FEast: Dec. 26th
stoneworkers, headaches, Serbia, Deacons, liturgy coordinators and servers
Known as the very first martyr, Stephen was a Greek-speaking Jew. How he came to be a Christian and know the 12 Apostles personally, we don't know, but he was chosen by the 12 as Archdeacon, charged with taking care of the Greek-speaking widows that were often overlooked when the disciples distributed food and alms.
He was among seven men chosen for this task, but out of all of them, he was the best speaker and perhaps the oldest, and therefore chosen as the leader. Apparently he was such a great speaker and so well-known for his faith that he was challenged to a dispute in a synagogue with Jewish leaders. His arguments were so solid and well-spoken that no one could challenge a word he said, so, enraged Jewish officials charged him with blasphemy. When he was put on trial, witnesses made things up about him, but despite all the lies and hate they brought against him, he remained peaceful, and continued to speak in his truthful, wise way. When he exclaimed that he saw a vision of Jesus in Heaven, at the end of his speech, the crowd could no longer take their anger and began to throw stones at him. St. Paul, known as Saul as this was before his conversion, was also present, and approved of Stephen's execution.
Stephen prayed that God forgive the people for this - just as Jesus had on the cross - and he died right after.
After his death, the disciples that had remained mostly fled, many to Antioch, for fear of their lives, as this was the first time a person had been killed simply for believing in Jesus.
Somehow, all records of where Stephen was buried after this were lost. It may have been that he was unceremoniously tossed by his executioners somewhere, with other Christians too afraid to bury the body somewhere of importance. However, in the year 415, a priest had a dream that Stephen's remains were buried North of Jerusalem - a trip to the spot did indeed turn up a tomb bearing Stephen's name. Tradition also says that the remains were transported to the North Gate of Jerusalem, which was thought to be the site of his martyrdom. Interestingly, St. Augustine also wrote about miracles that occurred when Stephen's remains were brought through Africa.
As the first martyr, you are a wonderful saint to join us in the fight for the end of capital punishment. taking lives that God created is never permissible, and adds to a death and throwaway culture. May we understand the paradox of capital punishment despite our anger and fears.
Since martyrs are so often pictured with their method of murder, I chose to portray Stephen with a more modern form of "stones" pictured on his sweatshirt. His eyes are raised to his vision of heaven, though he looks afraid - he did not have any previous martyrs to give him the strength and courage to endure his torture and death as all future martyrs did.