St Sabas

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Patriarch. Born in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey) in 438, Sabas is one of the most highly regarded patriarchs among the monks of Palestine and is considered one of the founders of Eastern monasticism.

After an unhappy childhood in which he was abused and ran away several times, Sabas finally sought refuge in a monastery. While family members tried to persuade him to return home, the young boy felt drawn to monastic life and became a monk.

At the age of 18 he traveled to Jerusalem where he asked to be accepted as a disciple of a well-known local solitary. Because he was so young, at first Sabas lived in a monastery, where he worked during the day and spent much of the night in prayer. Then when he reached 30 he was given permission to spend five days each week in a nearby remote cave, engaging in prayer and manual labour. Following the death of his mentor, St Euthymius, Sabas moved farther into the desert near Jericho. There he lived for several years in a cave near the brook Cedron. A rope was his means of access. Wild herbs among the rocks were his food. Occasionally men brought him other food and items, while he had to go a distance for water.

Some of these men asked whether they could join him in his solitude. At first he refused. But eventually, more than 150 men, living in individual huts, grouped together with him around a church, called a laura.

The bishop persuaded a reluctant Sabas, then in his early 50s, to prepare for the priesthood so that he could better serve his monastic community. While functioning as abbot among a large community of monks, he felt ever called to live the life of a hermit. Every year he left his monks throughout Lent.

Over the years Sabas traveled throughout Palestine, preaching the true faith and converting many. At the age of 91, in response to a plea from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sabas undertook a journey to Constantinople. He fell ill and, soon after his return, died at the monastery at Mar Saba. Today the monastery is still inhabited by monks of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and St Sabas is regarded as one of the most noteworthy figures of early monasticism.

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