St. Stephen the Protomartyr
Stephen or Stephan (Stephanos; meaning wreath or crowned, often given as a title rather than as a name), traditionally venerated as the Protomartyr or first martyr of Christianity, was according to the Acts of the Apostles a deacon in the early church at Jerusalem who aroused the enmity of members of various synagogues by his teachings.
St. Stephen was a Jew living in the Hellenic provinces, related to the Apostle Paul and one of the first seven deacons ordained by the Apostles to serve the Church in Jerusalem (thus making him an archdeacon).
In the words of Asterias,:St Stephen was "the starting point of the martyrs, the instructore of suffering for Christ, the foundation of righteous confession, since Stephen was the first to shed his blood for the Gospel."
The Holy Spirit worked powerfully through his faith, enabling him to perform many miracles and always defeat the Jews who would dispute with him.
The Jews in their hatred of St. Stephen lied about him to the people, but St. Stephen with his face illumined reminded the people of the miracles God had worked through him and even rebuked the Jews for killing the innocent Christ.
The people were enraged by what they thought was blasphemy and 'gnashed their teeth' at Stephen. It was then that he saw his Christ in the heavens and declared it so. Hearing this, the Jews took him outside the city and stoned him to death, with his kinsman Saul (later St. Paul) holding their coats while they did it. Afar off on a hill was the Virgin Mary and St. John the Theologian who witnessed this first martyrdom for the Son of God and prayed for him while he was being stoned. This occurred about a year after the first Pentecost. His martyrdom was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee who would later himself become a follower of Jesus.
According to Orthodox belief, the "Jews shouted and covered their ears, and rushed at him. They dragged him out of the city and stoned him, but the holy martyr prayed for his murderers." The 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", later to be known as Paul the Apostle. 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]. Saul, a witness to the stoning on behalf of the Roman controled Sanhedrin, "approved of their killing him".[Acts 8:1]
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