue was Greek. The name Stephanos is the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic Kelil. This may be Stephen's original name as it is inscribed on a slab in his tomb. We also do not know when and under what circumstances he became a Christian.
St Stephen was full of grace and power. He worked great miracles and signs.
Many came and argued with him but they could not hold their own against his wisdom.Because of this he made enemies.
Some Jews put up false witnesses to say that Stephen had blasphemed against Moses and God.
No charge could rouse the mob more. The people and the elders were stirred. Stephen was seized, and brought before the Council. False witnesses were brought to say that Stephen said Jesus would destroy their Customs and the Laws of Moses. All who were sitting in the Council fixed their eyes on him and to them he appeared to have the face of an Angel.
Stephen in a long speech explained to his accusers the mercies of God to Israel throughout the years, and showed the ungratefulness through which Israel had repaid these mercies. This speech contained many things which the Jews did not wish to hear. When he told them how they had betrayed and murdered the Lord, the Council was stirred into a frenzy.
Stephen declared that he could see " the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God." At this his enemies grabbed him and flung him out of the City intending to stone him.
They laid down their garments at the feet of Saul ( who later became St Paul ). Before he died he cried with a loud voice saying
"Lord, lay not this sin to their charge."
As he died he uttered this prayer
" Lord Jesus ,receive my spirit."
Devout men took Stephen's body and mourned and buried him . For centuries it was not known where he had been buried. In 415 a priest called Lucian learned by revelation that his body was in Caphar Gamala , to the North of Jerusalem. His relics were exhumed. They were carried to the Church of Mount Sion . In 460 they were placed in the Basilica erected by Eudocia outside the Damascus Gate on the spot where it was believed the stoning had taken place.
The opinion that St Stephen was martyred East of Jerusalem near the gate called St Stephen's Gate is not heard of until the twelfth Century.
The only source of the life and death of St Stephen is in the Acts of The Apostles VI.