Stepanos Siunetsi was a very prolific medieval author and translator, as well as an important figure of the Armenian Church.
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.
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.
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.
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. (The
Commentary was recently translated into English by Dr. Michael B. Papazian.)
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.
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.
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.
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.