April 18, 2018

Holy Martyr Savvas the General and Goth (+ 372)


Savvas entered the corruptible water with pleasure,
Now you drink the pleasant incorruptible waters.

The faith of Christ erected its trophies not only over the pride and sophistry of the heathen philosophers, and the united power of the Roman Empire, but also over the kings of barbarous infidel nations; who, though in every other thing the contrast of the Romans, and enemies to their name, yet vied with them in the rage with which they sought, by every human stratagem, and every invention of cruelty, to depress the cross of Christ, by which the finger of God was more visible in the propagation of His faith. Even among the Goths, His name was glorified by the blood of martyrs. Athanaric, king of the Goths, in the year 370, and according to Saint Jerome, raised a violent persecution against the Christians among them. The Greeks commemorate fifty-one martyrs who suffered in that nation. The two most illustrious are Saints Niketas and Savvas.*

This latter was by birth a Goth, converted to the faith in his youth, and a faithful imitator of the obedience, mildness, humility, and other virtues of the apostles. He was affable to all men, yet with dignity; a lover of truth, an enemy to all dissimulation or disguise, intrepid, modest, of few words, and a lover of peace; yet zealous and active. To sing the divine praises in the church, and to adorn the altars, was his great delight. He was so scrupulously chaste, that he shunned all conversation with women, except what was indispensable. He often spent whole days and nights in prayer, and devoted his whole life to the exercises of penance: fleeing vainglory, and by words and example inducing others to a love of virtue, he burned with an ardent desire, in all things to glorify Jesus Christ.

The princes and magistrates of Gothia began, in 370, to persecute the Christians, by compelling them to eat meats which had been sacrificed to idols, out of a superstitious motive, as if they were sanctified. Some heathens who had Christian relations, desiring to save them, prevailed upon the king’s officers to present them common meats which had not been offered to the idols. Savvas condemned this impious collusion, and not only refused to eat such meats, but protested aloud that whoever should eat them would be no longer a Christian, having by that scandalous compliance renounced his faith. Thus he hindered many from falling into that snare of the devil, but displeased others, who banished him from his town, though they some time after recalled him home.

The next year the persecution was renewed, and a commissary of the king arrived at Saint Savvas’s town in search of Christians. Some of the inhabitants offered to swear on the victims that there were no Christians in the place. Savvas appeared, and stepping up to those who were going to take that oath, said: “Let no man swear for me, for I am a Christian.” Notwithstanding this, the commissary ordered the oath to be tendered. Therefore the principal men of the city hid the other Christians, and then swore that there was but one Christian in their town. The commissary commanded that he should appear. Savvas boldly presented himself. The commissary asked the bystanders what wealth he had, and being told he had nothing besides the clothes on his back, the commissary despised him, saying: “Such a fellow can do us neither good nor harm.”

The persecution was renewed with much greater fury in 372, before Easter. Savvas considered how he could celebrate that solemnity, and for this purpose set out to go to a priest named Gouttica in another city. Being on the road, he was admonished by God to return, and keep the festival with the priest Sansala. He did so, and on the third night after Atharidus, son of one that enjoyed a petty sovereignty in that country, entered the town, and with an armed troop suddenly broke into the lodgings of Sansala, surprised him asleep, bound him, and threw him on a cart. They pulled Savvas out of bed without suffering him to put on his clothes, and dragged him naked as he was over thorns and briers, forcing him along with whips and staves.

When it was day, Savvas said to his persecutors: “Have not you dragged me, quite naked, over rough and thorny grounds? Observe whether my feet are wounded, or whether the blows you gave me have made any impression on my body,” and indeed they could not perceive any the least marks. The persecutors being enraged, for want of a rack, took the axle-tree of a cart, laid it upon his neck, and stretching out his hands, fastened them to each end. They fastened another in like manner to his feet, and in this situation they tormented him a considerable part of the following night. When they were gone to rest, the woman of the house in which they lodged untied him, but he would not make his escape, and spent the remainder of that night in helping the woman to dress victuals for the family.

The next day Atharidus commanded his hands to be tied, and caused him to be hung upon a beam of the house, and soon after ordered his servants to carry him and the priest certain meats that had been offered to idols, which they refused to eat, and Savvas said: “This pernicious meat is impure and profane, as is Atharidus himself who sent it.” One of the slaves of Atharidus, incensed at these words, struck the point of his javelin against the Saint’s breast with such violence, that all present believed he had been killed. But Saint Savvas said: “Do you think you have slain me? Know, that I felt no more pain than if the javelin had been a lock of wool.” Atharidus, being informed of these particulars, gave orders that he should be put to death. Wherefore, having dismissed the priest Sansala, his companion, they carried away Saint Savvas in order to throw him into the Musaeus.** The martyr, filled with joy in the Holy Spirit, blessed and praised God without ceasing for thinking him worthy to suffer for his sake.

Having come to the river side, the officers said one to another: “Why don’t we let this man go? He is innocent; and Atharidus will never know anything of the matter.” Saint Savvas, overhearing them, asked them why they trifled, and were so dilatory in obeying their orders? “I see,” said he, “what you cannot. I see persons on the other side of the river ready to receive my soul, and conduct it to the seat of glory. They only wait the moment in which it will leave my body.” Hereupon they threw him into the river, praising God to the last, and by the means of the axle-tree they had fastened about his neck, they strangled him in the water. He therefore suffered martyrdom, say the acts, by water and wood, the symbols of baptism and the cross, which happened on the 12th of April, Valentinian and Valens being emperors, in 372.

After this the executioners drew his body out of the water, and left it unburied, but the Christians of the place guarded it from birds and beasts of prey. Junius Soranus, military commander of Scythia, a man who feared God, carried off the body, which he sent into his country, Cappadocia. With these relics was sent a letter from the church of Gothia to that of Cappadocia, which contains an account of the martyrdom of Saint Savvas, and concludes thus: “Wherefore offering up the holy sacrifice on the day whereon the martyr was crowned, impart this to our brethren, that the Lord may be praised throughout the Catholic and Apostolic Church for thus glorifying His servants.” Thus the acts were sent to the Church of Cappadocia, together with the relics of Saint Savvas. The text of the acts contained in a letter, written by the Church of Gothia to that of Cappadocia, of which Saint Basil was then the Bishop of Caesarea, was penned, in all appearance, by Saint Ascholios, Bishop of Thessaloniki, at that time subject to the Goths.

Basil of Caesarea had requested that the military commander of Scythia Minor, Junius Soranus, send him the relics of saints from Gothia and the Dacian priests sent the relics of Savvas to him in Caesarea, Cappadocia, in 373 or 374. In response, Basil replied with two letters to Bishop Ascholios where he extolled the virtues of Savvas, calling him an 'athlete of Christ' and a 'martyr for the truth' (see Letters 163, 164 and 165 of Basil the Great).


* Three saints bear the name of Savvas and are called generals, who suffered a martyric end for Christ. Two of them were Goths, such as the Saint Savvas of today as well as the one commemorated on April 24th, though the latter lived in the third century; the third is commemorated on October 29th, but no other information is given about him.

The account presented above of the life of Saint Savvas the Goth was written by Alban Butler and is contained in his Lives of the Saints "April 12". In the Roman Martyrology he is commemorated on April 12th, in the Slavonic Churches he is commemorated on April 15th, and in the Greek Churches he is commemorated on April 18th.

** A river in Wallachia, now called Mussovo, which falls into the Danube a little below Rebnik.