27 January 2009

'A Goodness Which Surpasses Understanding'—St Sava of Serbia


Today the Serbian Church commemorates St Sava, Archbishop of the Serbs (1169-1236). Although I’ve yet to to see Serbia, I’ve been blessed to make a pilgrimage to the monastery he founded on the Holy Mountain of Athos, Hilandar, as well as to the ‘House of Silence’ in Karyes, which is attached to the monastery, and was able to venerate the two icons that St Sava brought back from the Mar Sabas monastery in the Holy Land. I also had the great blessing to be at Hilandar for the feastday of St Sava’s father, St Symeon (Nemanja).

One of the more interesting pieces of literature connected with St Sava is a ‘brief but intricate poem’ by an otherwise anonymous monk of Hilandar named ‘Silouan’, which Thomas Butler has called ‘a rare jewel in medieval Serbian literature’ (Thomas Butler, ed. and trans., Monumenta Serbo-Croatica: A Bilingual Anthology of Serbian and Croatian Texts from the 12th to the 19th Century [Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Slavic, 1980], p. 67). The poem first appears in a 15th-c. manuscript from Holy Trinity Monastery in Plevlja, and was printed in 1536-38 in a praznični minej, or ‘festal menaion’. It was based on the Byzantine twelve-syllable, with a caesura after the first seven syllables (Butler, p. 67). Actually, if one pays attention to the caesuras, it occasionally seems to have an alliteration between the hemistichs reminiscent of Old English poetry. Here is the text, as given by Butler (p. 69):

Слави отбегнув, славу обрете, Саво,
Тамо отјуду слава јави се роду.
Рода светлост вери светлост презре,
Тем же роду светило јави се всему.
Ума висота сана висоту сврже,
Тем убо ума више доброту стиже.
Слова слави Саве сплете Силуан.

Fleeing glory, you found glory, Sava,
There whence glory appeared to your people.
The light of faith for your people, you scorned the light,
And thereby you appeared as a beacon to all your people.
Loftiness of intelligence superseded loftiness of position,
Thereby achieving a virtue beyond intelligence.
Siluan composed these words of praise to Sava.

And here is the translation published by Fr Mateja Matejić and Dragan Milivojević in An Anthology of Medieval Serbian Literature in English (Columbus, OH: Slavica, 1978), p. 70:

By escaping from glory
you have found glory, O Sava,
there, whence came glory to the nation.
You have preferred the light of faith
to the light of the [mundane] kingdom,
and thereby illumination came to the whole nation.
Superiority of mind overshadowed supremacy of rank,
thereby you achieved in actuality a goodness
which surpasses understanding.

These words of praise to Sava
were put together by Siluan.

Fr Matejić and Milivojević give the textual sources as follows:

Church Slavonic text (manuscript): Microfilms of Hilandar Manuscripts at the Main Library of Ohio State University, Columbus, OH: #249; #250; #427.

Church Slavonic text published in: Ćorivić, Vladimir, ‘Siloan i Danilo II’, Glas Srpske kraljevske akademije, cxxxvi, drugi razred, 72, (Sremski Karlovci, 1928). (Fr Matejić & Milivojevic, p. 70)

One can read about St Sava in the Prologue for today and in Bulgakov’s Handbook for Sunday, 12 January, his feastday in the Russian Church, and his writings are available in Serbian here. There is a wonderful biography of St Sava written by a 20th-c. Serbian Saint—The Life of St Sava, by St Nicholas (Velimirović) (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 1989). One can purchase it here, among other places. I no longer have a copy, as I gave mine to Max Cavalera to read on tour. Finally, Fr Milovan has, naturally, been posting about St Sava lately.

As a final aside, I once had the pleasure of corresponding with Thomas Butler, who, when I contacted him with a question or two, got more excited about my project than even I was. Unfortunately, I don't think he's working in old Slavic literature anymore, but I do hope he's well this St Sava's day.

[Update: I tried to view this post on St Sava's day and was already thinking of linking to it here, but for some reason it wouldn't load. Anyway, here is an interesting St Sava's day post from my friend, Fr Deacon Gregory Edwards—who currently lives with his wife in my former apartment in Thessaloniki.]

9 comments:

orrologion said...

I no longer have a copy, as I gave mine to Max Cavalera to read on tour.

Uh, what? More, please. For those others not aware, Max Cavalera "was the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the metal band Sepultura".

I'm guessing based on your comment and his living in Phoenix that he has become involved with St. Anthony's...

aaronandbrighid said...

Well, I'm not sure if he's been to St Anthony's yet or not, since he spends so much time on tour that it seems like he's never in Phoenix. But his wife's Serbian, and when they're in Phoenix they often attend a Serbian parish, and maybe a ROCOR parish too. I met Max here in OKC. Gloria's grandmother was a stalwart of our parish, and when she died they came out and now they're in love with my spiritual father. They had him perform an ecclesiastical wedding for them and baptise their grandson. They gave free tickets and backstage passes to any of our parisioners that wanted to go when Soulfly came to town to play. They're really nice people. They've donated a number of church goods and icons to us from Russia and Serbia. We have a St Nicholas icon from them that I've been talking about making prints of and calling it 'St Nicholas Soulflyotis'.

aaronandbrighid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
orrologion said...

Well that's great. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I should check out some of his newer work on Pandora.

Incidentally, Christian Bale is married to a Serbian-American girl, too, and I know she was very devout (we had a mutual friend when I lived in LA). I've always wondered if he was involved in the Church, too.

Is your spiritual father the priest of your parish? Is that the bi-ritual ROCOR parish or is there another?

BTW, I spoke to Herman last night. He's preparing to become the next David Lynch. (Incidentally, in Lynch's "The Straight Story", the old man's goal is to visit his brother in Boscobel, WI, which is where the St. Isaac of Syria Skete is).

aaronandbrighid said...

My spiritual father is the priest of my parish, and it is the bi-ritual ROCOR parish.

What Herman told me was that he was going to be the next Wes Anderson. Maybe he was afraid 'David Lynch' would freak me out! Oh ye of little faith!

That's very interesting about Bale. I've really enjoyed his movies. I hope he is involved in the Church.

frmilovan said...

I had a parishioner in Atlanta tell me her sister in Chicago was dating a band member from Ministry. I was shocked.

She and her husband went to a concert once. Of course they had no idea what kind of music it was (the name "Ministry" is a bid misleading). Anyway, her husband told me 'I was the only one there in a suit and tie.'

I don't know if she's still dating him.

aaronandbrighid said...

That's interesting, Father--I used to be a fan of Ministry in my wild heathen days. Ironically, however, their drummer used to wear a suit and tie back around about 1990.

They strike me as much less far along the road toward Orthodoxy than Max Cavalera.

orrologion said...

My wife was into Ministry in days of yore. She had a number of concert t-shirts. About a year ago the wife decided to take all the old shirts she loved but couldn't fit into (she was pregnant and also not a teenager anymore) and make a quilt out of them. So, we now have two squares on our extra winter quilt: one that says 'Jesus Built My Hotrod' and the other 'A Man With a Good Car Needs No Justification'. As a Lutheran I found the latter more disconcerting (ha!). (The wife also didn't realize that the lettering on one of her other concert Ts glows in the dark - I think it is Nirvana's 'Nevermind'; as expected, this square is at the top of the quilt on my side of the bed immediately by my head - built in nightlight.)

aaronandbrighid said...

On the subject of Ministry t-shirts, the 'Burning Inside' shirt used to be one of my favourite articles of clothing in high school.