Sabbas’s father was a soldier, who took his wife with him on manoeuvres, leaving their son in his Uncles care, until the age of eight, when he entered a monastic school. When he was seventeen years old, his parents asked Sabbas to return home and marry, but Sabbas insisted on receiving monastic tonsure. It is hard to know, at this point in Sabbas’s story, whether his decision is driven more by a sense of calling to the monastic life or the desire to remain in what had become his home, living the only life he had witnessed. He would barely have known his parents or what married life looked like. Let’s pause to thank God that, whatever the thought processes guiding this teenager, the resulting actions gave glory to God.
Sabbas spent ten years at this monastery before travelling to Jerusalem, to a monastery that practiced a strict rule he lived here until the age of thirty, when Elder Theoctistus died. With this death Sabbas discovered the desire to live a more secluded life. Living as a hermit in a cave was part of the monastic experience of the time, but what prompted Sabbas’s decision? Did he feel the call to a deeper, more silent life of prayer; did he need fewer distractions or was he trying to distance himself from grief by making himself less attached to others? Whatever his personal motivations, God blessed his actions.
St. Sabbas was blessed to seclude himself in a cave. On Saturdays, however, he left his hermitage and came to the monastery, where he participated in divine services and ate with the brethren. After a certain time, however, St. Sabbas received permission not to leave his cave at all, he remained there for five years, until his spiritual director died. St. Sabbas then withdrew from the Lavra (rich monastery) and moved to a cave near the Jordan. In 478, he moved again to a cave on the cliffs of the Kedron Gorge southeast of Jerusalem. Each time he seems to be moving to more remote, more secluded spots, to be totally alone with God or away from all people. So, God being God, made people curious about this holy, prayerful man.
Disciples began to gather around St. Sabbas, seeking the monastic life. As the number of monks increased, a lavra came into being around his hermitage. When a pillar of fire appeared before St. Sabbas as he was walking, he found a spacious cave in the form of a church. Eventually St. Sabbas founded several other monasteries and he composed the first monastic Rule of church services, the “Jerusalem Typikon”, that became accepted by all the Palestinian monasteries.
How wonderful that God can take the journey of a life that withdraws from other people into greater and greater solitude and silence and use it to bring together communities of love, prayer and faith.
On this day, lift before God:
- those, who live ordered, disciplined lives.
- all who spend long periods of time alone.
- Christians in Palestine today.