Shanore News

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Ireland Seems to Love Him, but Who Was St. Stephen?

In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day is a holiday and St. Stephen’s Green is a beloved, popular Dublin park.  So who was Stephen?

by Andy Doyle
by Andy Doyle

The second day of Christmas is December 26th, and in Ireland, we celebrate St. Stephen’s Day on that day.  Now, the customs such as hunting the wren and the straw costumes are more well-known than the saint, but at one point he must have captured the Irish imagination.  We have a few things named for him including the oasis known as St. Stephen’s Green and its namesake shopping center across the street, a landmark Georgian Anglican church known to Dubliners as ‘the pepper canister’, and many other less famous churches and schools.

by Karen Bryan

While the name Stephen hasn’t been in any top 10 or 20 baby names lists in Ireland, it does rank 23rd on one website’s top 100 Irish boys’ names.  There are two Irish variations on the name: Stiofán and Steafán.  Steven is not a common spelling here.  Despite all this, Stephen the saint is not the most well-known around.  So who was he?  He was a pivotal figure in the earliest days of Christianity and the first to be killed for his belief that Jesus was the fulfilment of the prophesy that God would send His chosen one to the world.

The First Christian Martyr

 

by Jan Murin
by Jan Murin

Little is known about Stephen’s early life, although the hints in the New Testament suggest it is possible he was a Jewish Greek who had traveled to Jerusalem and became a Christian.  His conversion is not described in the Bible.  He was part of a community of Greek speaking Christians known as Hellenists.  He appears in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles (6:1) when he was chosen from among the Apostles followers as one of a group of seven delegated to deal with growing allegations of discrimination against Hellenists in the distribution of charity.

by William Murphy
by William Murphy

Early Christians shared their belongings with the wealthy bringing their excess possessions to public tables where they were distributed among those in need.  The Hellenists were outsiders – foreigners who spoke another language, and apparently even then there were some who felt they should ‘help their own first’ and were giving the lion’s share of the donations to locals.  The twelve apostles did not have time to deal with the matter themselves because of their work spreading the words of Jesus, but did want to have it sorted out, so they appointed seven men to ensure the donations were being shared out fairly among those in need.

Stephen clearly upset the apple cart, as did Jesus of course.  He was eventually found guilty of blasphemy for saying that Jesus’s teachings superseded those of Moses.  For this, he was stoned to death and died praying for those who killed him.  He is the patron saint of bricklayers, deacons and the nation of Hungary.

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