Today is the feast of St. Stephen, called the protomartyr as he was the first martyr of the Church. He was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel, not long after Christ’s death. He was also one of the first seven deacons of the Church ordained by the Apostles.
I was kidding with my pastor yesterday that I thought the Feast of St. Stephen should be a holy day of obligation…. being a deacon and all. He only kindly smiled.
Here is what the Holy Father had to say about St. Stephen today during his Angelus address:
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, deacon and the first martyr of the Church. The historian Eusebius of Cesarea defined Stephen as the “perfect martyr” (Die Kirchengeshichte V, 2.5: GCS II, 1, Lipsia 1903,430), because it is written in the Acts of the Apostles, “Stephen, full of grace and power, performed great works and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). St. Gregory of Nyssa comments, “He was an honest man and full of the Holy Spirit; with goodness of heart he carried out his mission of feeding the poor and with the freedom of the word and the power of the Holy Spirit he closed the mouths of the enemies of the truth” (Sermon on St. Stephen II: GNO X, 1, Leiden 1990, 98). A man of prayer and of evangelization, Stephen, whose name means “crown,” received from God the gift of martyrdoml. In fact, he “full of the Holy Spirit… saw the glory of God” (Acts 7: 55) and while he was stoned, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7: 59). Then, have fallen to his knees, he begged forgiveness for his accusers, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them” (Acts 7: 60). Because of this, the Eastern Church sings the hymn, “The stones have become for you hailstones and stairs rising to heaven… and you have drawn close to the glorious and festive gathering of the angels” (MHNAIA t. II, Roma 1889, 694.695).
To all my brother deacons of the world: Happy Feast Day!