St Sava

Founder & 1st Archbishop of the Serbian Church

ssint's cross


St Sava
Founder & 1st Archbishop
of the Serbian Church
Paja Jovanović (1859–1957)

Original publication: 1901 Immediate source: Јелена Пјешчић. "Sveti Sava miri zavadjenu bracu". Pinterest.

Sava (or Sabas) a.k.a.'The Enlightener', was a Serbian prince and Orthodox monk, 3rd son of Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja of Serbia. In 1191 he went secretly to Mount Athos, where he became a monk. Three years later, his father abdicated in favour of his eldest son, Stefan the First-Crowned (1st King of Serbia) and joined Sava as a monk on Mount Athos. Together they founded the Monastery of Chilandari for Serbian monks. This monastery (which still exists today) in the Middle Ages was a centre for Serbian culture and religion. As an abbot, Sava was famous for his kind yet firm way of training his young monks. While at Chilandari he began the translations of religious books into the Serbo-Croat language, a task which was to be an important part of his life’s work.

Sava returned to Serbia about 1208, because of civil unrest and the rivalry of his brothers. Both country and church were in crisis. Clergy were few, and the Christianity of most of the people merely nominal. He established himself as archimandrite of the monastery of Studenitsa, and then set about organising the Serbian church. He used monks who came with him from Mount Athos for missionary and pastoral work. He set up an independent local hierarchy, of which he was elected the first archbishop, being consecrated in 1219. In civil affairs he contributed to the unification of the Serbian state under his brother King Stephen II. His translations together with his building and embellishment of churches, integrated the church into the cultural life of the Serbian people.

Always a monk at heart, Sava used to retire from time to time to a hermitage near Studenitsa for spiritual refreshment. He was also greatly interested in pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Mount Sinai. In both places he organised accommodation for Serbian monks and pilgrims. He himself made two pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and died during the second on the journey home.

He is revered by both the Orthodox and Catholics of the Balkan area and is the patron saint of Serbia. The cathedral in Belgrade is dedicated under his name. An icon of the Saviour copied from a Chilandari original is the centre-piece of the ecumenical chapel in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Christchurch.

BORN: c.1176, Stari Ras, Sebečevo, Serbia

DIED:27 January 1236, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria