(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. Savvas, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)
Saint Savvas, Prince of Serbia
It was during the thirteenth century that Savvas, son of King Symeon of Serbia and heir to the royal throne, forsook the glory and power of the throne to dedicate himself to the Savior. One of three brothers, Savvas was trained and educated to be a monarch. However, with all due respect for his royal responsibilities, Savvas considered service to the Church to be of greater importance. Since either of his two brothers could assume the throne, he felt free to serve Christ. Later, he did not regret this decision to serve the King of Kings.
Savvas was not certain how he could best serve the Church. He wanted above all no special favor because of his royal position. It happened that some monks from Mount Athos arrived in Serbia to solicit funds from King Symeon. Symeon had been charitable in the past, but on this occasion he gave not only his money, but also his son. Savvas secretly planned to go to Mount Athos with the monks in order to become a monk himself. He persuaded the monks to take him without his father’s knowledge. Savvas argued that he was not betraying his father, but that were he to be denied permission to accompany them, they would be betraying the Lord whom he desperately sought to serve.
Savvas faded into the obscurity of Mount Athos among the thousands of monks who enjoyed not only spiritual freedom, but total independence from the state without fear of intervention. After being tonsured a monk, Savvas soon established himself in the brotherhood as a man of great intelligence and profound devotion to the word of the Lord.
Meanwhile King Symeon had instituted a broad search for his son. Two years after Savvas’ secret departure, the hunt came to an end with the revelation that he had left of his own volition to become an ascetic. Although the king’s emissaries advised Savvas that his only course of action was to return to his rightful place at the side of his father, Savvas sent the emissaries back with a letter for his parents. In his letter, which was reputed to have been four hundred pages long, Savvas not only extolled the virtues and importance of monasticism, but in a torrent of passionate prose he also revealed to them the true meaning of Christian love and the depth of his devotion to Jesus Christ.
Greatly moved by his son’s impassioned letter, the king transferred the royal authority to his two sons and then journeyed to Mount Athos to experience firsthand what had been so eloquently described to him. Shedding the royal purple for a monk’s habit, the king found for himself a serenity he had never known before. Soon many of his countrymen joined him and his son, eventually founding Chilandari, the first Serbian monastery on Mount Athos.
Impressed by the holy work of Savvas, the patriarch of Constantinople prevailed upon him to return to his native Serbia to serve his people not as king, but as archbishop of Serbia. With considerable reluctance Savvas left Mount Athos to respect the patriarch’s wishes and assume the spiritual leadership of his native land. His service was one of distinction; the Orthodox Church of Serbia flourished as never before in its history. But more than this, the Balkan countries, which include Serbia, are indebted to a number of missionaries for their steadfast Orthodox faith. To one of their own, who might have served as royalty, they owe a special debt of gratitude, that is, to St. Savvas, without whom the light of Christianity might have dimmed.
In an era of Christian upheaval, the Crusades and the barbarian menace to the north, St. Savvas brought stability to the Greek Orthodox faith and in turn to the welfare, spiritual and temporal, of a region that was no stranger to turmoil and vacillation. He is all the more revered for choosing to serve the King of Kings rather than be a monarch himself.Savvas eventually returned to his beloved Chilandari where he died peacefully on January 14, 1236.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikimedia.