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Martyred Holy Fathers who were slain at the Monastery of Saint Savva (20 March)

Saints John, Sergius, Patrick and others were slain in the Monastery of Saint Savva. During the VIII century the area around Jerusalem was subjected to frequent incursions by the Saracens. The monastery of Saint Chariton was devastated and fell into ruin. Twice the Saracens tried to plunder the Lavra of Saint Savva the Sanctified, but God’s Providence protected the monastery. But the third time the Saracens came to plunder the monastery the monks would have been able to escape the barbarians by going to Jerusalem, but they decided not to forsake the place where they had sought salvation for so many years.

On March 13, the Saracens broke into the monastery and demanded all the valuables. The monks told them that there was nothing in the monastery but a meager supply of food and old clothing. Then the Saracens began shooting arrows at the monks.

Thirteen men were killed and many wounded, and monastery cells were set afire. The Saracens intended to torch the monastery church, but seeing a throng of people in the distance, they mistook this for an army sent from Jerusalem. The Saracens managed to get away, carrying off the little they were able to plunder. After the enemy fled, Father Thomas, an experienced physician, began to help those who remained alive.

On Great Thursday, March 20, the Saracens again descended upon the Lavra with a larger force and started to beat the monks. The survivors were driven into the church, where they were tortured in order to force them to reveal where any treasure might be hidden. The monastery was surrounded, so no one could save himself by fleeing. The barbarians seized Saint John, a young monk, who had cared for vagrants. They beat him savagely, then they cut the sinews of his hands and feet and dragged him over stones by his feet, which tore the skin from the martyr’s back.

The keeper of the Church vessels, Saint Sergius, hid them and attempted to flee, but he was captured and beheaded. Several of the monks nevertheless managed to hide themselves outside the monastery in a cave, but they were spotted by a sentry on a hill, and they ordered everyone to come out. Inside the cave Saint Patrick whispered to the brethren with him, “Fear not, I will go alone and meet my death. Meanwhile, sit and pray.”

The Saracens asked whether there was anyone else in the cave, and Patrick said that he was alone. They led him to the Lavra, where the captives awaited their fate. The Saracens demanded of them a ransom of 4,000 gold pieces and the sacred vessels. The monks were not able to give such a ransom. Then they led them into the cave of Saint Savva inside the monastery walls. They lit a fire on which they piled up dung in front of the entrance to the cave, hoping to suffocate the monks with the poisonous fumes. Eighteen men perished in the cave, among whom were Saints John and Patrick. The Saracens continued to torture those who were still alive, but got nothing out of them. Finally, they left the monastery.

Later, on the night of Great Friday, the monks hidden in the hills returned to the Lavra, they took up the bodies of the murdered Fathers to the church and buried them there.

The barbarians who plundered the monastery were punished by God. They were stricken with a sudden illness, and they all perished. Their bodies were devoured by wild beasts.

The Saints commemorated today should not be confused with other martyrs of the Saint Savva Lavra, who suffered in 610, and are commemorated on May 16. The two dates reflect separate attacks on the monastery at different times. History tells us that barbarians raided Saint Savva Lavra on several occasions.

The Righteous Martyrs were put to death by the barbarians during the reign of Emperor Heraclius, when Saint Modestus was Patriarch of Jerusalem (632-634).

This glorious monastery, which still exists today, was visited by St. Sava of Serbia and endowed by several Serbian rulers. Many times it was attacked, pillaged and laid waste by ruthless Arabs. But, by the providence of God, it was always restored and is preserved to this day. During the reign of Constantine and Irene, it was attacked and pillaged by the Arabs. The monks did not want to flee, but taking counsel with their abbot Thomas they said: “We have fled from the world into this wilderness for the sake of our love for Christ, and it would be shameful if we fled from the wilderness out of fear of men. If we are slain here, we will be slain because of our love for Christ, for Whose sake we came here to live.”

Having decided this, they awaited the armed Arabs, unarmed like lambs before wolves. The Arabs slew some of the monks with arrows and some they sealed off in the cave of St. Sava. Then the Arabs lit a fire at the entrance of the cave, and the monks were suffocated by the smoke. Thus many of them died as martyrs for the sake of Christ and went to the Kingdom of Him Whom they loved and for Whose love they perished. They suffered honorably before Pascha [the Feast of the Resurrection] in 796 A.D., during the time of Constantine and Irene, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Elias. A just punishment quickly befell the savage marauders. Returning to their tents, they began to quarrel among themselves and, fighting with one another, slew one another.

Apolytikion of Fathers of the Monastery of St. Savas

Second Tone

Blessed is the earth that drank your blood, O prizewinners of the Lord, and holy are the tabernacles that received your spirits; for in the stadium ye triumphed over the enemy, and ye proclaimed Christ with boldness. Beseech Him, we pray, since He is good, to save our souls.

Kontakion of Fathers of the Monastery of St. Savas

Fourth Tone

Shunning all earthly and corruptible pleasures, ye chose a life of great ascetical struggles, disdaining worldly beauty and all fleeting fame; wherefore, ye dwell joyously in the Kingdom of Heaven with the Martyrs’ holy choirs and the ranks of ascetics. Hence, we revere your memory and cry: From every peril, O Fathers, deliver us.

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