By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
The unknown village of Mutalaska, in the province of Cappadocia, became famous through this great luminary of the Orthodox Church. Savva was born there of his parents John and Sophia. At the age of eight, he left the home of his parents and was tonsured a monk in a nearby monastic community called Flavian’s. After ten years, he moved to the monasteries of Palestine and remained longest in the Monastery of St. Euthymius the Great (January 20) and Theoctistus.
The clairvoyant Euthymius prophesied of Savva that he would become a famous monk and a teacher of monks and that he would establish a lavra greater than all the lavras of that time. After the death of Euthymius, Savva withdrew to the desert, where he lived for five years as a hermit in a cave shown to him by an angel of God.
Afterward, when he had been perfected in the monastic life, he began by divine providence to gather around him many who were desirous of the spiritual life. Soon, such a large number gathered that Savva had to build a church and many cells. Some Armenians also came to him, and for them he provided a cave where they would be able to celebrate services in the Armenian language. When his father died, his aged mother Sophia came to him, and he tonsured her a nun. He gave her a cell located at a distance from his monastery, where she lived a life of asceticism until her death.
This holy father endured many assaults from all sides: from those who were close to him, from heretics, and from demons. But he triumphed over them all: those close to him, by kindness and indulgence; the heretics, by his unwavering confession of the Orthodox Faith; the demons, by the sign of the Cross and calling upon God for help. He had a particularly great struggle with demons on Mount Castellium, where he established his second monastery.
In all, Savva established seven monasteries. He and Theodosius the Great, his neighbor, are considered to be the greatest lights and pillars of Orthodoxy in the East. They corrected emperors and patriarchs in matters of the Faith, and to everyone they served as an example of saintly humility and the miraculous power of God. After a toilsome and very fruitful life, St. Savva entered into rest in the year 532, at the age of ninety-four. Among his many wondrous and good works, let it at least be mentioned that he was the first to compile the Order of Services for use in monasteries, now known as the Jerusalem Typikon.
A Reflection From His Life
A man may be great in some skill, as a statesman or a military leader, but no one among men is greater than a man who is great in faith, hope and love. How great St. Savva the Sanctified was in faith and hope in God is best shown by the following incident:
One day, the steward of the monastery came to Savva and informed him that the following Saturday and Sunday he would be unable to strike the semantron, according to tradition, to summon the brethren to the communal service and meal because there was not a trace of flour in the monastery nor anything at all to eat or drink. For this same reason, even the Divine Liturgy was not possible. The saint replied without hesitation: “I shall not cancel the Divine Liturgy because of the lack of flour; faithful is He Who commanded us not to be concerned about bodily things, and mighty is He to feed us in time of hunger.” And he placed all his hope in God.
In this extremity, he was prepared to send some of the ecclesiastical vessels or vestments to be sold in the city so that neither the divine services nor the brother’s customary meal would be omitted. However, before Saturday some men, moved by divine providence, brought thirty mules laden with wheat, wine and oil to the monastery. “What do you say now, Brother?” Savva asked the steward. “Shall we not strike the semantron and assemble the fathers?” The steward was ashamed because of his lack of faith and begged the abbot for forgiveness.
Savva’s biographer describes this saint as “severe with demons but mild toward men.” Once, some monks rebelled against St. Savva, and for this they were driven from the monastery by order of Patriarch Elias. They built themselves huts by the river Thekoa, where they endured privation in all things. Hearing that they were starving, St. Savva loaded mules with flour and brought it to them personally. Seeing that they had no church, he built one for them. At first, the monks received him with hatred, but afterward they responded to his love with love and repented of their former misdeeds toward him.
HYMN OF PRAISE: Saint Savva the Sanctified
Venerable Savva, chief of monks,
Spiritual commander of Christ’s heroes,
Was glorified by fasting, vigils and meekness,
By prayer and faith and blessed mercy.
You taught the monks to not be concerned with bread;
You entrusted yourself to heaven, with labor and prayer.
You sought neither precedence nor rank of any kind.
Most rarely did you taste of oil and wine.
You kept all the services at the appointed time.
“Let the service be a joy and not a heavy burden,”
St. Savva told the monks,
And he showed this to all by his example.
Like a wise gardener, he enclosed the garden,
And carefully planted many young men.
The young men grew and brought forth fruit:
A regiment of monks, to the glory of Savva.
Fifteen hundred years have passed,
Yet Savva’s spiritual garden still blooms:
One thousand monks, a hundred thousand,
Have been raised up by Savva’s community up to now.
St. Savva, glorious recluse,
O God-pleaser, pray for us also.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
With the streams of your tears, thou didst the barren ness of the desert. And from the sighings from the depths, thou didst bear fruit a hundred-fold. By your miracles you have become a light, shining upon the world. O Savvas, our Holy Father, pray to Christ our God, to save our souls.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
O blessed Savvas, thou wast offered from thine infancy through thy great virtue as a pure and spotless sacrifice unto God, Who ere thy birth, verily foreknew thee; wherefore thou wast an adornment of the righteous Saints, an all-praised founder of cities in the wilderness. Hence, I cry to thee: Rejoice, O Father of great renown.
The monastery of Saint Sabbas in Israel
Prologue of Ochrid