You may have never heard of Saint Sabas, despite the fact that he is one of the most note-worthy figures of early monasticism. The saint was born in 439 and died in 532, and his life was full of miraculous adventures.
Although many of us may not share in Sabas’ desire to live alone in a cave, we can all learn something from his incredible life. If you’re just getting to know this amazing saint, here are some fun facts to get you started.
1. He entered the monastery at age eight
Sabas suffered an unhappy childhood and was frequently abused. He ran away from home several times and by the time he was eight years old, he ended up in a monastery.
His two uncles fought for custody of the young boy and his estate, and planned to arrange marriage for him. But God had other plans for the future saint’s life.
Even though his family attempted to convince him to come back home many times, Sabas’ time in the monastery left an impression. He decided to become a monk. Even though he was the youngest brother at the monastery, many were astounded at his virtue.
2. He swore off of apples
One day when Sabas was working in the monastery garden, he saw an apple tree with fruit ripe for the picking. He picked an apple from the tree, but stopped to reflect on the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Realizing the temptations of the devil in his own life, he threw the apple on the ground and stomped on it. To help himself resist the temptations of the devil, he made a vow to never again eat an apple as long as he lived.
The young monk also devoted himself to prayer, nightly devotions, sleeping only as much as he needed, and never interrupting his work with distractions so as to offer even his labor up to God.
3. A pilgrimage to Jerusalem changed his life
After ten years in the monastery, eighteen year old Sabas traveled to Jerusalem. He was hoping to learn more about the practice of living in solitude. He spent the winter with the holy Abbot Elpidius.
The monks in Jerusalem hoped that the young monk would settle into life with them, but his search for solitude inspired Sabas to desire discipleship with Saint Euthymius.
Euthymius rejected Sabas’ desire based on his age. Instead, Sabas went to live in a monastery in the valley below. In that monastery, he served the sick and helped all his brothers with their daily tasks.
Sabas was finally granted his wish for solitude when, at age 30, he took a five day silent retreat which he spent in prayer.
4. He drank from a miraculous spring
After years of monastic life in the valley, Sabas was chosen to go on retreat with Euthymius in the deserts of Rouban, where they believed Christ performed his 40 day fast before his passion.
During the retreat, Sabas became so dehydrated that he was close to the point of death. Euthymius prayed that the Lord would take pity on the young monk. He stuck his staff into the earth. Immediately, a spring of water came forth and Sabas was able to recover his strength for the rest of the retreat.
5. Sabas was called out of his comfort zone
When Euthymius died, the monastery sank into laziness. Sabas moved further into a desert cave, leaving behind the monastery. The only way to reach his remove cave home was by a rope, and Sabas dined mainly on herbs.
Because of his holy example, Christian men seeking guidance found Sabas in the desert. Before long, his followers numbered more than 150. Each one of them built a small hut around a remote church, called a laura.
When Sabas was fifty, his local bishop asked him to discern priesthood so that he could better lead the men who journeyed into the desert to follow him. Sabas agreed, but every Lent he would leave the community for a forty day silent retreat.
6. Sabas inspired his mother’s vocation
After his father died, Sabas’ mother joined him in the desert and gave her life to God.
With the money her deceased husband had left her, Sabas’ mother helped the future saint build three hospitals and two monasteries.
7. He conversed with lions and converted bandits
One day, Sabas went into the desert to find a cave to pray in. The one he chose was actually a lion’s den, and Sabas encountered the lion around midnight. When the lion saw Sabas, he dragged him out of the cave by the hem of his garment. But Sabas wasn’t afraid.
He recited the book of Psalms to the lion, and reminded the lion that the cave was big enough for two. The lion heard Sabas’ words and left the cave, not bothering Sabas again.
When local thieves came across Sabas in his cave, his holy example persuaded them to leave behind their life of sin and embrace a penitential life.