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December 5, 2015

A Cemetery Full of Grace at the Lavra of Saint Savvas in Palestine

Any visitor today to the Holy Lavra of Saint Savvas the Sanctified in the Holy Land can witness three miracles. First, the incorrupt relics of Saint Savvas can be seen and venerated. Second, one can drink from the Holy Spring of the Lavra, which dates back to the time of Saint Savvas and came to exist in a miraculous manner; even today this spring flows in the desert all year around and no one can locate its source. Third, is the cemetery of the generations of monks that lived in asceticism in the Holy Lavra.

Underneath the courtyard of the Lavra, between the Katholikon of the Annunciation and the Tomb of Saint Savvas, is the location of the underground cemetery of the Monastery. Originally Saint Savvas, who reposed in 532, was buried here, until a chapel was built specifically to house his sacred relic. The reason for the cemetery's location beneath the Monastery is because the rocky desert did not allow easy access to bury the monks. In this cemetery the bodies of deceased holy fathers are placed on a table without burial in the ground, which decompose naturally without any unpleasant smell or worms. As one monk says: "If we could smell the bodies not only could no one approach this place, but we would have had to abandon the Monastery." After a period of time, bones of the deceased monks are gathered, washed with water, and then carefully kept in a side room.

Many thousands of reposed monks have gone through this process. The monks therefore have a chance to see the bodies of the fathers at various stages of dissolution. This image, which to many would seem appalling, is the cause of reverence and joy to the monks, because it reveals God's victory over death, which is no longer an enemy of mankind.