09 May 2009

'You Gave the Law to the Lawless'—St Stephen of Perm

Today, 26 April, we celebrate the memory of St Stephen of Perm (also known as Степан Храп). A holy hierarch of the fourteenth century and friend of St Sergius of Radonezh, for whom he had ‘a great spiritual affection’ (The Northern Thebaid, comp. and trans. Frs Seraphim [Rose] and Herman [Podmoshensky] [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995], p. 33), St Stephen of Perm is most famous as a missionary who converted the (Finno-Ugric) Komi people of Perm, in the Northeastern part of European Russia. Here is the account of his life in the Prologue:

Stephen was a Russian by birth [although it should be added that, he is believed to have been born in Velikii Ustiug of a Komi mother—see the brief Life here]. From an early age he was devoted to prayer and pious thoughts. As a young man, Stephen went to Rostov where he was tonsured a monk in the monastery of St Gregory the Theologian. Learning about the Land of Perm, completely overrun with the weeds of heathenism, Stephen desired to become a missionary in this land. He immediately dedicated himself to the studying of the language of the Perms and when he mastered the language, he composed an alphabet and translated the ecclesiastical books into that language. With the blessing of the Metropolitan of Moscow, Stephen, as a presbyter, started out on his apostolic mission and with apostolic zeal began to preach the Gospel in this dense darkness of the heathenism of Perm. Having baptized a few souls, he endeavored to build a church in Perm dedicated to the Holy Annunciation. When the Church of God flourished in Perm, he was consecrated as its bishop. Undergoing every hardship, affliction, maliciousness and humiliation, he succeeded to dispel the darkness among the heathens of Perm and to illuminate them with the Light of Christ. In his old age he returned to Moscow once more but, there ended his earthly life and took up habitation with the Lord in the year 1396 AD.

Epiphanius the Wise has written a panegyric to St Stephen in the famous ‘word-weaving’ style that he perfected (‘word-weaving’ was already discussed in this post on St Euthymius of Tŭrnovo). Here is part of Nicholas Zernov’s translation as given in Serge A. Zenkovsky, ed., Medieval Russia’s Epics, Chronicles, and Tales, rev. ed. (NY: Meridian, 1974), pp. 260-2:

My father, lord, and bishop, although you have passed away, I should like to sing your praises with my heart, with my tongue, and with my mind. When you were alive, I often was your annoyance, but now I am your panegyrist; and sometimes I would argue with you about happenings and works, about some verses or some lines, but now, remembering your enduring patience, your great reasoning, and your blessed humility, I humble myself; I cry, shedding tears.

And now, how shall I call you, my bishop?
How shall I name you?
How shall I appeal to you?
How shall I announce you?
How shall I regard you?
How shall I proclaim you?
How shall I praise you?
How shall I esteem you?
How shall I gratify you?
How shall I present you?
How shall I weave lauds to you?

Shall I call you a prophet,
since you prophesied prophetic prophecies,
and, like a prophet, explained the hopes of the prophets,
and among the people, faithless and unlearned,
you were a prophet?

Shall I call you an Apostle,
since you performed apostolic deeds
and, acting like an Apostle, following the examples of Apostles,
acted, following in the steps of the Apostles?

Shall I call you a lawgiver or a lawmaker,
since you gave the law to the lawless,
brought faith to the lawless,
and established the law among them?

Shall I call you the Baptist,
since you baptized many
who came to you to be baptized?

Shall I call you a preacher, since,
like a herald who announces in the town square,
you loudly preached the word of God to the heathens?

Shall I call you an evangelist,
since you proclaimed Grace to them
and the Holy Evangel of Christ,
and performed many deeds of the annunciator of Grace?

Shall I call you bishop,
since you were the great archbishop and the eldest bishop,
since you consecrated priests in your land,
and since you were above all other priests?

Shall I call you a teacher,
since you taught the heathens who had gone astray, since
you brought the faith to the heathens
and taught men who were unlearned?

Shall I call you a sufferer or a martyr,
since, like a martyr, you surrendered yourself
into the hands of men who were cruel in torturing,
since you were as a sheep among wolves,
since you accepted martyrdom, suffering, and torment?

And I, a great and unlearned sinner,
following the words that eulogize you,
do knit words and create words,
attempting to glorify you with words.
Gathering the words of praise,
and adding and weaving words,
I ask: How shall I eulogize you?
Shall I call you
the pastor of those who have gone astray,
the redeemer of those who have perished,
the teacher of those who were enticed,
the leader of those whose sight has been darkened,
the cleanser of those who have been defiled,
the guardian of the soldiers,
the consoler of those who are afflicted,
the nourisher of those who hunger,
the provider for those in need,
the punisher of those who are simpleminded,
the sustainer of the offended,
the one who prays for others fervently,
the intercessor for the faithful,
the savior of the heathens,
the curser of demons,
the breaker of idols,
the destroyer of graven images,
the servant of God,
the upholder of wisdom,
the lover of philosophy,
the protector of chastity,
the defender of the truth,
the writer of books,
the creator of Permian letters?

Many epithets have you received, O Bishop!
Many titles have you won!
Many gifts have you deserved!
Many blessings have enriched you!

As St Stephen is ‘the creator of Permian letters’, his feastday is also known as ‘Old Permic Alphabet Day’ among the Komi (see the Wikipedia article here). The alphabet, which apart from Hungarian made Komi the oldest written Finno-Ugric language, was a combination of some Greek/Cyrillic letters with the rune-like native Komi tamga signs. Old Permic was used for three hundred years, until finally some adaptations were made to the Cyrillic alphabet so that it could be used. There is a sample of the old writing to the left, and one can see a brief description and a key to the alphabet here.

There is a ROCOR parish in Australia dedicated to St Stephen of Perm (see here), and he is also the Patron Saint of my own father. Many years to the parishioners of St Stephen Church, and many years, dad, on your nameday!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Aaron, for the remembrance. What a blessing to remember this day the dedicated labors of this gifted communicator who, by his deeds and with the grace of God, saved many! St Stephen of Perm, pray to God for us all!!