Savvas the New of Kalymnos

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St. Savas the New (also spelled Savvas) is the patron saint of the Greek Island of Kalymnos, where he lived during the last twenty years of his life as the priest and spiritual father of the nuns of the Convent of All Saints. He was a great ascetic, confessor, iconographer and miracle-worker. He is one of the recently recognized saints in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Saint Savas was born in 1862 in Eastern Thrace and was baptized with the name of Vasilios. From a young age he had a calling for the holy monastic life and so he left for Mount Athos as a teen where he entered St. Anne's Skete. Along with the usual monastic duties, he learned iconography and Byzantine music.

After a few years, he traveled to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage to the holy sites, and there he entered the monastery of St. George Hozevitou. After a period of being a novice, he was tonsured a monk and given the name of Savas.

In 1902, St. Savas was ordained a deacon and a year later he was ordained to the Holy Priesthood. He spent almost 10 years in the desert by the Jordan where he led an austere life and occupied himself with prayer and iconography. His dwelling consisted of two cells which he reached by ascending up a rope ladder. This isolation was necessary for successful inner concentration and noetic prayer and he made great spiritual progress there.

Due to health reasons and the political situation in Palestine which made life unsafe, St. Savvas returned to Greece where he searched for a quiet place to continue his monastic life. He traveled throughout Greece for three years but could not find a suitable place. His prayers were answered when another saint, St. Nektarios of Aegina, had asked St. Savas to come to the Holy Trinity Convent in Aegina and serve as a priest for nuns. There he would also be able to teach them the sacred art of iconography and Byzantine music. St. Savas stayed at the convent for six years, from 1919 until 1925. This time at the Convent was one of the most significant events in the saint's life due to his association with St. Nektarios who was at the height of his spiritual development. St. Savvas had the opportunity to confess and receive counsel from St. Nektarios. The two had the highest esteem for each other and each considered the other a saint. As a matter of fact, St. Savas painted the first icon of St. Nektarios: One day St. Savas asked the Abbess not to let anyone disturb him for forty days, during which he remained confined to his cell. After 40 days, he came out of his cell holding an icon of St. Nektarios. He handed it to the Abbess and asked her to place it in the church for veneration. The Abbess was surprised since St. Nektarios had not been glorified ("canonized") as a saint yet and she was afraid that the convent would get into trouble. Although the saint was always meek and humble, he insisted, and told her in a commanding manner: "You must show obedience. Take the icon and place it on the icon stand, and do not scrutinize the will of God." He knew the holiness and purity of St. Nektarios.

After St. Nektarios reposed, more and more pilgrims would come to the convent due to the growing reputation of St. Nektarios as a miracle-worker. This disrupted the quiet life that St. Savas loved and so he departed the convent in 1925, again for a quieter life.

St. Savas spent the last years of his life as the priest and spiritual father at the Convent of All Saints on the island of Kalymnos. As a confessor, he combined leniency with severity. He was lenient on certain sins and severe to others. He remained an ardent spiritual striver until the end of life and practiced extreme forms of self-restraint with regard to food, drink and sleep. St. Savas became a shining example of virtue to all who came into contact with him. Many smelled a heavenly fragrance in his presence and some even saw him rising above the ground as he stood at prayer.

Towards the end of his life, St. Savas was in a state of intense prayer and holy contrition. For 3 days he did not receive anyone and he gave his last counsels: requested love and obedience in Christ. When he was on the point of death taking his last breath, suddenly he received strength, brought his blessed small hands together, and clapped them repeatedly saying his last holy words: "The Lord! The Lord! The Lord!". He went to the Lord in 1948 on the eve of the feast of the Annunciation. One nun saw the soul of the saint ascending in a golden cloud towards heaven. After about 10 years when the saint's grave was opened in accordance to the Greek Orthodox custom, a heavenly fragrance emanated from the grave and this was witnessed by many, including the local bishop. This was a testament to the sanctity of the saint. Numerous miracles and healings have since been attributed to St. Savas the New of Kalymnos.

Sources: Modern Orthodox Saints Vol. 8 - St. Savvas the New by Dr. Constantine Cavarnos, Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies

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