St. Sava I, enlightener and first archbishop of Serbia (1235)
Commemorated on January 14
This best-loved Saint of the Serbian people was born in 1169,
the son of Stephen Nemanja, Grand Prince of Serbia. He was named Rastko by his
parents. At the age of fifteen he was appointed governor of the province of
Herzegovina, but worldly power were of no interest to him, and he began to wish
to give himself more fully to God. He secretly left home and traveled to Mount
Athos, where he became a novice at the Monastery of St Panteleimon. His father
learned where he had gone and sent soldiers to bring him back, but before the
soldiers could claim him, he was tonsured a monk with the name of Sabbas (Sava),
after St Sabbas the Sanctified (December 5).
In time, under the influence of his son, Stephen Nemanja abdicated his kingship, and in 1196 he became a monk under the name of Symeon, traveling to the Holy Mountain to join his son. Symeon was quite old, and unable to endure all the ascetic labors of long-time monks, so his son redoubled his own ascetical struggle, telling his father, "I am your ascesis." The two monks together founded the Chilander Monastery, which became the center of Serbian piety and culture. Saint Symeon reposed in 1200, and his body soon began to exude a miracle-working myrrh; thus he is commemorated as St Symeon the Myrrh-streaming (February 13).
Saint Sava retired to a hermit's life in a cell on the Holy Mountain, but was compelled to return to the world: his two brothers were at war with one another, causing much bloodshed in Serbia. The Saint returned home with his father's holy relics, mediated between his brothers, and persuaded them to make peace with one another over their father's tomb, restoring peace the Serbian land. At the pleas of the people, St Sava remained in Serbia thereafter. He persuaded the Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople to grant autocephaly to the Church in Serbia. Against his will, he was ordained first Archbishop of his land in 1219. He labored tirelessly to establish the Orthodox Faith, for, though his father had been a Christian, many of the people were still pagan. In old age he resigned the episcopal throne and went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While returning from his pilgrimage, he fell asleep in peace in 1236.