To the Ends of the Earth

Orthodox Christian Missions

St. Sava, Archbishop of Serbia

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Commemorated January 12 and 14

An excerpt of St. Sava’s life:

The Karejski Typikon is one of the most important documents in the history of Serbian spiritual literature. In 115 lines Sava detailed the rules for prayer, fasting and liturgical worship to be carried out by the kelliote (monk who lives in a cell) residing in Karyes. The Karejski Typikon was patterned after the ancient rules of prayer of the early ascetics who strived in the Lord in the deserts of Egypt, Sinai, Palestine and Syria. The Karejski Typikon expressed a most fundamental understanding and belief concerning human beings held to this day by all pious Orthodox Christians: the truth that all human beings are originally made and therefore destined to know and be friends with their Creator—God the Holy Trinity—and to be personally and intimately known by Him, which is a flowing and most powerful relationship of love, peace and joy. And this is totally possible for those who are seriously committed to “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” our Lord Jesus Christ who rests in the bosom of God the Father, and for those who are animated by the Holy Spirit. And if there is one clear message revealed in the life of St. Sava, it is precisely this: that the Christian life consists primarily in seeking and finding God, in searching and discovering His will, and in hungering and thirsting for His righteousness—Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added untoyou (Matt. 6:33). Sava’s sojourn in his cell in Karyes built him into a pillar of Orthodoxy, as it was here that he prayed without ceasing (I Thess. 5: 17) and also wrote many hymns, treatises and prayers to the glory of God the Holy Trinity.

Only a few months after the completion of his cell, Sava’s father, monk Simeon, became grievously ill. On February 13, 1200, Blessed Simeon fell asleep in the Lord. He was 86 years old. (And only four months later, on June 21, 1200, Princess Anna-St. Anastasia, Sava’s mother, fell asleep in the Lord at age 75 in the Monastery of the Holy Virgin in Kurshumlja near Toplica.) In Sava’s biography of his father which he wrote in his cell in Karyes, he described the tremendous sorrow he experienced over the loss of his father, as well as the holy and divine way in which Blessed Simeon died. After Simeon’s death, Sava asked the Lord God to reveal to him concerning the judgment of his father. One night, in a dream, Simeon appeared to Sava with a luminous countenance, and delivered a most powerful message to him. Simeon told Sava that Serbia needed him, that there was much work to be done there. Although Sava did not desire, after entering monastic life on the Holy Mountain, ever to return to Serbia, this message of Simeon made him realize that it was now time for the son to be obedient to the father.

The state of affairs in Serbia had been quite poor ever since Simeon’s departure in 1196: there was little religious leadership, and the brothers Stephen and Vukan were locked in a terrible fratricidal struggle for political rule of the kingdom. In response to the supplication of Simeon—whose appearance to Sava also demonstrated Simeon’s own saintliness—and to the numerous pleadings for Sava to return on the part of his younger brother, the newly coronated King Stephen (11961228), Sava decided to travel back to his birthplace in the cause of peace, and in order to comfort and guide his Serbian people. Thus, in 1204, at age 29, after eleven years of monastic life on the Holy Mountain, Sava began his journey homeward. His departure was mourned by the monks, but they knew Sava’s departing was the will of the Lord. Sava did not leave without honor bestowed upon him, as he was elevated to the rank of Archimandrite in Thessalonica by four bishops of the nearby dioceses.

When Sava entered his native land in 1204, he unfortunately found the country just as Simeon had informed him in his dream—in total disarray. The Serbian state was split in two. By secret negotiations with Hungary and Pope Innocent III, Vukan, the eldest of the three brothers, who was bitter over the appointment of his younger brother Stephen as heir to the throne, was able to amass troops and capture Zeta; he then was set to launch a campaign against Rashka, King Stephen’s portion of the divided kingdom. This civil war was only a microcosm of a larger conflict instigated by the West—that is, the hostilities initiated by the Great Crusades of the Latin church. In 1204, the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople and much of the territory of Byzantium, including the Holy Mountain. In 1205, the Holy Mountain was officially placed under the authority and jurisdiction of a Roman Catholic bishop. It is believed that this occurrence was the most influential factor in Sava’s decision to return to Serbia. Hence, the Saint returned home with his work cut out for him.

When he returned, Sava brought with him the medicine to heal the entire situation: the relics of his father, the Grand Zhupan and saint, Stephen Nemanja-Simeon the Myrrh-bearer and co-founder of Hilandar. Upon entering Studenitsa Monastery, St. Simeon’s foundational monastery, Sava invited his two brothers to a proper and rightful Memorial Service for their father. As the casket was opened, before their eyes the body of their father was found to be sweet-smelling, exuding a fragrant oil and myrrh, warm and aglow, looking very much alive, as if he were only restfully sleeping. This act of veneration oftheir father was the first step in healing the fraternal schism between Vukan and King Stephen. Shortly thereafter, the civil war was halted and a peace agreement was drawn up, once again restoring the kingdom of Serbia as it was under the reign of the great King Stephen Nemanja-St. Simeon the Myrrh-bearer. In discussions with his reunited brothers, Sava also designed plans for an immediate, systematic and far-reaching missionary program to save the Orthodox soul of the Serbian people. Studenitsa Monastery, with St. Simeon’s relics making it a national shrine, was chosen as the outreach station for all activities. St. Sava wrote the Monastery’s Typikon, which strengthened Studenitsa’s monastic life.

As newly elected abbot of Studenitsa, Archimandrite Sava personally went on several missions throughout the territories, preaching and teaching the Word of God in the churches as well as renewing and creating monasteries, building many churches, opening iconography schools, and in general establishing and confirming the populace in the Orthodox faith. Sava was concerned not only with the spiritual welfare of the kingdom, but also with the material condition of the people, as he constantly advised his two older brothers, especially King Stephen, on how to better feed, clothe and administer the people. It is believed that through the monasteries in Serbia at this time, Sava was able to put the kingdom’s economy in order by raising to the highest level the production of food, wine, honey, fish, vegetables and livestock, not only sustaining the monastics but also benefitting thousands of Serbs: pilgrims, visitors, and especially the sick and aged. Truly St. Sava carried out and actualized the great commandment of Christ: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. These missionary efforts were for Sava, as always, ascetic exercises allowing him to be more fully immersed in the eternal grace, love and beauty of the Holy Spirit of God. These acts demonstrated his tremendous love for his people. Sava was fast becoming a great Serbian ecclesiastical leader; and in the ensuing years his continual wise leadership would enable him to become a well-respected international ecclesiastical figure as well.

Source: Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren
The blog Logismoi also has an excellent post on St. Sava, found here.


Written by Stephen

January 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Posted in European Saints, Saints

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