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St. Stephen

The First Martyr: AD 34 - Feast Day 26th December

Stephen, one of the seven 'deacons', became the church's first martyr.

In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, Stephen is described as one of the seven, whose job it was to ensure the care of the Hellenist widows who, till then, had felt neglected in the early church in Jerusalem . In the Acts of the Apostles Stephen is described as "a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost". His eloquent speech before the Sanhedrin in which he shows the great sweep of Jewish history as leading to the birth of Jesus - the long expected Messiah - and his impassioned plea that all might hear the good news of Jesus, leads to his inevitable martyrdom by being stoned to death.

As the author of Acts, Luke's description of Stephen bears direct parallels to that of Christ: for example, the passion; being filled with the Holy Spirit; seeing the Son of God as the right hand of God, as Jesus promised he would be; commending his spirit to Jesus, as Jesus commended his to the Father; kneeling as Jesus did in Gethsemane and asking forgiveness for his persecutors. Luke, thus sees witnessing to Jesus, by acting like Jesus in every way, as of the very essence of the Christian life.

The Apostles laid hands upon Stephen and the seven as they began their calling to a different emphasis of ministry from the Apostles, and thus they have been thought of as the first deacons, though not titled such at that time.


1st Century

Phoebe is recognised as the first woman deacon, although we know little about her life. St Paul thanked her in public for her hospitality and for meeting the needs of the people in Cenchreae, and urging others to help her with her ministry as "a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae."

St John Chrysostom praised Phoebe's work for the church as an inspiration and model for both men and women to imitate.

St. Laurence

Martyr - Feast Day 10th August

The Emperor Valerian in 257 published his edicts against Christians and a year later Pope Sixtus II was put to death. Four days later the faithful deacon Laurence followed him to martyrdom.

Few facts are known of St Laurence but according to tradition, Laurence was ordered to bring the treasures of the Church to the prefect. Laurence went all over the city, seeking out the poor who were supported by the Church, gathered them together and invited the prefect to come and see the treasures of the Church. When asked where the treasure was Laurence replied, "These ARE the treasures of the Church." The prefect was furious and Laurence was ordered to be burnt to death on a gridiron.

Laurence died on 10th August 258.


Deaconess: 327 to 379 - Commemoration 19th July

Macrina was the elder sister of St Basil the Great and St Gregory of Nyssa. By her strength of character she exercised a deep influence upon her brothers, especially in winning Basil from a promising secular career for the Christian priesthood. She also established a flourishing community on the family estate in Pontus. She was known for her competence as a theologian.

St. Francis of Assisi

Friar: Feast Day 4th October

St Francis of AssisiOne of the best known of all the saints, Francis (1181-1226) seems to have universal appeal as one who most nearly reflected the spirit of Jesus. Born of a well to do family in Assisi, Francis lived a lavish and ostentatious life but was uninterested in his Father's business or in learning.

Following imprisonment, illness and witnessing poverty, he began to visit the hospitals, serve the sick, give to the poor - sometimes his clothes, sometimes money. One day he heard a voice telling him "Francis, go and repair my house". As a result of selling some of his Father's cloth to provide money to rebuild the local church, he was disinherited even giving back the clothes he wore which his Father had provided. Thus began his life of utter poverty and simplicity in the service of others and his leading and enabling of many through the ages to live for others rather than for themselves.

Wall sculpture of St Francis in Alnmouth FriaryAt Christmas in 1223 at Grecchio, he set up a crib at the hermitage. The peasants crowded to the Midnight Mass, at which Francis served as Deacon and preached on the Christmas mystery. The 'stations of the cross' are likewise attributed to Francis' desire to enable people to go on 'pilgrimage' who were too poor to travel to the Holy Land.

Francis' love of nature in all its forms as witnessing to the presence of God is probably the reason for his popularity today. We should not forget however, that his life saw much suffering and rejection (by family, as well as by officials in the Church), and that this culminated in his receiving the stigmata (the physical manifestation of the wounds of Christ in his body) two years before he died.


Deacon: 7th Century - Commemoration 11th October

James was companion of St Paulinus, Bishop of York. When Paulinus returned to Kent in 633, James was apparently the sole member of the mission to the north left behind. According to Bede he resided chiefly at a village near Catterick. On the restoration of Christianity in Northumbria, James took an active and successful part in spreading the Gospel and, skilful in music, he taught his converts the Gregorian Chant.

In 664 he was present, on St Wilfrid's side at the Synod of Whitby.

Nicholas Ferrar

Deacon: Feast Day 2nd December

Nicholas FerrerFounder of the Little Gidding Community. Also the chosen "patron deacon" of the London Company of Deacons (formed in 2006).

Having trained in medicine, Nicholas (1593-1637) became greatly immersed in business affairs and then a Member of Parliament. However he turned his back on that world and went with some of his family to Little Gidding where he founded a community based on contemplation, devotion and order in accordance with the principles of the Church of England.

Nicholas Ferrar Chapel, Little GiddingIn 1626 he was ordained Deacon by W. Laud, and under his direction his household of some 30 persons lived a life of prayer and work under a strict rule. Broken up by the puritans ten years after his death, the community was a unique example of religious life between the dissolution of the monasteries and their C19 revival.


Some of the London Deacons at Little Gidding

Elizabeth Ferard

First Deaconess of the Church of England - Commemorated 18th July.

The Community of St Andrew dates back to 1861 when Elizabeth Ferard, the first deaconess in the Anglican Communion, and three other women began living together in King's Cross. Although the sisters have worked in a number of locations since, the Community has always maintained three main divisions of work: pastoral, teaching and nursing.

Elizabeth was ordained Deaconess by Bishop Tait of London on 18th July 1862. Other dioceses followed suit and the Order was recognised at the Lambeth Conference in 1897. Elizabeth died on Easter Day 1883.

Isabella Gilmore

Deaconess: 1923 - Commemoration 16th April

Born in 1842, Isabella Gilmore, the sister of William Morris, was a nurse at Guy's Hospital in London and in 1886, was asked by Bishop Thorold of Rochester to pioneer deaconess work in his diocese. The bishop overcame her initial reluctance and together they planned for an Order of Deaconesses along the same lines as the ordained ministry. She was ordained in 1887 and a training house developed on North Side, Clapham Common, later to be called Gilmore House in her memory. Isabella herself retired in 1906 and, during her nineteen years of service, she trained head deaconesses for at least seven other dioceses.

At her memorial service, Dr Randall Davidson predicted that "Some day, those who know best will be able to trace much of the origin and root of the revival of the Deaconess Order to the life, work, example and words of Isabella Gilmore."

She died on 16th April 1923.

Charles de Foucauld

Commemorated 1st December

Charles de Foucauld was born in 1858 and led a dissipated life as a young cavalry officer. In 1890, after visiting the Holy Land, he became a Trappist monk and in 1897 became a deacon to the Poor Clares in Jerusalem and Nazareth.

In his later life he was ordained priest and lived as a hermit in Algeria, becoming fluent in the local language. His care and concern for the local tribes-people made him accepted and much loved, though he never sought converts. His Rules for brothers and for sisters in community were the inspiration for the later founding of the Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart and the Little Brothers of Jesus.

Page last updated: Saturday, 04-Jan-2014 11:41:14 CST