Commemorated on April 26
the Enlightener of Perm', and Apostle to the Zyryani People, was born in
about the year 1340 into the family of the Ustiug church-assistant Simeon.
Under the influence of his pious mother Maria, endowed with great abilities, he
displayed already in his young years an unusual zeal for the service of the
Church: in a single year he learned to read the Holy Books and he assisted his
father in church during Divine-services, fulfilling the duty of kanonarch,
arranging church music, and also that of reader.
In youth the saint
took monastic vows at a monastery in honour of Sainted Gregory the Theologian
at Rostov. The monastery was famed for its fine collection of books. Saint
Stephen wanted to read the holy fathers in the original and for this he studied
the Greek language. In his youth when he had assisted his father in church, he
frequently spoke with the Zyryani people. And now, having been immersed in the
rich culture of the Church, Saint Stephen burned with a desire to convert the
Zyryani to Christ.
For the enlightening
of the Zyryani, he compiled an alphabet of their language and translated into
it some of the Church books. For his pious deed the Rostov bishop, Arsenii
(1374-1380), ordained him to the dignity of monk-deacon. Having prepared
himself for missionary activity, Saint Stephen journeyed to Moscow (1379) to
the Kolomensk bishop, Gerasim, who then oversaw the affairs of the metropolitanate,
and the saint petitioned him: "Bless me, Vladyka, to go into a pagan land
– Perm'. I want to teach the holy faith to the unbelieving people. I am
resolved either to lead them to Christ, or for Christ to lay down my head for
them". The bishop with joy blessed him and ordained him to the dignity of
priest-monk. He provided him with an antimins ("antimension" or
"corporal" for the altar-table), holy chrism and Divine-service
books, and GreatPrince Dimitrii Ioannovich gave him a grammota (document) of
From Ustiug Saint
Stephen made his way along the North Dvina River up to the confluence of the
Vychegda into it, where settlements of the Zyryani began. The proponent of
faith in Christ suffered many a toil, and struggle, deprivation and sorrow,
living amidst the pagans who worshipped idols "with fire, water, trees, a
stone and golden woman-figure, and shaman, and wizard, and wood".
The Zyryani were wont
to make their devotions particularly in front of a so-called
"magic-mischief birch tree". Immense in its thickness and height, the
birch tree grew on an elevated spot. The Zyryani gathered at it and brought
wild animals they caught as sacrifice. Saint Stephen made his cell not far from
the birch tree and made use of the gathering of the superstitious pagans at the
tree, to teach the holy truth. Then Saint Stephen cut down and burnt the birch
tree for the dispelling of the superstition. The Zyryani gathered to kill him.
The saint turned to them preaching: "Judge for yourselves, whether or not
your gods have any power, when they are not able to defend themselves from the
fire? Are they gods, when they are so powerless, and indeed possess not only
not a mind, but neither also ears nor sight? And your divinity could not defend
itself against me, a weak man. Are all your other gods such as this? Not so is
the Christian God. He sees everything, knows everything and is Almighty, since
He created the whole world and fore-thinks everything. And how blessedly good
He is, particularly for those knowing Him! I desire what is good for you,
bringing the True God to you. He wilt love you and bless you, when ye begin to
honour Him genuinely". On the place of "the magic-mischief birch
tree", Saint Stephen built a church in honour of the Archangel Michael,
the dispeller of the spirits of darkness.
The baptised Zyryani
themselves began to do away with that, which earlier they had worshipped: they
cut down sacred trees, they destroyed idols; the rich gifts, set aside for the
pagan sacrifices, they brought to Saint Stephen. He bid his Zyryan helper
Matthew to throw it all into the fire and permitted only the use of the linen
cloth for foot wrappings.
But things came to a
final culmination among the Zyryani after Saint Stephen got the better of their
chief-priest Pam, who rose up against the dissemination of the holy faith. The
pagan priest entered into a debate with Saint Stephen. "Christian, you
have only but the one God, – said Pam, – but we have many an helper on the
dry land, and in the water, granting us a lucky hunt in the forests and with
its abundance providing Moscow, the Horde and faraway lands; they impart to us
the magic mysteries, inaccessible to you". Saint Stephen answered, that
the True God – is one; the Almighty – is one, but that the idol-gods
evidently through the test of experience are powerless. After lengthy dispute
the pagan-priest Pam in a proof of his faith made a challenge to go through
fire and water, and demanded that Saint Stephen do this. "I have no
command of poetic verse, – humbly answered Saint Stephen, – but great is the
Christian God: thus I shall go it with thee". Pam however lost his nerve
and besought the saint to save him from certain death. "Ye art witnesses,
– said Saint Stephen to the gathered people, – how he demanded to resolve the
dispute about faith by means of fire and water, but now doth not wish to be
baptised. Who now hath regard for Pam? What is to be done with him?"
"Let the deceiver be put to death, – answered the people, – for if Pam
be set free, he wilt make mischief for thee". "No, – answered the
saint, – Christ hath sent me not to hand someone over to death, but to teach.
Pam desireth not to accept the saving faith, , wherefore let his stubbornness
punish him, but not I". Pam was banished. In thanksgiving to the Lord for
victory over the chief pagans, Saint Stephen built at Vishero a church in
honour of Saint Nicholas. After this, the preaching of the saint about Christ
began to go all the more successfully.
In 1383 Saint Stephen
was ordained bishop of Malaya Perm' (Lesser Perm'). Like a doting father he
incessantly concerned himself about his flock. For the encouraging in the faith
of the newly-converted, Saint Stephen opened schools alongside the churches,
where they studied the Holy Books in the Permian language. The saint supervised
the instructions, and taught them the necessities for them to become priests
and deacons. Saint Stephen taught several of his students how to write in the
Permian language. The saint constructed churches, in which he put priests from
among the Zyryani, and led Divine-services in the Zyryani tongue.
transposed into the Zyryani language the Chasoslov (Book of Hours), the
Psalter, selected readings from the Gospel and the Epistles, the Paroemnik
(Church-service Old testament readings), the Stikhirar (Church-service
"stikhi" verses), Oktoikhon (Eight Tones), several feastday services
and the Divine liturgy.
During a time of crop
failure the saint provided the Zyryani with bread, many a time he delivered
them from being taken advantage of and from the trickery of corrupt officials,
he bestowed alms upon them, and defended them from the incursion of other
tribes, interceding for them at Moscow. The fruition of his efforts and good
deeds came in the conversion of all the extent of the Perm' land to
Christianity. This great deed was accomplished by his strength of faith and
Christian love. The life of the saint – was a victory of faith over unbelief,
of love and meekness – over malice and impiety.
There was a touching
"meeting in absence" of Sainted Stephen of Perm' with the Monk Sergei
of Radonezh, occurring in the year 1390 during the time of a journey of the
saint to Moscow on church business. Saint Stephen fervently loved the Radonezh
ascetic and very much wanted to pay him a visit on the way from the Perm' land,
but was not able to do so because of insufficient time. Being 10 versts from
the monastery of the Monk Sergei, Saint Stephen in praying turned towards
the direction of the monastery and with a bow he uttered: "Peace unto
thee, spiritual brother!" The Monk Sergei, who sat together with the
brethren at the refectory meal, stood up, made a prayer and, bowing towards the
direction where the saint rode, answered: "Hail also to thee, thou pastor
of the flock of Christ, and the peace of God dwell with thee!"
The deep spiritual
connection of Sainted Stephen of Perm' and the Monk Sergei of Radonezh is
testified to even at present by a particular daily prayer to them at the
refectory-dining of the brethren.
churches, Saint Stephen founded for the Zyryani also several monasteries: the
Saviour Ul'yanovsk wilderness-monastery 165 versts from Ust'-Sysol'sk, the
Stephanovsk – 60 versts from Ust'-Sysol'sk, the Ust'-Vymsk Arkhangel'sk, and
the Yarengsk Arkhangel'sk.
In the year 1395
Saint Stephen again set out to Moscow on affairs of his flock, and here died.
His body was placed in the monastery "Saviour at the Wall" (in a
church to the north in honour of the Saviour) in the Moscow Kremlin. The
Zyryani bitterly bewailed the death of their apostle. They earnestly entreated
the Moscow prince and the Metropolitan to send back to Perm' the body of their
patron, but Moscow did not wish to part with the remains of the great saint.
The glorification of
Sainted Stephen began already at the beginning of the XV Century. The Life
of the saint was written soon after his death. The service to him was compiled
by the priestmonk Pakhomii the Serb, together with the priestmonk Epiphanii the
Wise, who was a student of the Monk Sergei of Radonezh and also well knew Saint
Stephen and loved to converse with him.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.