March 2, 2020

Saint Sabbatius of Tver (+ 1434)

St. Sabbatius of Tver (Feast Day - March 2)

Venerable Sabbatius of Tver labored in asceticism with the blessing of Saint Arsenius, Bishop of Tver, 15 miles from Tver. According to legend, he came to Tver from the holy city of Jerusalem and brought with him a small wooden cross, in which there was a particle of the True Cross. In Tver, Sabbatius followed Saint Cyprian, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia (1390-1406). Metropolitan Cyprian is known primarily for the fact that he actively introduced the Jerusalem Typikon in the Russian Metropolitanate in place of the Studite Typikon. Therefore, it is not surprising that with him he decided to take several monks from the Orthodox East, and, one must think, outstanding monks who could convey directly to Russians the experience of monastic life under the new typikon and affirm it with their high authority.

In 1390 Saint Cyprian arrived in Tver at the invitation of the Grand Duke of Tver Mikhail Alexandrovich (1368-1399). Here he placed on the Tver bishopric throne his archdeacon Arsenius, the future Saint Arsenius the Wonderworker (1390-1409). In the retinue of the Metropolitan was a whole group of “Palestinian monks” who brought to Moscow in 1390 the miraculous icon of the Mother of God “The Burning Bush”.

Seeking a more rigorous monastic feat, Sabbatius retired to the wild forest 12 miles east of Tver on the banks of the river Orsha, where he dug himself a small cave, as well as a well. The ascetic exhausted his body by wearing heavy iron chains, to which a stone was attached. The total weight with the stone was 57 pounds, i.e. about 25 kg. In addition, the old man had the custom of walking barefoot, apparently brought by him from the Middle East. Many years he passed in a solitary prayer feat, ultimately bearing the fruit of holiness and abundant gifts of the Spirit.

In the late 1390's the fame of the holy hermit from Palestine, living in the desert near Tver, spread in the local monasteries. The well-known at that time Tver ascetics came to a secluded forest cave of the elder Sabbatius for spiritual advice, blessing and prayer help: Saints Savvas Borozdin († 1460), Savvas of Tver († 1461) and Barsanuphius of Tver († 1467), founders and abbots of Savvin Monastery; Saint Nectarius of the Tver († 15th century), founder of the Nectarian Monastery; Saint Xenophon Tutan the Wonderworker († 15th century), student of Saint Sergius of Radonezh and the founder of the Tutan Monastery; Saint Zosima Klinsky, founder of the Zosima Monastery, and many others. According to legend, the elder Sabbatius, seeing the spirit of the approaching visitors, came out to meet them from his forest wilderness and talked with them, and then escorted them towards Tver at a distance of six miles. Subsequently, at the place where Sabbatius met his interlocutors and where he said goodbye to them, memorial chapels were erected.

Many of those who came to the Saint Sabbatius wanted to stay to live next to him and to work under his leadership. And so the Monastery of Savvatiev arose. According to the Jerusalem Typikon, the monastery was cenobitic, i.e. all the brethren lived together and had everything in common. Along with this, the most strict monks settled around the monastery in secluded cells, imitating the feat of their teacher, the elder Sabbatius, who, even after the founding of the monastery, did not leave his solitude in the forest cave. The ascetic lived there for forty-four years until his death on April 24, 1434. From here, he led the monastery, helped the brethren to erect cells, he dug up ridges for vegetables, carried water from the river to the monastery, not disdaining the simplest work. But most importantly, he showed a way of life in Christ, showing his spiritual children the path to salvation.

According to a special revelation, Sabbatius set up a church on the spot where he was honored to see the life-giving Cross of the Lord shining with uncreated light. Initially, it was a small wooden church in honor of the icon of the Mother of God "Burning Bush". Presumably, this temple was the first in Russia with such a dedication, because the image of the Virgin "The Burning Bush" became known in Russia only in 1390, when the icon was brought to Moscow from the Middle East by the "Palestinian monks", among whom, presumably, was Saint Sabbatius. Later, during the life of Sabbatius, this temple was demolished or burned down, and in its place the Church of the Sign of the Virgin was erected, which for a long time remained the main monastery church or cathedral.

At the end of April 1434, the honorable body of the monastery’s founder, Venerable Elder Sabbatius, the hermit of Tver, the Wonderworker, was buried in the Znamensky Church. It is significant that the burial was made by another famous Russian saint, the Archbishop of Novgorod Euthymius († 1458), who was passing through Tver at that moment.