…Art thou sore distressed?
A hymn to sing along with…
The questions asked in the opening words of this hymn could seem appropriate to many of us as we come to the end of the year 2020. But in fact they are the start of a poem written over a thousand years ago by a Greek monk who lived in Palestine.
Saint Stephen the Sabaite (725-794) was left in the monastery of Mar Saba by his uncle at the age of ten, and spent the rest of his life there. By his mid-twenties, he felt so drawn to a life of seclusion and contemplation, he asked the abbot of the community for permission to self-isolate as a hermit. Due to the great skill in giving spiritual direction he already showed at that young age, the abbot gave him limited permission. The condition was that he make himself available to others on weekends.
He is venerated as a saint in the Orthodox Church, his name-day being 10 November in the Gregorian Calendar (28 October in the Julian Calendar as used in parts of the Orthodox Church)
The Holy Lavra of Saint Sabbas, known in Syriac as Mar Saba, is a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley at a point halfway between the Old City of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.
The poem was translated by Revd John Mason Neale (1818-1866). Not all the stanzas are used for the hymn; the missing ones are shown below. It’s understandable that congregations might not want to sing eleven verses, but stanzas 5-7 (in particular) are a key part of the whole poem.
The tune Stephanos was written for this hymn by Revd (Sir) Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877). He was ordained in 1844 and was vicar of Monkland (near Leominster) from 1851 until his death. (In 1851 he also became 3rd Baronet Baker of Dunstable House.) He was the first compiler and editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern. His best-known hymn is The King of Love my Shepherd is; among his other hymns are Lord, Thy Word abideth, O praise ye the Lord and We love the place O God.
 Art thou weary, art thou languid,
art thou sore distressed?
Come to me, saith one, and coming
be at rest.
 Hath he marks to lead me to him
if he be my Guide?
In his feet and hands are wound-prints,
and his side.
 Hath he diadem as Monarch
that his brow adorns?
Yea, a crown in very surety,
but of thorns!
 If I find him, if I follow,
what my portion here?
Many a sorrow, many a labour,
many a tear.
 If I still hold closely to him,
what hath he at last?
Sorrow vanquished, labour ended,
 If I ask him to receive me,
will he say me nay?
Not till earth and not till
Heaven pass away.
 Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
is he sure to bless?
Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs,
[5, 6, 7] Is this all He hath to give me
in my life below?
“Joy unspeakable and glorious
thou shalt know.
All thy sins shall be forgiven,
all things work for good;
Thou shalt Bread of Life from heaven
have for food.
From the fountains of salvation
thou shalt water draw;
Sweet shall be thy meditation –
in God’s Law.”
 Festal palms and crown of glory,
robes in blood washed white,
God in Christ His people’s temple, where there
is no light.”
This is the last scheduled posting in this collection of about 200 Sing-Along Hymns. The full list can be found here.