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December 5, 2022

The Veneration of Saint Savvas the Sanctified in Georgia

The popularity of Saint Savvas the Sanctified in Georgia is reflected in the numerous depictions of him in works of art and the churches dedicated to him.

It is further reflected in the fact that his Life written by Cyril of Scythopolis was translated into Georgian as early as the late 6th or early 7th century, although the earliest Georgian manuscript dates to 864 (Sinai georg. MS 32, 33, 57). Sinai georg. MS 65 includes "Old Georgian Hymns" dedicated to Saint Savvas.

These seem to have been translated and composed and then brought to Georgia by Georgian authors who lived and labored at the Lavra of Savvas in Palestine since the 6th and 7th century, such as Martviri (6th-7th cent.) and Seity (late 8th cent.).

Gregory Khandzta (759-861), a founder of many monasteries in Georgia, sent for the Sabaite typikon, which was brought to him in 826.

Hilarion the Iberian lived in the Lavra of Saint Savvas for seven years (847-854).

Another Iberian, George Prochoros, was the founder of the Monastery of the Holy Cross, west of Jerusalem, and had previously joined the Lavra of Saint Savvas around 992 and stayed there for many years.

Neophytos of Cyprus tells the tragic story of a 12th century Georgian stylite monk named Gabriel in his Narration on a Palestinian Monk, which it appears he heard from one of his disciples. In the 1160's he asked to be admitted to the Lavra of Saint Savvas, after living as a recluse for eleven years. After living in the lavra for several years, he was permitted to live as a stylite nearby. When three years passed living as a stylite at the lavra, the devil and two demons appeared to him in the guise of Savvas the Sanctified, Symeon the Stylite and Stephen Trichinas (a 7th century abbot of the lavra mentioned by John Moschos). They managed to lead him astray by renouncing the Virgin Mary as the Theotokos and to worshiping the devil instead of Christ. After this he descended his pillar and attempted to murder a solitary named David. The abbot at the time, named Savvas, dispatched him to recuperate in the Monastery of Saint Euthymios, where he remained until the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187. While fleeing from the Monastery of Saint Euthymios to the Lavra of Saint Savvas, Gabriel and other monks fell into the hands of the Arabs and was taken to Damascus. Though Neophytos does not know the fate of Gabriel after this, a marginal note in the manuscript adds that in 1205 Gabriel resumed his life as an ascetic around Antioch.

In the 1370's, Archimandrite Agrefenii mentioned a Georgian church in a cave on a mountain near the tomb of Saint Savvas, where the forty martyrs were burned. It was locked when he visited it, and today its location is unknown. Later pilgrims also mention this chapel, but none describe it as Georgian.

In the region of Tashir in Georgia, which is now part of Armenia, on the estate of the Svetitskhovely family, there was a village named after Saint Savvas.

Five monasteries and churches in Georgia are dedicated to Saint Savvas, including a 10th century church near Gelati Monastery.