Commemoration of St Stephen the Protomartyr and the first martyr
St Stephen is one of the most beloved saints of the Universal Church, the first person martyred for the sake of Christ’s doctrine of love.
According to the hagiographical sources he was from the royal dynasty of Judas and was the son of law abiding parents. Whilst still a young man, he was the servant of the chief priest Kayipaya. According to the same sources, when the Lord was taken to his home, Stephen took off the cloth from his head and spread it under the Lord’s feet thus expressing his true and sincere love. This naturally annoyed the chief priest and he turned Stephen out. Stephen witnessed the death and burial of our Lord but rejoiced with the apostles for the Glorious Resurrection of Christ. According to St Gregory of Tatev, he went to the apostles Peter and John and was baptised. At the moment of baptism a crown appeared on the water. After that miraculous event he was called “Stephen” meaning (crowned). From the Acts of the Apostles it is known that after the Pentecost, apostles served food and gave subsidies to the poor. From day to day the number of those who believed in Christ increased. As the apostles were unable to meet the needs of everybody, they asked their disciples to choose seven persons of good reputation to serve the food. According to St Luke the Evangelist, one of them was St Stephen, “… a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). By the power received from Christ, the apostles ordained him a deacon. Stephen worked wonders thanks to his God granted virtues and power. Many people tried to argue with him, but no one was as wise as Stephen.
Some people were persuaded to say that Stephen scolded God and the Prophet Moses, thus inciting the people. As a result, the priests and the lawyers took Stephen to court. In his speech, in his defense, Stephen proved that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and reproached the Jews for their cruelty. He was stoned out of the city and his cloths were put before a man whose name was Saul and who later became the Apostle Peter. In the beginning he persecuted Christians but later he knew the true God – Jesus Christ, and became the most zealous preacher of the Gospel. St Stephen was the first person martyred for the sake of Christ and that’s why he is called Protomartyr.
According to the tradition Gamaliel, the teacher of the Apostle Peter and Nicodemus, his brother, who were secret disciples of Jesus, buried St Stephen’s body on their farm. Soon a priest named Lukianus discovered the relics. And Pontiff Hovhan of Jerusalem put them in St Sion. In the fifth century, Princess Juliane found the saint’s tabernacle in Jerusalem and took it to Constantinople, and later, to Venice and buried it in the Church of St George (St. Gevorg) island.