Posts Tagged ‘Stepanos Siunetsi’

 

 

THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

Death of Stepanos Siunetsi
(July 21, 735)

 

Stepanos Siunetsi was a very prolific medieval author and translator, as well as an important figure of the Armenian Church.

He was the son of Sahak, a clergyman, and was probably born in 688. His father was an archpriest in Dvin, the capital of Armenia and seat of the Catholicosate, where Stepanos studied. Afterwards, he received his religious education first in the monastery of Makenetsots (province of Gegharkunik, near Lake Sevan) and then in the famous seminary of Siunik, directed by Movses Kertogh. He was consecrated archimandrite and replaced the latter as director of the seminary. A few years later, he returned to Dvin, where he continued his intellectual activities.

In 710 Stepanos traveled abroad to pursue what we would today call “graduate studies” in Athens and Constantinople, where he studied Greek and Latin literature, learned musical theory, and deepened his knowledge in theology and literary scholarship. He also produced translations from the works of several authors, such as Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite, Nemesius of Emesa, and Gregory of Nyssa.

Around 720 he returned to Armenia and settled in Dvin, where he continued his literary and ecclesiastic work. He wrote biblical commentaries and, above all, church hymns, which entered the Sharaknots (collection of hymns) of the Armenian Church and are praised for their musical quality and freshness. He also wrote a commentary of Dionysus Thrax’s Art of Grammar. During his preaching, he met Prince Sembat Bagratuni, a staunch defender of the resolutions of the Council of Chalcedon, who quarreled with Stepanos and subjected him to persecution and death threats. The ecclesiastic escaped to Constantinople in disguise and found refuge near an Orthodox hermit to continue his theological and philosophical studies.

In 728 he went to Rome and brought the texts of several Fathers of the Church (Cyril of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, and Epiphanius of Cyprus) to Armenia. Catholicos David I received him with joy for this important discovery, which was coincidental with the death of Bishop Hovhan of Siunik. Stepanos was consecrated bishop and prelate of Siunik. Upon the request of the Catholicos, he wrote the work Commentary on the Four Evangelists, which is the only work of the old school of commentary of Siunik that has reached us in a twelfth-century manuscript discovered by Bishop Garegin Hovsepiants, future Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia, in 1917.

Historian Stepanos Orbelian (thirteenth century) described Stepanos Siunetsi as a spiritual pastor of “sweet severity” and a careful guide, who both “nurtured the children with the milk of Christ” and “stroke the vicious ones like a sword.” Unfortunately, his severity towards the vicious ones cost him his life.

In 735 the prelate made a pastoral tour of the twelve districts of Siunik, where he redecorated the churches, preached the word of the Gospel and advised and punished sinful people. He visited the town of Moz in the valley of Yeghekis. He admonished  a woman of lewd behavior to repent, but she continued her indecent ways, and the bishop excommunicated her. Seeking revenge, the woman persuaded her lover to kill Stepanos while he slept. He was unable to carry it out, and the woman took the sword and killed Stepanos. The unfortunate ecclesiastic was buried in the church of St. Christopher.

According to Stepanos Orbelian, a strong earthquake hit the area for forty days in the same year, causing the death of some 10,000 people. Because of the lamentations of the population (symbolized by the interjection vay/վայ in Armenian), the region was said to have taken the name of Vayots Dzor (valley of the vays). The catastrophe was ascribed to a divine punishment for the tragic murder of Stepanos Siunetsi. His body was reburied in the monastery of Tanahat, where a small chapel was built over his tomb. In 1273-1279 the chapel was replaced by a magnificent church.

Stepanos’ sister, Sahakdukht, was also a teacher and the first Armenian female composer known as such. She renounced to worldly life and carried the life of a hermit in a cave at the gorge of Garni, near the ruins of the homonymous pagan temple. She taught children and composed church hymns.

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