Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sretna Savindan! Happy Saint Sava's Day!

Today, January 27th, is Savindan, the day that the Serbs celebrate the life and legacy of the founder of the Serbian branch of the Orthodox Church, and the founder of the Serbian nation.

From Saint Sava came a beautiful quote that is as appropriate today as it was when it was made, regarding the fate of the Serbs:

At first we were confused. The East thought that we were West while the West considered us to be East. Some of us misunderstood our place in the clash of currents so they cried that we belong to neither side and others that we belong exclusively to one side or the other. But I tell you Ireneus we are doomed by fate to be the East in the West and the West in the East to acknowledge only heavenly Jerusalem beyond us and here on earth--no one.” —St. Sava to Irenaeus, 13th Century

Saint Archbishop Sava
(Serbian: Свети Сава, Sveti Sava) (1175 - January 14, 1235), originally the prince Rastko Nemanjić (Serbian: Растко Немањић) (son of the Serbian ruler and founder of the Serbian medieval state Stefan Nemanja and brother of Stefan Prvovenčani, first Serbian king), is the first Archbishop of Serbia (1219-1233), the most important saint in the Serbian Orthodox Church and important cultural and political worker of that time.

Early life

Rastko was born ca. 1175 in Gradina (near modern-day Podgorica, Montenegro).

In his youth (c. 1192), he fled from his home to join the orthodox monastic colony on Mount Athos (Holy Mountain on the Chalkidiki peninsula) and was given the name Sava. He first traveled to a Russian monastery and then moved to the Greek Monastery of Vatopedi. At the end of 1197 his father, who on becoming a monk was named Simeon joined him. In 1198 they together moved to and restored the abandoned monastery Hilandar (Chilandari, in French) which, since that moment, became the center of Serbian Christian monastic life. Hilandar is one of the twenty monasteries on Mount Athos that still function, and its position in the hierarchy is fourth.

St. Sava's father took the monastic vows under the name Simeon and died in Hilandar on February 13, 1199. He is also canonised, as Saint Simeon.

Serbian Orthodox Church

After his father's death, Sava devoted himself to the ascetic life and retreated to a skete close to Karyes which he built himself in 1199. He also wrote the Karyes Typicon valid for both for Hilandar and his skete. The typicon has been inscribed onto a marble board at the skete and still stands there. Sava stayed on Athos until the end of 1207.

In 1208, St. Sava returned to Serbia, where the feuding between his brothers had created a state or anarchy. St. Sava set up his base at Studenica monastery, and started to organize the Serbian Orthodox Church. He had brought with him several monks to help him perform his pastoral and missionary duty among the people. St. Sava eventually managed to free the Serbian church from the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Ohrid. In 1219, St. Sava was consecrated the first archbishop of the new Serbian Church by Patriarch Manuel I of Constantinople, who was then in exile at Nicaea.

Saint Sava is considered the founder of the independent Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbian Orthodox Christians celebrate him as patron saint of education and medicine. He is commemorated on January 27 according to the Julian calendar and on January 14 according to the Gregorian calendar. Since the 1830s, Saint Sava has become the patron saint of Serbian schools and schoolchildren. On his day, students partake in recitals in church.

St. Sava died in Turnovo, capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, during the reign of Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria. According to his Life, he fell ill following the Divine Liturgy at the Feast of the Epiphany on January 12, 1235. Sava visited Turnovo on his way back from the Holy Land, where he had founded a hospice for Syrian pilgrims in Jerusalem and arranged for Serbian monks to be welcome in the established monasteries there. He died of pneumonia in the night between Saturday and Sunday, January 14, 1235. [1] He was initially buried at the St Forty Martyrs Church in Turnovo, but his holy relics remained there until only May 6, 1237 when they were translated to the Mileševa monastery in southern Serbia. 360 years later, in 1595, the Ottoman Turks unearthed his remains and took them to Vračar hill in Belgrade where they were incinerated on a stake.

The Temple of Saint Sava in Belgrade, whose construction was planned in 1939, begun in 1985 and awaits completion by 2004, is the largest active Orthodox temple in the world today. It was built on the place where the bones were believed to have been burned. In reality, what is Vračar hill now used to be outside the city walls and not within easy reach. There used to be a different Vračar hill where today is located the Tašmajdan. This place was used by Ottoman Turks for executions and seems much more likely to have been the spot where St. Sava's relics were burnt. Also, tradition holds the place of burning as "Čupina Umka", the tallest point in Tašmajdan.

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