January 12 – Sava, Archbishop of Serbia; Marguerite Bourgeoys

Icon of Savas of Serbia by the hand of Uroš Predić, 1921Sava, Archbishop of Serbia (1174–1236), was born in the Serbian purple and named Ratsko, which doesn’t sound as odd in Serbian as in English. (One hopes.)

He was given more-than-titular rule of the Appenage of Hum, and everyone (except his deposed uncle Miraslav) said he did a great job of it. But he must have found it ho-hum because after two years, he ran away to Athos*. Enraged, his father Grand Prince Stefan sent a voevod (Serbian for waywode, as you probably guessed) to haul him back, but to no avail. The wily monks got the emissary drunk, and tonsured Sava while he was sleeping[1]. 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 Sava’s lasting shock and delight, they did. Stefan abdicated, and he and his wife went on to become St. Symeon the Myrrh-gusher and St. Anastasija of Serbia, respectively, although as with most saints these only became their official titles sometime after they had passed away.

Upon Stefan’s abdication he left the country under the rule of his heir Stefan Jr., but when Stefan started getting too cozy with Rome, Sava became alarmed—he felt that Serbia should be an Orthodox country (and who can blame him? I mean besides Rome, no offense). He rushed to his brother’s side, and after some words (I do not know what those words are, and since I don’t speak Serbian it wouldn’t help me if I did) they made peace.

Did I mention that Stefan Jr. was the second son and not the eldest? Vukan, the eldest, did not forget. He rounded up some Bulgarians and deposed Stefan Jr., who returned the favor as soon as he could. 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 to Constantinople and begged Patriarch Manuel I to grant Serbia autocephaly*. He did so, and made Sava its first Archbishop. Overjoyed, Sava immediately sat down and translated a bunch of books. That done, he returned to Serbia and got to work establishing dioceses and parishes and monasteries and everything else an 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.

Painting of Marguerite Bourgeoys, artist unknown, second half of 19th centuryMarguerite Bourgeoys (1620–1700) was a French-born Canadian schoolteacher. For reasons my sources do not divulge[2], 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 ashore, she worked for a time in the hospital, then began to build her school district. She imported 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 secularly* as schoolteachers, which was rather the point. Sadly, the point 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, possibly titled Struggles with Annoying Bishops[3].


[1] “He” here being the emissary, not Sava
[2] It’s probably best we don’t ask.
[3] Aaaaaand possibly not.