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August 3, 2019

Holy Hieromartyr Stephen, Pope of Rome, and Those With Him


Decapitated Stephen snatched a divine crown,
Before he was a Pope, now he is a Great Martyr.

Our Holy Father Stephen was of Roman birth but of Greek ancestry. He served as Archdeacon under Pope Lucius I, who appointed Stephen his successor. Stephen was the Bishop of Rome from 12 May 254 to his death in 257.

Following the Decian persecution of 250–251, there was disagreement about how to treat those who had lapsed from the faith. Stephen was urged by Faustinus, Bishop of Lyon, to take action against Marcian, the Novatianist Bishop of Arles, who denied penance and communion to the lapsed who repented.

The controversy arose in the context of a broad pastoral problem. During the Decian persecution some Christians had purchased certificates attesting that they had made the requisite sacrifices to the Roman gods. Others had denied they were Christians while yet others had in fact taken part in pagan sacrifices. These people were called "lapsi". The question arose that if they later repented, could they be readmitted to communion with the church, and if so, under what conditions.

Stephen held that converts who had been baptized by splinter groups did not need re-baptism, while Cyprian and certain bishops of the Roman province of Africa held rebaptism necessary for admission to the Eucharist. Stephen's view eventually won broad acceptance in the Latin Church. However, in the Eastern Churches this issue is still debated. He is also mentioned as having insisted on the restoration of the Bishops of León and Astorga, who had been deposed for unfaithfulness during the persecution but afterwards had repented.

The Depositio episcoporum of 354 does not speak of Pope Stephen I as a martyr, in spite of the account in the Synaxarion of Constantinople which states that he was tortured and martyred by beheading after he destroyed a temple to Ares by his prayers. Before his arrest he is said to have converted many pagans who were ordained clergymen and martyred, which inspired him to also pursue martyrdom, and he visited the tomb of Saint Lucia (July 6), where he celebrated the Divine Liturgy. He may be confused with Pope Sixtus II who was martyred with others by beheading on 6 August 258 and celebrated by the Church on August 10th. His skull is kept in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Stephen in Hvar of Croatia.