We commemorate St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, on December 27. My wife and I will celebrate our first wedding anniversary on this day. My family also mark the anniversary of our conversion to Orthodox Christianity.
I had little idea who St. Stephen was until I walked in the door of an Orthodox Church for the first time. The first Christian martyr was patron of the church where I began my journey.
The Apostles appointed Stephen as one of the first deacons (Acts 6:5). He began his ministry by debating the Jewish teachers of the Law, and drew their condemnation. Stephen was called before the Sanhedrin, which was the supreme counsel in Israel. He was accused of blasphemy against God for his preaching that Jesus was the Messiah.
St. Stephen gave an impassioned defense of his preaching, which enraged the Jewish leaders. They dragged him outside the city walls and stoned him to death.
During his execution, Stephen saw a vision of Christ sitting at the right hand of God. He prayed for his murderers, saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. O Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”
Our Family Icon
The icon of St. Stephen depicts the protomartyr holding a small church in his hand. This symbolizes his role in building the Church that Christ established on earth. Once we began attending the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, my family and I regularly took a position near an icon of St. Stephen.
My wife and I were engaged to be married when I took a job in another city. We had to move away from our home parish to begin a new life in a new place. We also began to prepare not only for marriage, but for reception into the Church.
Our wedding took place on the day Orthodox Christians commemorate St. Stephen, as did our reception into the Orthodox Church. One of our sponsors gifted us with an icon of the martyrdom of St. Stephen. This icon now has a prominent place on our icon stand. It represents not only our coming together as a family, but also our becoming Orthodox.
St. Stephen helps us in the face of trouble as well. His example of faith even in the face of death is helping us cope with the loss of our child. When we hear of Christians executed for their faith, we think of the sacrifice of St. Stephen. He teaches us to love and forgive even those who would do us harm.
We have found the true faith in part through the work of the first Christian martyr. Pray for us St. Stephen.
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