3. december 2019
“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.“ (Acts 6:2-6)
St. Stephen was among the first seven deacons, or helpers of the twelve apostles, who were unable to fulfil all their duties with the increase of the converted. The Greek word diakonia means service. The basic duty of deacons was to look after the poor and the sick and to distribute charity to orphans and widows. It was the first form of ecclesiastical social service. Being educated and very eloquent, he successfully spread the faith of Christ among Jews from other communities who accepted Greek as their language. However, this greatly offended the Jewish interpreters of the Scripture. Stephen not only claimed that Christ was the Son of God and the Messiah, but also rejected the bloody sacrifices in the temple prescribed by Moses' law. At first they tried to convince Stephen with scholarly arguments, but he refuted all of their claims and by quotations from the Scriptures showed them that they persisted in error. And when they could do nothing against his wisdom, they stirred up the people against him. They claimed he blasphemous against Moses and his law, and finally dragged him in front of the highest council and charged him with blasphemy. Fradulent witnesses came forward saying that he had predicted the collapse of the temple and the repeal of Moses' laws. Instead of defending, Stephen began to speak of Abraham and Moses and accused the Jews of persecuting the prophets as their ancestors did and that they did not themselves maintain God's law. "I see the open skies and the Son of Man standing on the right," he said finally. At that moment, all the members of the council began screaming and plugging their ears. Then they dragged Stephen out of the city and stoned him until he released his soul. The dying deacon prayed for his murderers, "Lord, do not count this sin against them!" After the Feast of God's Birth, the Church included in its calendar the memory of the first martyr - St. Stephen. This holiday was introduced around 380, just a few years after the establishment of Christmas, to enhance their luster. Stephen was the first Christian killed for spreading the teachings of Christ.
The Acts of the Apostles characterize St. Stephen, saying: "full of grace and strength, did wonders and great signs among the people". In another place they say, "but they could not contradict the wisdom and the Spirit who spoke from him ..." and again in another: "and his face appeared to them as the face of an angel." Stephen was full of grace and strength. Today's Christians often admit and experience the weakness. How is it possible that he was strong? He was strong through the acceptance of Jesus Christ. These are the effects of receiving Christ, the Eucharist, but not just the Eucharist. Every communion of Christ transforms us internally and externally. Internally it gives us grace and strength, wisdom and Spirit. Externally, wonders and great signs, mighty speech and face of an angel. By the power of love, we are transformed into the form of the one we love. The Eucharist and openness to Christ also affect the appearance of man. Acts of the Apostles speak of the "face of the angel".