Churches throughout Serbia and the world are celebrating St. Sava today. Many have already had their St. Sava programs either last weekend or last night, while some churches will be holding their’s this coming weekend. Pictured above is the beginning of the celebration in our parish, with the cutting of the Slava Kolach.
On this day I offer a translation from a lecture given by Bishop Mitrophan (Kodic) of Eastern America, delivered some years ago. I am hoping to be able to finish the translation in the days to come.
Holy Scripture in the Writings of Saint Sava
If we wish to talk about this theme it is necessary, first of all, to focus our attention on the life of St. Sava, as it was seen by his contemporary Hilandar monks Domentijan and Teodosije.
Both of them stress the fact that we cannot seperate the works of Saint Sava from his life. But what is life other than man’s greatest work or his personal book which he can bestow to God. Each saint, including St. Sava, has, first of all, fufilled with themselves the words of the Holy Apostle Paul: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). When one offers their body to the service of God, they have certainly also offered their souls, that is, themselves wholly. For we are to love the Lord “with all of your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). This means that every Saint has fulfilled the commandment of the “everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6) which is the word of the “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14; 21:6).
Having fulfilled Christ’s Gospel, Saint Sava could truly say together with the Holy Apostle: “it is no longer I who live, buth Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). For, according to the words of one of our great theologians “saints are living and walking Gospels”. The gospels could be seen in both their works and words, that is, in their entire lives. For my life is made up of my words. We can add that the Saints are God’s living walking Holy Scripture.
The holy Saints of God were not taught only by one New Testament or Old Testament book, but all of them. For, the one who didn’t consider himself worthy to be called an Apostle (1 Cor. 15:9, says: “All Scripture is given by inspiritation of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thorougly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Or, let us remember the words of St. John Chrysostom who says that it would better that the sun cease to exist than the Psalms of David to disappear.
We find a similar thought in the writings of St. Sava, in his Instructions to the One who Wishes to Keep the Psalter. Namely, St. Sava rewrote the Psalter: “…in thanks for the vigilant and longsuffering life of the holy fathers, and drowning my weakness and poor laziness and heaviness in sleep.” And he advises the monk: “…if you succeed in reciting the entire Psalter before the coming of light, or before the end of the day, then go again from the beginning and begin and finish it. For the Psalter is never completed…and in your assiduity remember also me the sinful monk Sava, that in your perfection my deficiency might be fulfilled” (The Collected Writings of Saint Sava, Belgrade 1986; pg. 142; 2 Cor. 8:14).
The spiritual and intellectual upbringing of Nemanja’s youngest son Rastko began at the royal castle of his mother and father who, according to their biographers, were most God fearing. As the child became stronger “the parents gave him to learn from the holy books”. The parents, therefore, planted the seeds of the gospel in the soul of their son Rastko, which will later grow into a large tree on which the birds of the air can nest in (Matt. 13:31,32).
When he arrived on the Holy Mountain, the young Rastko had already been brought up on the works of early Christianity, Byzantine and Old Slavonic literature. From his literature, as it can be recognized in the works which he left behind, we find first all the Gospels, Epistles, the Psalter and other Old Testament books. But included is spiritual reading in his selection, the Lives of the Saints and the Petericon. We should not forget the Ladder of St. John Climacus as well as the holy fathers of the golden age of “Christian literature”, especially the homilies of St. John Chrysostom (Dr. D. Bogdanovic, History of Serbian Literature, Belgrade, 1980, p. 146).
But young Rastko, though he had everything in abundance, left the home of his parents for the sake of our Lord’s command: “He who loves mother or father more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26). For, in reading the holy books he knew of the saying of the wise Solomon: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2), or rather, the Lord’s words: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul. Or what will a man given in exchange for his soul” (Mark 8:36,37). With this thought he left for the Holy Mountain and it didn’t leave him until his last breath.
In the hymn to St. Sava we sing to the first Archbishop that he “built churches, monasteries, schools and taught people to pray to God.” And each evening and morning, that is, at the church services of the Serbian Orthodox Church, we say in the dismissal: “the holy Serbian enlighteners and teachers: Saint Sava…”etc. Who can be a greater teacher than a holy man? No one. That thought remained with Sava’s successors as well as during the entire duration of the golden period of Serbian history until the “enlightening” centuries when medieval literature began to be forgotten, or rather it was diminished and disliked as something fictitious. Some valued more the fables of Aesop than the lives of the Saints.
Unfortunately, with some of our [literary] critics of more recent times, Skerlic for instance, our old hagiographies and biographies don’t even find a place in their criticism. Among them are included the writings of St. Sava. Regarding this literature of ours, he writes: “All of that literature of the liturgical Book of Needs, the Typicon, canons, chroniclers, hagiographical writings, “praiseful lives” of the Christ loving and honorable rulers, in the best case, apocryphic works, are a result of unhealthy medival church romanticism, all of this was not literature in the true sense of the word and if it is counted today as literature it is in the absence of something else and because it has been accepted as such up until now” (J. Skerlic, Serbian literature in the 18th century, Belgrade, 1923, p. 5). Hence his rationalistic and West-European “enlightening” position towards the works of our spiritual culture is crowned with the words: “Our culture and our literature begins from the 18th century.” For that is the century of “leaving Byzantinism and approaching the West…”. The conclusion follows: Dositej Obradovic is greater than our medieval Saints and, therefore, even St. Sava.
Unfortunately we can constitute that there were writers of different faiths who knew how to respect St. Sava and our literature more than Serbian critics and writers, as is the case with Andrije Zmajevic.
And even when these medieval works were included in Serbian critical works, the many Scriptural quotes found in the writings were considered as an imperfection. As if the Holy Scripture is a product of some unknown and aged writer, and not the work of all works and book of all books. On the contrary, Holy Scripture is spilled throughout their works like the stars in the heavens and precious pearls on the beautiful fabric. The quotes from Holy Scripture are like the beautiful flowers on the elegant rug. And it is these very flowers which give value to the rug. Dr. Dimitrije Bogdanovic, who certainly knows this literature the best, says with truthfulness: “Finally we have begun to reveal the poetry of Serbian medieval literature, material that has for a long time been outside of any scientific investigation”. Here we should mention other wise Serbian writers and critics who have not been drawn by the the Euro-Skrelic enlightment, such as: Vasko Popa, Miodrag Pavlovic, Milan Kasanin and others, not to mention Bishop Nikolai, Fr. Justin Popovic and others.
We musn’t forget that the value of our medieval sources was felt by our brothers by faith, the Russians, in the 19th and 20th centuries among which Dimitri Sergejevich Lihacev is most known.
To be continued