Stephan Efendi of Zinjidere
The Unknown Story of Stephanos I. Sirinides
He Left His Mark on a Remote Corner of Cappadocia
By Thomas Cosmades
In the first four years of their marriage, Sophia and Stephanos didn’t have any children. Their first daughter, born in 1870, was Vasiliki. In 1873, Maria came along. At this time there was a serious shortage of food, bordering on famine. This quandary opened the way for the entry of missionaries into Talas, where they started operating a station to bring in and distribute food supplies. Their act of benevolence points out that the American Board missionaries did not only seek to make converts, but also to deeply involve themselves in social assistance. Actually, these services should have been organized and administered by the existing Greek and Armenian churches. But apparently they did not have the vision or the ability to respond to the obvious need. Regrettably this essential outreach resulted in wide-spread gossip and a general accusation which for years was hurled at the Evangelical community throughout Asia Minor, i.e. that the missionaries were buying the loyalty of people by offering them food, clothing, and even money!
The American Board missionaries naturally presented God’s love and the message of Jesus Christ alongside their tangible physical assistance. A Greek man by the name of Azariah was converted. He impressed the missionaries to such an extent that they wanted to use his services to take assistance to the surrounding cities and towns, such as Ürgüp (Prokopion), and Nevshehir (Neapoli). The carrying out of their request was rather taxing on Azariah because he did not feel capable of taking on such a heavy responsibility. From the information that is gathered, he proposed to the missionaries to seek the services of Stephanos Sirinides to accompany him as he went around from place to place. It seems that he knew Stephanos from the circle which gathered in his shop to hear the teaching of the Bible. Stephanos Sirinides, with a burning desire to serve his newly-found Lord, readily accepted the offer. Azariah was the man used by God to launch Stephanos into his forty-year-plus service for the Lord. In a way, his influence upon Stephanos resembles that of Andrew who introduced his brother Peter to the service of the Lord.
In their initial journey Azariah and Stephanos visited Ürgüp and several other towns and villages. Even on this journey there is no more concrete information about Azariah. He remains one of those little-known warriors of Christ. It is recorded that many people, not hungry only for food but also for the Bread of Life, showed great interest in hearing God’s Word. In Ürgüp there were enough converts to start a church. This group asked Stephanos to remain in the city and instruct them in God’s Word. The request was communicated to the missionaries who approved his staying on in Ürgüp to teach the small band of adults and children. After two months his brother Prodromos brought Sophia with the two little girls, ages five and two, from Talas to Ürgüp. This trip of about sixty-five kilometers took them three days, traveling by an oxen-drawn covered carriage.
We must come back to Stephanos’ family. In 1878, a daughter, Kalliopi, was born. In 1881, a son, Ioachim, but he died the same year. In 1882, a daughter, Cornelia, was born. In 1883, another daughter, Louisa, was welcomed into the family. This made them a family of seven ― mother, father and five daughters. Stephanos having been enlightened by reading the Scriptures soon developed a desire to properly educate his children. At that time, there were no girls’ schools to be found anywhere. The prevailing opinion was that girls didn’t need education. It came to Stephanos’ ears that there was a girls’ school in Izmir (Smyrna), established by the American Board. A missionary, whose name is given only as ‘Mr. Bartlett’, offered to take the oldest daughter, Vasiliki, to that school. The journey to Izmir took three weeks. For Vasiliki to visit her parents during vacations was out of the question. Both the factors of distance and financial considerations made it impossible. Stephanos was reconciled to send his daughter away for the whole four-year period.
Vasiliki was thirteen when she started studying at the American Girls’ Academy. A letter she wrote from Manisa (Magnesia) on December 27, 1883, during her first school year, shed some light on her condition. She wrote that she owned only one skirt, but two girls who were expecting to graduate promised to cut another skirt if she could sew it herself. She also mentioned her need for a pair of shoes, since she had only one pair, and they were too large for her. They were not suitable for Sunday use. She also had very little time for knitting stockings. She expressed her concern regarding paying for the doctor’s services on those occasions that she became sick. In the meantime, her Uncle Prodromos had moved to Athens. She wrote several letters to him, but one of the teachers, Miss Call, told her that letters to Athens couldn’t be sent, probably because of the cost of postage.
During Vasiliki’s time in school, three more children were added to the family — a daughter, Cleoniki, born in 1884, and two sons, Themistocles, born in 1885, and Ioachim (given the name of his deceased brother), born in 1887. In the meantime, Vasiliki’s training in the American Academy in Izmir continued successfully. She completed the time of her education with high achievements and was going to graduate in the spring. In February of that year her father started eagerly yearning for the beginning of summer when his beloved first child would return home. But alas, one night he had a disquieting dream. Two angels appeared to him who said that they had come to carry away his daughter. While still dreaming, his whole being was shaken. He earnestly begged them not to take Vasiliki away from him and added, “But if she has to go, let me go with her.” The angel said, “We cannot do that. You have a time to live yet.” He woke from this vivid dream, shaking, but immediately the thought came to him to put this whole experience down on paper, lest he forget the details. Several weeks later he received the sad news that his daughter Vasiliki had died and strangely, she died the same night that he had the dream. The sole elucidation he could attribute to the sad event was to center on God’s sovereign wisdom and purpose in calling Vasiliki to Himself. Later in seeking an answer to the occurrence he came to the conclusion that God in his mercy had prepared him for Vasiliki’s going to her heavenly home.
From early childhood Vasiliki had shown a deep interest in the things of God. The family later told of an experience she had had when she was about six years old. Her younger sister Maria had done something naughty. Immediately Vasiliki took her aside and told her how unbecoming her behavior had been. Later it was learned from her teachers that she had made a great impression on them. Miss Bartlett (Mr. Bartlett’s daughter), one of her teachers who was still alive in California in 1936 told the younger sister Kalliopi, who was residing in Fresno, of Vasiliki’s deep faith in Christ. She had left an indelible impression on the school. Miss Bartlett went on to tell about the evening when this young student went home to be with the Lord: “I was in my room when suddenly a light shone around me which I could not relate to any particular occurrence. In those days, naturally, we had no electricity. Strangely, a force pushed me to go to Vasiliki’s bed where she had been lying ill. I came at the exact moment she breathed her last.”
The year that Vasiliki died, the number of the Sirinides children was ten, eight girls and two boys. With Vasiliki’s death, the number was reduced to nine. However, in 1888, another girl joined the family, whom the family again gave the name ‘Vasiliki’. In 1889, Neocles was born. The following year, another boy was born, but died after just a few days without having been given a name. The family referred to him as, ‘little Neocles’. Finally, Sophocles joined the family in 1892. After Sophocles another girl, named Evfronia was born in 1893, but she died the same year. At the end, twelve children were left with the parents, all of whom survived to the time of Stephanos’ death in 1916.
Two Years in Ürgüp
The sudden appearance of an Evangelical pastor-teacher upset the priest and the leaders of the local Greek Orthodox Church. Their reaction was uncharitable, to say the least. But many, keen to learn the truth of the Gospel, were showing great enthusiasm and profound interest. One day something unpleasant happened. While Stephanos was dangling his infant daughter Evfronia, her shoulder slipped out of joint. There was no doctor in Ürgüp; only a skillful woman who knew how to handle these cases. So Stephanos ran to her with little Evfronia in his arms. He knocked at the door and the woman appeared, showing great consternation at seeing him. Before he could even make Evfronia’s need known, the woman slammed the door in his face. He could hear her grumbling inside that she was not going to offer any services to a Protestant! Such was the attitude of the Greeks in Ürgüp because of the influence of the priest and church leaders. There was no choice but to return home and try to set the joints himself. After a few tries, he managed, and the little girl was relieved of her pain.
Moving the story ahead a little, after twenty-five years, Stephanos was again invited to Ürgüp to minister to the Evangelical community. The attitude of the Orthodox Church and its people had not changed. The children of the Orthodox families were mocking Stephanos’ children and beating them as they were going to and coming home from school. The Greek Orthodox community could not digest the fact that an Evangelical group had come into existence right in their midst.
Along with his pastoral duties, Stephanos opened a small school for the children in his congregation. It was a single room on the first floor of a house, six by eight meters. The entry to the classroom was through a door which the pupils reached by climbing up a few steps. Stephanos’ little flock also used this room as a place of worship. On Sundays and religious holidays it was overcrowded. Only early-comers could find a place to sit at the pupils’ desks. Finally, the congregation realized that they must have a church building. So they all got involved and contributed money for the purchase of a piece of land. They found a self-trained architect with whose assistance they laid the foundation. The walls slowly went up and a beautiful inviting door with a pillar on each side was put in place. The small sanctuary was about to be completed and the little congregation was full of joy. They were gratefully anticipating meeting in this place, thanking God that many hurdles had been overcome, including obtaining permission from the authorities, and that at last they would own a beautiful church. But enemies had other plans. One night fanatic Greek kids of the town attacked the building with extreme hostility, using iron bars and various other implements to utterly destroy the beautiful door and its pillars. This marked the end of the people’s dream. They had to move elsewhere where they would be immune from attack. One of the church members offered the flat roof of his house for the building of another sanctuary; it was eight by seventeen meters. It met a great need, and people were joyful once again to be able to freely meet and worship their Lord.
At the conclusion of two years, Stephanos felt he should move on, but Satan was at work continuously. Totally unexpectedly, a member of the congregation who had some speaking ability offered his services. The American Board accepted Stephanos’ transfer to Zinjidere. They also approved the other person, whose name was Napoleon, without bothering to investigate his integrity. So he soon took over the pastoral responsibility of the nucleonic church in Ürgüp. It didn’t take long to discover that Napoleon had no call or inclination to preach or offer pastoral service. His whole interest was to obtain a comfortable position with a steady income. It became obvious that he could not guide the flock. People dropped out of church since they were not satisfied with this usurper-preacher. The sad consequence was that the Evangelical work in Ürgüp died out.
This particular case was not unique in Anatolia. As it happened and still happens in so many places, mercenaries are always on the watch to secure a position from overseers for a good return. In the end, some of them become casualties. Furthermore, they drag down a particular flock entrusted to them. A similar unpleasantry once happened in Constantinople when the Bible Society employed a colporteur, offering him a favorable salary. One day the director of the Society went to visit this man in his home. In unbelievable dismay he witnessed this unworthy employee burning Bibles in his stove. According to Bible Society policy, Scriptures were meant to be sold to the public for a subsidized price. This shrewd man was dismissed on the spot. This is another example of how careful missionaries or supervisors from other lands ought to be in laying hands on people from the local community and assigning them a salary. A small fraction of these selected employees betray their trust, to their own detriment. Furthermore they bring offence to the cause of the Gospel.