Saturday, December 26, 2015SAINT STEPHEN
There are several noteworthy details about the martyrdom of Stephen. Stephen was one of a group of the first Deacons in the Church who were called and ordained to minister to the poor widows, so that the apostles could continue their presiding ministry of preaching. Yet Stephen wound up making a speech for Christ to his fellow Jews that cost him his life. He pulled no punches. Neither did his opponents, who seized him to stone him to death. Stephen then cried out as he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Many writers have commented that the Lord was seen standing (rather than seated) because he identified with Stephen as his first martyr/witness. The identification with Jesus continues, because Stephen, as he died, prayed the Lord to forgive his killers and then commended his spirit to Jesus just as the Lord had done to the Father.
One other detail is the presence of the young man who consented to Stephen’s death and kept the garments of those who stoned him, the man named Saul. He is none other than Saint Paul the Apostle before his conversion. Saul had not apparently known Jesus in the flesh but was a leading persecutor of the Church. Perhaps, when Saul was struck blind on the Damascus Road, when Christ revealed himself to him, perhaps the voice of the risen Lord sounded like Stephen’s: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Or perhaps like a harmony of the voices of all those Saul had hurt or imprisoned. Felix Mendelssohn’s beautiful oratorio, Paulus, uses a female chorus for this line, perhaps reflecting Christ speaking through the whole Church.
We give thee thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to thy Son Jesus Christ, who standeth at thy right hand; where he liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.