THE SEVEN PIONEERS OF SYRIA MISSION WORK - LEVI PARSONS, THE EXPLORER
I. LEVI PARSONS, THE EXPLORER
Parsons was born July 18, 1792, graduated at Middlebury, 1814, sailed November 3, 1819 with Pliny Fisk as missionaries to Western Asia, with reference to a permanent station at Jerusalem. They sailed in the bark Sally Ann, reached Matta December 23d. and remained until January 9, 1820. Rev. Mr. Jowett of the British and Foreign Bible Society gave them some excellent advice: "Learn the modern Greek at Scio, go in the character of literary gentlemen, make the circulation of the Bible the ostensible object of traveling, exercise in the morning, eat sparingly of fruit at first, dress warm, wear a turban when on the passage to Palestine, appear as much like common travelers as possible."
I have before me Mr. Parsons' journal in his own handwriting and it is full of religious meditation, new resolutions and morbid self-introspection. He was constantly struggling with indigestion, which naturally caused great depression. But his strong faith shines through it all with great beauty and power. They reached Smyrna January 14th, spent five months in Scio until October, studying modern Greek and Italian, and on December 6th, Parsons sailed alone for Jerusalem, Fisk remaining in Smyrna, studying and acting as chaplain to the British Colony. He arrived in Jerusalem, February 17, 1821, the first Protestant missionary who entered that city to found a permanent mission. He remained until May 8th, being cordially received by the Greek clergy and especially by Procopius, secretary to the Greek patriarch, who was also the agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society. While there he sold and gave away "ninety-nine Arabic Psalters, forty-one Greek Testaments, two Persian Testaments, seven Armenian Testaments, one Italian Testament, and twenty-three other books." The demand for Armenian Testaments was very great among the pilgrims. He also distributed 3,000 tracts, chiefly Greek. He gave them to priests, bishops, and pilgrims. He was shocked that his friends among the Greek clergy should take part in the disgraceful farce of the Holy Fire. Yet he cherished the vain hope that the Greek Church , would soon be consecrated entirely to the promotion of true piety among all classes of Christians, have the spirit of Peter on the day of Pentecost, and boldly open and allege the Scriptures and lead thousands by a blessing from above to cry, "Men and brethren, what shall we do? If I am not greatly deceived, I behold even now the dawn of that glorious day!"
He found a wide open door in Jerusalem for reading the Scriptures to pilgrims and regarded it as the most effective means of doing good at Jerusalem. He also advised the sending of a missionary to the Armenians in Asia Minor.
Leaving Jerusalem May 8, 1821, he sailed to the Greek Islands, spent several months in Samos and Syra, and after many perils from pirate ships, both Greek and Turkish, reached Smyrna December 4th. Here he joined his beloved colleague Fisk, and January 9, 1822 they both sailed for Alexandria by medical advice, arriving there January 14th, Here he found the malady with which he had long contended greatly aggravated. Diarrhea rapidly reduced his strength. He was carried from the boat in a chair to his room. His journal shows a heavenly spirit, holy aspirations, devout meditations, clear views of Christ.
February 10, 1822, at half-past three A. M., he breathed his last, aged thirty years and five months. The day before, his conversation was redolent of heaven. At evening, Fisk watched by his bed as he slept, and heard him saying in his sleep, “The goodness of God-growth in grace-fulfillment of the promises-so God is all in heaven, and all on earth." At eleven o'clock Fisk bade him a loving good-night, wishing that God might put underneath him the arms of everlasting mercy. He replied, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him."
These were the last words he spoke on earth. Towards evening, he was buried in the yard of the Greek monastery where the few English residents bury their dead. I wrote recently to Alexandria to ascertain whether there is any trace of his grave in the Greek monastery, but learned that since that time the edifice has been rebuilt and the old cemetery obliterated.
Pliny Fisk conducted the funeral service, which was attended by the entire English Colony, and Maltese merchants, some sixty or seventy in all.
Fisk wrote: “To me the stroke seems almost insupportable. Sometimes my heart rebels: and sometimes I hope it acquiesces in the will of God. I desire your prayers, that I may not faint when the Lord rebukes me."
Dr. R. Anderson says of Parsons: “His character was transparent and lovely. Few of those distinguished for piety leave a name so spotless. His disposition inspired confidence and gave him access to the most cultivated society. He united uncommon zeal with the meekness of wisdom. His consecration to the service of his Divine Master was entire."
His two years of service were years of struggle with disease, incessant study, indefatigable labours in traveling, preaching and reading the New Testament to the people in Greek and Italian. His grave no man knoweth.
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