An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Stephen, Saint, Deacon and Martyr

(First Christian martyr. He was a Hellenist, a Greek-speaking Jew born and reared outside Palestine. His name is Greek, meaning “crown.” He was one of the seven chosen by the Jerusalem congregation to see that the Hellenistic Jewish Christians got their fair share of the contributions. Stephen's preaching caused a revolution in the attitude of some of the Jewish people toward the young Christian church. There was a period of persecution which scattered Christians into many parts of the world outside Jerusalem. The young Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, witnessed Stephen's stoning and heard the martyr's prayer for his enemies. Saul eventually took up the work cut short by Stephen's death. Tradition says that Stephen's burial place was discovered on Dec. 5, 415, and that his bones were moved to Jerusalem on Dec. 26. Some scholars say that Dec. 26 was chosen as St. Stephen's Day because he was the first martyr for Christ and that he appropriately appears first in the procession of saints who surround the cradle of Christ. Stephen is commemorated in the Episcopal calendar of the church year on Dec. 26.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.