"…when the number of disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of disciples and said…brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business…And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit…"
Stephen was the first of the seven deacons ordained by the Holy Apostles in order to provide service to the poor. This is why he is regarded the "Archdeacon," the first among deacons.
Born into a faithful Jewish family, he spent his youth studying the Old Testament and desired to become a rabbi. Stephen was driven with the desire to be the most competent rabbi so he became the student of the famous rabbinical theologian, Gamaliel. Stephen lived during a time when the Christian Church was being established. Upon completion of his studies, Stephen questioned the validity of the Christian teachings. In short time, he discovered its truth in Jesus Christ, the Risen Messiah. The descent of the Holy Spirit fifty days following the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ inspired many to be baptized (Pentecost). The first Christians sold all their possessions and made their offering at the feet of the Apostles. This generous act was one that freed them from worldly cares and enabled them to live as one community. However, the growth of the Church meant that the Apostles had less time for prayer and ministry. To assist them, the Apostles established the ministry of the deaconate.
As the Archdeacon, Stephen did more than serve the material needs of the Christian community, he also preached with a knowledge and power that comes only from God. The leaders of the Jewish community in Jerusalem became angry at Stephen’s ability to bring people to belief in Jesus Christ and brought charges of blasphemy against him. As Stephen stood before the Jewish tribunal, "the council looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15). In chapter seven of the Book of Acts we read the account of Stephen’s remarks to the high priest and his council. As he spoke of God’s love and kindness their hatred towards him grew and they were convinced that he should be put to death. As he concluded his God inspired testimony Stephen said: "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" This infuriated them and they dragged him out of the city and "they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ The he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:39-40). Being the first to give his life for Christ earned him the title of "Protomartyr."
How did this young Christian express his stewardship to his new Church and Faith? A learned scholar of the Old Testament, Stephen did not aspire for positions of leadership or honor as other learned men would expect, but to a life of service and teaching. He was ordained a deacon, and as such, he spent his life assisting the priests in their liturgical functions and teaching the people every day. As a deacon, whose task it was to provide various services, his was not a role that was subject to a particular authority, but a position that was offered in imitation of Christ Whose example is one of servant leadership. We, too, can learn from the example of St. Stephen if we contemplate upon the words of St. Paul in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians and apply them to our lives: "For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake" (2 Cor. 4:5).
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