Cyril of Scythopolis composes the Life of *Sabas (‘the Sanctified’, monastic founder in Palestine, ob. 532, S00910), recounting his life as a miracle working ascetic and founder of numerous monasteries, adding a set of posthumous miracle stories, and including references to cults of several other saints. Written in Greek at the New Laura in Palestine, 555/557. Overview entry
Literary - Hagiographical - Lives
Cyril of Scythopolis
Cyril of Scythopolis, Life of Sabas (CPG 7536, BHG 1608)
(References to other saints, and their cults, are highlighted in bold.)
Like the Life of Euthymios, this book is also addressed to abbot Georgios of Beella. Cyril’s sources are monks who lived with Sabas.
Origins and youth
1. Sabas is born in 439 at the village of Moutalaske near Caesarea of Cappadocia to pious parents called Ioannes and Sophia. When he is five, his parents move to Alexandria and leave him with two uncles in Cappadocia.
2-5. As the uncles feud over the family property, Sabas joins the monastery of Flavianae near Moutalaske. He quickly progresses in virtue and grace.
Early asceticism in Jerusalem (age 18-39)
5-10. At the age of 18, he moves to Jerusalem. After spending a year at the monastery of *Passarion (S01502), he visits *Euthymios (S01352) who commends him to the monastery of *Theoktistos (S01622). He lives there till the age of 30.
10-11. At the age of 30, he is allowed to spend some days every week in seclusion in a cave. He joins Euthymios and Dometianos in their solitary retreats in the desert during Lent. Afflicted by thirst, Sabas is saved by a miracle of Euthymios. The latter dies soon after.
12-14. At the age of 35, Sabas joins *Gerasimos (S01507) as an anchorite in the desert of the Jordan, and the deserts of Koutila and Rouba. There he experiences strong temptations, meets important ascetics, including *Theodosios (S01325), and is granted the grace of not fearing barbarians.
15-16. Four years later (478), he settles in a cave next to a stream, where he spends five years in solitude. He attracts many disciples and a laura is formed (in 483).
Establishment and early years of the Great Laura (Megiste Laura)
17-18. Sabas miraculously discovers a water spring and the cave which becomes the church of the laura. Sabas also builds a tower there.
19. In 486, certain monks in the community cause unrest, because Sabas is not an ordained priest. They complain to Patriarch Sallustius who ordains Sabas to the priesthood, and consecrates the altar of his church by the deposition of relics of martyrs on 12 December 490.
20. At that time, the laura is joined by three Armenian monks, Ieremias, Petros, and Paulos. Sabas allows them to celebrate services in Armenian, and soon a sizeable Armenian group is formed.
21. In the same period, the laura is joined by John the Hesychast, Cyril’s main source of information.
22-24. Following the example of Euthymios, Sabas retires into the deep desert every January, having first celebrated the feasts of *Antony (S00098) (17 January) and *Euthymios (20 January). He performs miracles in the desert.
25. In c. 490, Sabas’ father, Ioannes, dies, and his mother, Sophia, comes to the laura with the family fortune. She soon dies too, and Sabas uses his inherited money to build hostels for the monastery.
26. Miraculous protection of a monk who invokes God through the name of Sabas.
κύριε ὁ Θεὸς τοῦ ἀββᾶ μου Σάβα, μή με ἐγκαταλείπῃς ('Lord God of my abbot Sabas, do not forsake me!').
27-28. On 21 January 492, Sabas, at the age of 54, goes to the mount of Kastellion, 20 miles east of the laura, a haunted place which he cleanses from its demons. There, he establishes a cenobitic monastery in 493, which is used for the training of young monks, before they are admitted to live as hermits in the laura.
29. Sabas admits no beardless boys to the monastery, but commends them to the coenobium of Theodosios, with whom he has a close spiritual connection.
30. Patriarch Sallustius appoints both of them as superiors of all the monks of Jerusalem, Theodosios presiding over the coenobia, and Sabas over the hermits.
31. In 494, Elias becomes Patriarch. Sabas buys land and builds hostels for his laura.
32. More buildings are built at the laura, including a new church, dedicated to *Mary the Theotokos (S00033), which is built in order to serve the growing Armenian group.
The establishment of the New Laura, and other monasteries
33. The rebellious group of monks (ch. 19) causes troubles again, and Sabas moves to the region of Scythopolis, in order to live as a hermit near the river of Gadara. Episode with a lion which lived in his cave.
34. He becomes famous and attracts disciples also there.
35. He returns to the Great Laura, but, unable to reconcile himself with the rebels, he goes to the area of Nicopolis and lives there as a hermit, creating a new monastery. With the support of Patriarch Elias, Sabas returns and takes leadership of his laura.
36. The rebellious monks react violently and destroy some buildings of the monastery, and leave. After wanderings, they settle at an old abandoned settlement of schismatic monks at the stream of Thekoa (Tekoa/Tuqu'), using the shrine of *Amos (Old Testament Prophet, S01419) (τὸ προφητεῖον τὸ ἐν Θεκώοις τοῦ ἁγίου Ἀμὼς) as a church. This new settlement is called the New Laura. Despite their malicious behaviour, Sabas sympathises with the difficulties which the breakout brotherhood faces, and provides them with material support. He builds for them buildings, and appoints an abbot for their community (in 507). The first Origenist monks join the New Laura, but keep their heterodoxy private, as long as Sabas is alive.
37. Foundation of the coenobium of the Spelaion (Cave), 15 stades west of the Great Laura (Megiste Laura). Notable clerics from this monastery.
38. Sabas converts to Orthodoxy two Nestorian monks who lived in a tower built by the empress Eudocia in the eastern desert. He establishes a new monastery there.
39-41. Stories about the monk Iakobos, and the foundation of the Heptastomos Laura near the Megiste.
42. Establishment of the coenobium of Zannos.
Holy men living at the Laura, and miracles of Sabas
43. Death of the holy monk Anthimos who lived near the Megiste Laura.
44. The story of the holy man Aphrodisios. They buried him ‘with the presbyters’, and Sabas ordered that his tomb be placed at such a place where visitors should recognise and venerate it.
45. Sabas heals Gerontios from Madaba.
46. Sabas transforms vinegar into wine.
47. Sabas checks a disciple who looked at a girl.
48. Sabas turns bitter pumpkins into sweet.
49. Sabas heals a lion which follows and serves him in the desert. Story of the Syrian disciple Flais (Flavius?) and his donkey.
Doctrinal strife under the emperor Anastasius (AD 511-518)
50-54. Sabas is sent by Patriarch Elias to Constantinople, as a member of an embassy to the emperor Anastasius in 511. Elias was in conflict with Anastasius on account of the emperor's opposition to Chalcedonian Orthodoxy. Sabas is received with respect by the emperor and is allowed to spend the winter at the court. He prevents the deposition of Elias by Anastasius, and meets the empress Ariadne and orthodox ladies of the court. He achieves the cancellation of a tribute imposed on the Anastasis and other shrines in Jerusalem.
55. While in Constantinople, Sabas sends money in order to turn the house of his family in Moutalaske (Cappadocia) into a church of *Kosmas and Damianos (brothers, physicians and martyrs in Syria, S00385). He converts to orthodoxy the Monophysite abbot Mamas. When he returns to Palestine, Sabas distributes equally to his monasteries the money given to him by the emperor.
56. Events following the appointment of the opponent of Chalcedon Severus as Patriarch of Antioch. Elias of Jerusalem is deposed and exiled. His successor John III (516-524) promises to be in communion with Severus, but the reaction of the monks makes him change his mind. A gathering of 10,000 monks led by Sabas and Theodosios at the basilica of *Stephen (the first martyr, S00030) in Jerusalem anathematises the opponents of Chalcedon. The basilica is described as the only church of the city which could accommodate such a great crowd.
57. The letter of Sabas and Theodosios to the emperor is quoted. The deposition of Patriarch John III is prevented by the outbreak of Vitalian’s uprising.
58. Recapitulation of Sabas’ monastic foundations: the Great (Megiste) Laura, the New (Nea) Laura, the Heptastomos, the Kastellion, the Spelaion, and the monasteries of Scholarios and Zannos. Besides these new foundations, Sabas also provided support for the ancient coenobia of Euthymios and Theoktistos. Famine and drought scourge the region after the deposition and exile of Patriarch Elias (AD 516).
59. Miracle concerning disobedience.
60. The deposed Patriarch Elias dies in exile, while being visited by Sabas. Elias is warned about his own death by a vision which announces to him that the emperor Anastasius has also died (AD 518). After the accession of Justin I, Orthodoxy is restored.
Reign of Justin I (518-527)
61. The new Patriarch, John, sends Sabas to Caesarea and Scythopolis, in order to present the imperial letters requiring the inscription of the Council of Chalcedon in the ecclesiastical diptychs. At Caesarea, he is received by the revered ascetic bishop *Ioannes of Chozeba (S02030). At Scythopolis, the locals and metropolitan Theodosios welcome him at the shrine (ἀποστολεῖον) of *Thomas (the Apostle, S00199). Sabas prophesies the death by fire of the Samaritan official Silvanos who oppresses the Christians.
62. Sabas heals a woman with an issue of blood by the so-called Arch of Saint John (ἀψὶς τοῦ Ἁγίου Ἰωάννου), on one of the main streets of Scythopolis. He visits the monastery of Enthemaneith in the region of Saint John (ἐν τοῖς περὶ τὸν ἅγιον Ἰωάννην τόποις), where he meets *Ioannes (S02518), a blind recluse gifted with the charisma of prophecy. It is recounted that he lived for more than 100 years, after 80 years of monastic life and 50 years in reclusion.
63. At the monastery of Enthemaneith, Sabas heals the possessed daughter of a man from Scythopolis, anointing both of them with holy oil of the true Cross (ἔλαιον τοῦ πανσέπτου Σταυροῦ). The author’s (Cyril of Scythopolis) father, Ioannes, was present when the miracle happened. At that point, Sabas also visited Cyril’s home and blessed his mother.
64. Sabas’ perseverance in fasting.
65. The close friendship between Sabas, abbot of all the eremitic communities, and Theodosios, abbot of all cenobitic monasteries of the territory of Jerusalem.
66-67. Rain miracles during the fourth and fifth years of the great drought. Sabas’ prayers cause torrential rains which relieve the monastery of the Spelaion in June 520, and the city of Jerusalem on 5 September 520, just before the feast of Encaenia.
Reign of Justinian I (527-532)
68. Patriarch John III dies and is succeeded by Peter (524-544), while emperor Justin I is succeeded by Justinian I (527). Patriarch Peter honours Sabas as much as his predecessors did. Sabas heals the patriarch’s sister, Hesychia.
69. After the death of Anicia Juliana, the eunuchs of her household come to Jerusalem and settle in a monastery, known from then on as that of ‘the Eunuchs’.
70. On 11 January 529 (when Sabas is 90 years old), Theodosios dies. Four months later, the Samaritan revolt breaks out. Churches and villages are burned. The bishop of Neapolis *Mamonas (S02517) is killed, and presbyters are slaughtered and burned together with relics of martyrs. A usurper called Ioulianos is crowned emperor, but the revolt is suppressed by the emperor. Sabas’ prophesy about the death of the Samaritan Silouanos is fulfilled – he is burned alive in Scythopolis. Justinian and Theodora decide to punish the region, and Sabas is sent by Patriarch Peter to Constantinople, in order to request tax alleviation for Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Secunda (April 530).
71. Justinian sends his ships to welcome Sabas. At the palace, the emperor has a vision of grace shining around the head of Sabas. He venerates the holy man and is blessed by him. Sabas also visits Theodora who asks him to pray for her to have a child, but the holy man does not respond. He later confides to his companions that the empress will never have children, lest she raises a Monophysite emperor worse than Anastasius. Justinian’s wrath towards Palestine is quenched, and he issues oppressive laws against the Samaritans. The Samaritan Arsenios goes to Constantinople and is baptised.
72. Sabas’ petitions Justinian: tax immunity for the churches of Jerusalem; rebuilding of churches destroyed by the Samaritans and assistance for the Christian communities affected by the revolt; building of a nosokomeion (hospital) for strangers in Jerusalem; completion of the unfinished New Church of *Mary (the Nea) in Jerusalem which was started by Patriarch Elias; building of a fortress against the invading Saracens in the desert, near Sabas’ monastery. In reward, God will grant Justinian Rome, Africa and all the realm of Honorius (the Roman West), and will conquer the Arians, Nestorians, and Origenists.
73. Justinian immediately grants all these petitions. A hospital of 200 beds, with annual revenue of 1850 gold pieces, is built in the centre of Jerusalem. The engineer Theodoros is sent to Jerusalem and the Nea is built in 12 years, under the supervision of Patriarch Peter and bishop Barachos of Bakatha.
74. Sabas returns to Palestine (September 531) and distributes the money given by the emperor to his monasteries. The new laura of Ieremias is established.
75. Sabas is sent by the Patriarch to the cities, in order to present the imperial edicts. At Scythopolis, he stays at the house of the martyr *Prokopios (martyr of Caesarea, S00118), within the bishop’s house. He is attended by the author’s (Cyril of Scythopolis) father (then chief cleric of the bishopric), and he blesses little Cyril whom he nominates as a future monk. Sabas goes to the area of the shrine of Thomas, in order to visit the ascetic abba Prokopios. At the shrine, Sabas blesses Cyril’s mother, and instructs his father to prepare the boy, by teaching him the Psalter. Sabas' prophecy comes true and Cyril becomes a monk. Cyril, addressing his correspondent, promises to join the Megiste Laura of Sabas and to build a cell for himself there.
Death and posthumous miracles of Sabas
76. Sabas returns to Jerusalem and is joyfully welcomed by the Patriarch. He venerates the holy places and returns to the Megiste Laura where he soon falls ill. The Patriarch takes him to the episcopium and tends him, but Sabas has a vision foretelling his death and requests to return to the laura. On 1 December 532, he appoints his successor, Melitas from Berytus, and on 5 December he dies, aged 94.
77. Detailed chronology of Sabas’ death and life. His funeral is attended by a crowd of monks, lay people, the notables of Jerusalem, bishops and the patriarch. His body is buried between the two churches of the laura.
78. In 546/7, the tomb is opened for the burial of abbot Kassianos (fourth successor of Sabas). The author (Cyril of Scythopolis) enters in order to venerate the body of Sabas and finds it incorrupt.
78. When Sabas died, the workshop of the silversmith Romylos in Jerusalem was robbed. About 100 pounds of silver were stolen. Romylos went to the shrine of *Theodoros (martyr of Amasea and Euchaita, S00480), and for five days lit the lights and stayed there crying and praying. The saint eventually appeared and apologised for his absence. He had been engaged in the welcoming of the soul of Sabas. Then he revealed to Romylos where the thieves had hidden his silver.
79. Sabas appears and heals two brothers from the village of Bourira. They hold a public feast on their estate, celebrating the yearly anniversary of the miracle.
80. Sabas appears in visions and assists a woman called Genarous to fulfil her vow to offer curtains at the monasteries of Kastellion and Spelaion.
81. Sabas saves the camel of a Saracen, which fell off a cliff. The man returns to the Megiste Laura every year, venerates the tomb and offers money in thanksgiving.
82. Miraculous rescue of young builder Auxentios from an accident. Cyril was present and witnessed it.
83-90. The Origenist conflict
Text: Schwartz 1939. Summary: Efthymios Rizos
Ceremony of dedicationFestivals
Saint’s feastCult Places
Cult building - independent (church) Places Named after Saint
Cult building - monastic
Cult building - secondary installation (fountain, pilgrims’ hostel)
Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave
Martyr shrine (martyrion, bet sāhedwātā, etc.)
Gates, bridges and roadsRejection, Condemnation, Sceptisism
Hospital and other charitable institutions
Towns, villages, districts and fortresses
Destruction/hostile attempts to prevent veneration of relicsNon Liturgical Activity
Destruction/desecration of saint's shrine
Saint as patron - of an individual
Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Visiting graves and shrines
Construction of cult buildings
Composing and translating saint-related texts
Oral transmission of saint-related stories
Visiting/veneration of living saint
Miracle during lifetimeRelics
Miracle after death
Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)
Healing diseases and disabilities
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Miraculous sound, smell, light
Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money)
Finding of lost objects, animals, etc.
Miraculous interventions in war
Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)
Bodily relic - entire bodyProtagonists in Cult and Narratives
Bodily relic - unspecified
Transfer, translation and deposition of relics
Ecclesiastics - bishops
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy
Ecclesiastics - abbots
Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
Monarchs and their family
Merchants and artisans
Relatives of the saint
SourceBorn in Scythopolis in c. 525, Cyril was the son of a lawyer serving the bishopric of the city. He grew up in an environment closely linked to the clergy and monasteries of the Chalcedonian Orthodox community of Palestine. During a visit to Scythopolis in c. 531-2, Sabas the Sanctified blessed little Cyril and marked him out as a future monk. Cyril was indeed tonsured, and left for Jerusalem in 543. At the advice of John the Hesychast, he joined the monastery of Euthymios in the same year, where he stayed for ten years. He was chosen to join the 120 monks who reclaimed the New Laura for Orthodoxy, after the expulsion of the Origenists from it in 553. In 557, he was preparing to move to Sabas’ Great Laura, after which nothing is known about his life. All the information concerning Cyril's life is deduced from his writings.
Cyril’s only known work are the Lives of the Monks of Palestine (Μοναχικαὶ Ἱστορίαι), a collection of seven monastic biographies of uneven length. The most extensive and important works of this corpus are the lives of Euthymios and Sabas, founders of the two monasteries which defined Cyril’s own life as a monk. In the epilogue of the Life of Euthymios, the author informs us that he conceived the idea of the work, while living at the monastery of Euthymios and witnessing various miracles of that saint. In the early to mid 540s, he started collecting notes of stories which were orally recounted by older monks, but was only able to turn them into a coherent narrative when he moved to the New Laura (555-558).
The Life of Euthymios was apparently the first of these biographies to be composed, starting in c. 556, at the request of Georgios, abbot and founder of a monastery near Cyril’s native Scythopolis. The Life of Sabas was either slightly later, or roughly contemporary. The third major biography is the Life of Ioannes/John the Hesychast, Cyril’s personal mentor, which was written while its hero was still alive at the age of 104, in 557/558. The briefer Lives of Kyriakos, Theodosios, Theognios and Abraamios are probably the last to be written by the author. By including these figures, which were closely connected with Sabas and his monastery, Cyril produced a gallery of hagiographies of the main Chalcedonian monasteries of the Judaean Desert, which resembles and perhaps follows the model of Theodoret’s Religious History.
For the manuscript tradition of the texts, see:
DiscussionBeing the longest text of the monastic collection of Cyril, the Life of Sabas is its author's homage to the monastic house where he belonged when he was writing. Recounting events of his own generation and having access to rich oral sources, the author produces an account where historiography and hagiography are densely knitted together into one of the most important textual sources for ecclesiastical history in Palestine and the East in the 6th century. The text contains several references to shrines and saints in Palestine, which have been highlighted in the summary.
Among the most interesting details are the references to the blessing of the various churches and shrines of the Great Lavra, which started its life as an agglomeration of monastics around a chapel and spiritual leader, without ordained clergy and without a properly blessed altar and church for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Schwartz, E., Kyrillos von Skythopolis (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 49.2; Leipzig, 1939).
Baldelli, R., and Mortari, L., Storie monastiche del deserto di Gerusalemme (Abbazia di Praglia, 1990).
Festugière, A.-J. Les moines d'Orient, vol. 3, part 2, Les moines de Palestine: Vie de saint Sabas (Paris, 1962).
Price, R., and Binns, J., Cyril of Scythopolis, Lives of the Monks of Palestine (Cistercian Studies Series 114; Kalamazoo, 1991).
Flusin, B., Miracle et histoire dans l'œuvre de Cyrille de Scythopolis (Paris, 1983).
Flusin, B., "Palestinian Hagiography (Fourth-Eighth Centuries)," in: S. Efthymiadis (ed.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography I: Periods and Places (Farnham, 2011), 199-226.
Hombergen, D., The Second Origenist Controversy: A New Perspective on Cyril of Scythopolis' Monastic Biographies as Historical Sources for Sixth-Century Origenism (Rome, 2001).
|ID||Name||Name in Source||Identity||S00030||Stephen, the First Martyr||Στέφανος||Certain||S00033||Mary, Mother of Christ||Θεοτόκος||Certain||S00060||Martyrs, unnamed or name lost||Certain||S00098||Antony, 'the Great', monk of Egypt, ob. 356||Ἀντώνιος||Certain||S00098||Antony, 'the Great', monk of Egypt, ob. 356||Ἀντώνιος||Certain||S00118||Prokopios from Scythopolis, martyr of Palestine||Προκόπιος||Certain||S00199||Thomas, the Apostle||Θωμᾶς||Certain||S00385||Kosmas and Damianos, brothers, physician martyrs of Syria||Κοσμᾶς καὶ Δαμιανός||Certain||S00480||Theodore, soldier and martyr of Amaseia and Euchaita||Θεόδωρος||Certain||S00910||Sabbas the Sanctified, founder of the Mar Saba Monastery in Palestine, ob. 532||Σάβας||Certain||S01325||Theodosios the Coenobiarch, ob. 529||Θεοδόσιος||Certain||S01352||Euthymios, abbot of Palestine, ob.473||Εὐθύμιος||Certain||S01419||Amos, Old Testament Prophet.||Ἀμὼς||Certain||S01502||Passarion, archimandrite in Palestine, ob. 428.||Πασσαρίων||Certain||S01507||Gerasimos, anchorite, founder of a monastery in the Judean desert, ob. 475.||Γεράσιμος||Certain||S01622||Theoktistos, hermit and follower of Euthymios the Great, 5th c.||Θεόκτιστος||Certain||S02030||Ioannes/John, ascetic of Choziba and bishop of Caesarea, ob. c. 535||Ἰωάννης||Certain||S02091||African martyrs, commemorated on 18-19 December||Certain||S02517||Mamonas, bishop of Neapolis in Palestine, and his presbyters, martyrs, ob. 529||Μαμωνᾶς||Certain||S02518||Ioannes/John, ascetic near Scythopolis, ob. 6th c.||Ἰωάννης||Certain|
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