St. Stephen, the First Martyr

Reading Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59
Gospel Matthew 10:17-22

“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Today’s feast is similar to the feast of the Holy Innocents, whom we’ll honor in the Sacred Liturgy in two days. To some, the celebration of these martyrs within just days of celebrating the birth of the tiny God-man might seem macabre. In fact, the Sacred Liturgy is focusing our attention on the integrity of our Faith.

After all, today’s First Reading—relating to us the martyrdom of Stephen—is set not long after the birth of the Church at Pentecost. St. Stephen, we might say, is the “first fruits” of Pentecost.

“Jesus was born into this world only in order to teach us how to die to this world.” St. Stephen’s faith-filled martyrdom focuses our attention on this truth. Each of us in our turn must accept death, and the spiritual practice of mortification, as a way of life.