The Serbian Grand Zhupan (Patriarchal leader) Stephen Nemanja had two sons, Stephen and Vukan; yet, he and his wife Anna desired, if it be God's will, to have another child. Their pious prayers ascended before God, Who heard their petition and blessed them with their last child, a son who was born in the year of our Lord 1175. At baptism the child was given the name Rastko, a name derived from the Old Slavonic verb "rasti" which means "to grow." And grow divinely he did. There were many special things about Rastko: he was a lovely child, with pronounced features and smooth skin, and possessed, already in his childhood, an unusually alert and pious demeanor. Little did Rastko's parents and all those of the Royal Court (and even the entire Serb nation) realize that his birth and baptism into Orthodoxy would providentially set in motion their own historical and spiritual journey, which would result in the blossoming of their Christian faith, nation hood and total Christian cultural orientation. This young child, Rastko, whose monastic name later was Sava, became and still remains the most beloved of all Serbian Orthodox saints, considered by all Serbs everywhere and at all times as the ultimate expression and example of what it means to be fully human, that is, what it means to be a devout and committed follower of Jesus Christ.
Rastko, marriage and all worldly knowledge, authority or possessions could not compare to what he had experienced while in conversation with this unknown and simple monk from the Holy Mountain.
"But how can I face my parents?" thought Rastko to himself. "How will I ever make such a journey to the Holy Mountain?" Pondering this dilemma, Rastko, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, came up with a solution. He organized a hunting trip and at an opportune time fled his homeland with the monk to make the long journey to the Holy Mountain.
Discovering his flight, Rastko's father, Zhupan Stephen Nemanja, quickly assembled his best soldiers of the Royal Court and ordered them to the seaport city of Thessalonica, where he hoped they would catch up with Rastko. Stephen also sent a letter with his troops which they presented to the military governor of the city; in it the Grand Zhupan threatened violence to the city if his son was not safely returned. However, these efforts were unfruitful, as Rastko traveled quickly through Thessalonica and arrived by boat at the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon on the Holy Mountain.
When the soldiers arrived at the monastery, the all-night vigil had just begun. The soldiers, not wishing to disturb the Divine Service, entered the Catholikon (main church) and sat in the stalls along the inner walls of the church. Spotting Rastko, they decided to wait patiently until the end of the vigil service and then order Rastko back to his father. However, the soldiers never expected the all-night vigil to last over six hours! As time passed, due to their being physically and mentally exhausted from the grueling journey from Serbia to the Holy Mountain, each of the soldiers fell fast asleep in his stall.
Taking advantage of the situation, Rastko and an elder hieromonk (priest monk) quickly left the church and climbed to the top of the bell tower in the monastery courtyard. During the rest of the night and early morning, the blessed elder instructed Rastko concerning the monastic life and, just prior to the completion of Divine Liturgy (as Divine Liturgy follows every vigil service) the elder received Rastko into monasticism, tonsuring him and giving him the name of Sava, after the great ascetic and holy man of Jerusalem, St. Sava the Sanctified (Dec. 5th). When the soldiers awoke from their sleep in the morning, they quickly went to search for Sava. High up in the air from the window of the bell tower, Sava revealed himself, and then went on to explain to them that his monastic tonsure was completed and that they should not harm any of the monks. Then he threw down his shorn hair and civilian clothes; saying, "Please take this to my parents as a remembrance of my youth." This took place in 1193, when Sava was just 18 years old.
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