No doubt most of us have seen services with deacons. They add beauty and solemnity to the Liturgy, particularly when they are serving with a bishop present. However, a deacon’s rule is not limited to serving at a bishop’s liturgy. For example, on occasion, a deacon can preach. Deacons can distribute Holy Communion, especially when they are visiting the sick. Deacons also have the role of supporting the charitable outreach of the church, helping those in need, for example, feeding the hungry.
The beginning of the office of deacon is found in chapter six of the Acts of the Apostles. At that time the young Christian church was distributing food to the hungry in Jerusalem. However, important though this was, the apostles felt that their mission was primarily to preach and teach the Gospel. So they ordained seven men to serve the hungry.
These were first deacons and the word “deacon” actually means one who serves. Among them was St. Stephen. St. Stephen helped the needy but he also boldly preached the Gospel. Because of this, he was arrested and put on trial before the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. At his trial, and in his defense, he told of how God had chosen the Jewish people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. St. Stephen talked in detail of how the coming of Christ had been prepared for during the Old Testament times, showing that Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. This speech so offended the Jewish leaders that they condemned St. Stephen to death by stoning. As he was being stoned he saw a vision of Jesus Christ and moments before his death prayed that those who stoned him would be forgiven much as Christ forgave those who crucified Him.
We see, therefore, that St. Stephen was one of the first deacons and was the protomartyr, i.e., the first martyr, of the early Christian church. Interesting, Saul (later the Apostle Paul) was among the crowd present on that occasion.
Troparion — Tone 4
Your relics have risen from the depths of the earth, like a treasury for the immortal life of all
of creation. The Church, rejoicing in the grace that she receives from them, duteously honors you, Protomartyr Stephen. Preserve us from error and heresy by your intercession!
Kontakion — Tone 6
You were the first to be sown on the earth by the Heavenly Husbandman, O all-praised one. You were the first to shed your blood on the earth for Christ, O blessed one. You were the first to receive the crown of victory from Him in heaven, Stephen, first of the suffering God-crowned martyrs.