December 3 – Sava of Zvenigorod; Francis Xavier

Sava of Zvenigorod (d. 1406) was a disciple of Sergius of Radonezh, with whose blessing he went to live as a hermit on a hill overlooking Zvenigorod and the beautiful Moscow River. Soon monk wannabes were flocking to the hill in droves (oh the hermitany!). Sava greeted them graciously, teaching them humility and industriousness by chopping and carrying his own wood and water, being firmly of the opinion that idle hands are proverbial. One day a prince gave Sava a goodly pile of rubles, which he turned, through the magic of purchasing and labor, into a church, which he dedicated to the Nativity of the Theotokos, and which became the monastery church of his new monastery. He was a good abbot, and his life was thereafter uneventful. Things got really interesting after he died, however.

A blind monk was praying and weeping at Sava’s tomb, and he used a cloth covering the tomb to wipe his eyes. Another monk ridiculed him, saying, “Ha! Zillions of pilgrims have touched that rag; it’s filthy!” Immediately the blind monk gained his sight, and the sarcastic monk lost his. He regained it only after much repentance and tears of his own.

Another time, a mysterious stranger asked the sacristan how the abbot was doing. “He’s quite ill,” came the reply. “Tell him to pray to the Theotokos* and to Sava, and he will be well. Now open the church for me.” The brother refused, so the man approached the church, and the doors opened for him as if he were on the Starship Enterprise (except outward not sideways). The sacristan found his assistant and berated him for leaving the doors unlocked, but when the two went to the church, all the doors were locked, and the mysterious stranger was gone. The abbot prayed at Sava’s grave, and was healed.

When a man named George brought his dying son to the monastery, the monks prayed to Sava, then poured some kvass into the boy’s mouth, whereupon he was healed. George took the kvass home and healed three of his servants of blindness and deafness by applying the beverage topically, giving rise to the famous Russian toast, “Here’s beer in your ear!”

Francis Xavier (1506–1552) was born into the nobility of Navarre, just before Castille and Aragon joined forces, called themselves “Spain,” and excised the southern half thereof, just so they could basque in their victory. Francis went to study in Paris, and after securing his master’s degree (he didn’t take a degree from his master; he got an M.A.), he taught Aristotelian philosophy, for which however I am prepared to forgive him. When he met Ignatius of Loyola (Jul 31), however, his Aristotle days came to an end, and he became one of the famous seven founders of the Society of Jesus, widely known as the Jesuits (I mean the whole society, not just the founders—the founders were known as Amigos en El Señor (“friends with the over-65 discount”)).

Once Jesuitified, Francis became the Society’s first missionary, going to Portuguese India on request of the King of Portugal, and thence to Indonesia, Japan, and, briefly, China. Along the way he baptized over 40,000 people, dined with headhunters and kings, healed the sick, raised the dead, and walked everywhere barefoot. His friarly poverty was deemed shameful in Japan, so Francis, an able windsock, arrayed himself and his entourage in their finest, and had his monks bring him beautiful gifts on fancy cushions, so people could see just whom they were dealing with. This won them an audience with the ruler of Nagate.

Francis died on the Chinese island of Shangchuan while awaiting a boat to the mainland. He was buried on that island, but his relics ended up in Goa in Portuguese India. Not content in Goa, however, his right forearm made its way back to Rome. Francis is the patron saint of missionaries (of course); a couple dozen cities, countries, and dioceses; and plague victims.