Everything that I would tell you about Saint Sava, has already been told and it has been told in a better way. If only it had been carved in stone, memorized and done.
However, I will tell you about Saint Sava in a way that is unusual and that describes him to be like we would need him to be if he were to be with us today to lead us out of this agony. I will not tell you about Saint Sava as he is portrayed by the modern artist, a good-natured old man of rosy cheeks and long white beard, but Saint Sava, the ascetic image of a sharp nose and eye, drained by the fast and prayer, looking at his people’s fate and determined to alter and change that fate. I’ll tell you about Saint Sava, the fighter, determined and unshakable.
God bestowed him upon us to be our spiritual father and to religiously enrich us. Before him we didn’t belong anywhere, we called ourselves many different names by the region: people of Raska, people of Zeta, people of Toplica, but after him we became and remained Serbs, people gathered and assembled.
He is our father because he gave us life in many ways: religiously, he gave us our Serbian Church. Before him we were split by the Roman and Greek Churches, and the hostile Archdiocese of Ohrid. He gathered us under his omophorion, He sent the foreign bishops back to their homes and he appointed Serbian bishops to the episcopate. That caused the anger of the Roman Church that hasn’t subsided yet.
He was the author of our first book, and of our first constitution; he was the Patron and the builder of our first monasteries, the founder of our first schools, the facilitator of our first hospitals and so on. He was our everything.
Whatever Saint Sava did, he did with incredible determination having a definite goal ahead; he was even unmerciful on occasion. At the very beginning, when he first started to pave the way, a beardless seventeen-year-old, he knew exactly what he wanted and how he wanted it. Sava offered food and drinks to the duke, who spurred to the Russian monastery of the Holy Mountain to take him back to his parents’ home, and then he sent him to the church for a long all-night monastic vigil, and when the soldiers fell asleep due to their long journey and the abundance of food and drinks, he took monastic vows and the monastic tonsure. Just before dawn, when the drowsy soldiers woke up he threw his clipped hair at their feet to take it to his elderly parents. He didn’t wonder what would happen to his elderly parents, how they would take the loss of their son, and, as it appeared, he cared even less about what would happen to the duke when he came back empty handed to the great Nemanja.
Far from his people all he would think about were his people. He got permission from the Emperor Alexios III to restore an abandoned Greek monastery. It was expected that the rich royal son put the restored monastery under the government of the Greek monastery Vatopedi, but Sava had something else planned. The emperor granted the charter for Hilandar to be Serbian and autocephalous, sovereign, and autonomous.
Sava could have remained on the Holy Mountain, leading ascetic life, fasting and constantly praying to God, taking care of his spiritual peace of mind and his salvation. That would have been much easier for him. However, he knew that if he didn’t sacrifice primarily himself he would benefit his people very little. Therefore, he sacrificed himself first and then he entered the turmoil of fighting for his people. He did things in order, he became the archimandrite. Some think that by doing that Sava became the real head of the Serbian Church. His abandonment of the quiet life in monastery and his return to the storm of the battle were the turning moments of our history.
I will try to present to you what kind of battle Sava entered and who were his opponents. Serbian people, who were gathered in one state by the bloody battles and hardship of Sava’s father, Stefan Nemanja, were religiously divided in three parts. Nemanja’s effort was useless: the Serbs would have estranged and disunited if Sava didn’t gather them in one Serbian Church. Here’s why. One part of the people was under Roman jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Split, Bar, and Dubrovnik; the other part of Serbs was submitted to the Archbishopric of Ohrid Church in Nis, Ras, Prizren, and Lipljan and the third part was subordinate to the Greek Metropolis in Drac. Even as a hegumen of Studenica, Sava wanted Serbian Church and state to be independent. He wanted Serbian people to be their own, and not to be subordinate to Rome nor Constantinople.
He chose the most difficult path. As archimandrite, and the head of Studenica, he went all over Serbian country, to all parts that were under his brother Stefan’s government. He didn’t pay much attention to the regulations and even less to the jurisdictions. He was doing his job and realizing his plan.
Sava’s most categorical move was definitely establishing the autocephalous Serbian Church. That showed his unshakable determination. He went around Archbishop Demetrios Chomatenos of Ohrid, who was considered to be the formal head of Serbian Church, and he went directly to Nicaea, to the Emperor and Patriarch, with one request: that the independent Serbian state gets an independent church. We can only imagine what the Emperor had to do, on whose toes he had to step, whose anger he had to cause only to help Sava. Nevertheless, he won the Emperor and Patriarch over to his side. How he did it, he took that secret with him.
On Easter of 1219, he was consecrated as the first bishop of Serbian Church and after that as our first archbishop. He brought about to Serbian Church the right to consecrate its own bishops without having to be accountable to anyone else. Sava returned to Serbia with the Act on Autocephaly of the Serbian Church and the first thing he did was to ordain eight of his pupils as bishops and to establish new bishoprics. He took over Greek bishoprics and suppressed the influence of the Roman diocese in Serbian coastal hinterland. Three of the Greek bishops: of Raska, Prizren and Lipljan, nolens volens were replaced by the Serbs. These bishoprics were his bulwark that protected Serbian Orthodox faith against any intrusion from any side. He’s been restlessly visiting, establishing, preaching, blessing, criticizing, punishing, directing people ever since. There is no Serbian land, village, mountain, or valley where he hadn’t set his foot at least in the people’s imagination.
He left us on this day in 1236 to represent us at the God’s throne and to watch over us from the heavenly heights with his sharp eye.