[St. Pachomius Library]

St. Stephen of Perm

XIV Century
A scholastic child-prodigy, Stephen was sent from his native town of Great Ustyug to Rostov, where he learned Greek, studied ancient philosophy, and became a monk. Rather than go to Constantinople for advanced study, he chose to become a missionary among the Zyrian Komi, Finnish-speaking inhabitants of the woods around Great Ustyug. He proved very successful at converting these animist fur-trappers to Orthodoxy. Since the Komi were illiterate, he invented a runic alphabet and translated liturgical and scriptural texts into the local dialect of Finnish. Criticised for this -- ironically by Slavs who employed much the same arguments once used against Cyril and Methodius -- he articulated a remarkable philosophy according to which each nation since Babel preserved an unique fragment of Adamite culture, which it was its mission to re-dedicate to God.

As founding bishop of the Zyrian see of Perm, St. Stephen was also involved in regional politics, defending the interests of the Komi (and to some extent of Great Ustyug) in the power struggle between Novgorod and Moscow. His disciple Epiphanius the Wise wrote an interesting account of Stephen's life and thought, including a description of his contest with the shaman Pam for spiritual leadership of the Komi. Unfortunately, neither the "Permian Rite" nor Zyrian civilisation long survived in the face of Russian expansion toward the Urals; by the XVI Century, St. Stephen's liturgy was extinct, and the Komi have been largely absorbed into the Russian people.

--- Norman Hugh Redington

Under construction --- far from complete! Read with caution.


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