Saint Sabbas the Younger, the ‘fool for Christ’s sake’

4 November 2011

This St Sabbas was born around 1283 in Thessaloniki, the son of pious parents. His name in the world was Stephen. Having received his education in his native city, at the age of 18 he secretly left his family and went to the Holy Mountain, where he subjected himself to a strict elder who lived at the Vatopaidi kelli* in Karyes. There he was tonsured and took the name of Sabbas. His asceticism and his virtues soon made him known among his fellow-monks.

In 1308, after the raids of the Catalans, which caused great upheaval, not only in Thessaloniki, but also on Athos, Saint Sabbas left for Cyprus, where he wandered naked and homeless, acting like a child, before going on to Jerusalem.

When he had made his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visited Sinai, where he lived the ascetic’s life for two years, he went back again to Jerusalem, where he remained for a considerable time, leading a life of great austerity and amazing all who came in contact with him by his virtue and holiness. But because he had seen an angel in a vision urging him to return to his own land, he felt compelled to make the journey back, passing through Crete and mainland Greece before reaching Constantinople, where he took up residence in the Monastery of Diomedes.

However, in order to escape from the admiration of the world which he found here also, he was forced to return to the Holy Mountain and to live at Vatopaidi. There he became acquainted with St Philotheus Coccinus, to whom he revealed his numerous spiritual experiences. The Fathers of the Monastery, in appreciation of the sanctity of Sabbas, wished to honour him with the office of priesthood, but, when they realised that he declined the honour out of humility, respected his refusal.

At the time of the civil war (1341-1347), the Athonites pressed the Saint to take part in an embassy to Constantinople, with a view to putting an end to the civil strife. Although the mission was a failure, the Saint remained in Constantinople, where he contributed in the time of the controversies over Hesychasm to the victory of Orthodoxy, going so far as to predict the condemnation of Acindynus. However, when the Emperor and the church leaders attempted to persuade him to become Patriarch, Sabbas out of great humility and in a cunning manner avoided his elevation to the patriarchal throne. He died in Constantinople around 13494.