Sainted Stephen the Enlightener of Perm', and Apostle to the Zyryani People
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.
Saint Stephen 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.
Besides building 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.