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January 12 Saints of the Day – Sava of Serbia and Marguerite Bourgeoys of Montréal

On this day in 1971, the first episode of the sitcom “All in the Family” aired on CBS, featuring the first toilet flush on American TV. (This joke writes itself.) Some critics say American television has been going down the toilet ever since.

Sava of SerbiaSava, Archbishop of Serbia (1174-1236) was born in the Serbian purple, and ran away to Mount Athos after ruling over the Appenage of Hum for a couple of years, which you would understand if you had ever been to Hum (the natives called it “Ho Hum”). Enraged, his father Grand Prince Stefan sent a voevod — Serbian for “waywode” as you probably guessed — to haul him back. To no avail. The wily monks got the emissary drunk, and tonsured Sava while he was sleeping. In case you thought monastic life was dull. The voevod went back to Serbia with Sava’s hair and a letter urging his parents to embrace monasticism. To his lasting shock and delight, they did. Stefan abdicated, and he and his wife went on to become Saint Symeon the Myrrh-gusher and Saint Anastasija of Serbia, respectively, although as with most saints these only became their official titles sometime after they had passed away.

Speaking of All in the Family, after Stefan’s abdication his eldest son Vukan rounded up some Bulgarians and deposed his father’s appointed heir Stefan Jr., who returned the favor as soon as he could manage. Sava, returning some two years after the nick of time, ended the feud by crowning Stefan Jr. the first king of Serbia. Vukan sulked off to rule an appenage (not Hum), and quietly passed out of mind.

Peace reestablished, Sava went and begged Patriarch Manuel I of Constantinople to grant Serbia autocephaly (ecclesial self-rule). He was delighted to do so, and made Sava Archbishop. Overjoyed, Sava immediately sat down and translated a bunch of books. Eventually he returned to Serbia and archbishopped around for a good while, establishing bishops and parishes and monasteries and all the other things your average autocephalous Orthodox church needs to be well accessorized. Finally he retired and went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Bulgaria, and other holy places. He died in Bulgaria after contracting pneumonia during the Great Blessing of the Waters on Theophany. Whether this was from swimming out after the cross, history does not record.

Marguerite BourgeoysMarguerite Bourgeoys (1620-1700) was a French-born Canadian schoolteacher. For reasons my sources do not divulge, Marguerite was rejected as a Carmelite nun, so when the chance came to move to Canada as a schoolteacher, she packed some things, grabbed her rosary, and got on the boat.

Once there, she worked for a time in the hospital, then began to build her school district. She brought over four more teachers from France, and together they lived a convent-like life, and were granted a convent-like license to become convent-like, albeit with permission to work in the outside world as schoolteachers, which was rather the point. The point, however, was lost on the pugnacious yet Blessed Bishop François de Leval, who wanted to cloister them. He was no match for Marguerite, though, who went over his head by sailing back to France and returning with a nastygram from Louis XIV directing that the nuns be allowed to remain secular, which means something different in the Roman Catholic Church than in Christianity Today. Laval continued to make a nuisance of himself, as did his successor Jean-Baptiste de le Croix, but all their attempts to hamper Marguerite came to naught.

Having established her community, she spent the last two years of her life praying and writing her autobiography, now sadly lost, tentatively titled Struggles with Annoying Bishops. She was canonized a saint in 1982.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

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About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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