Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Sabas, Abbot and Confessor

detail of a medieval icon of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified, date and author unknown; uploaded on 18 October 2007 Alekjds; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Saint Sabas was born in Cappadocia, in the district of Caesarea. When hardly five years of age, he was given into the care of his uncle, Hermes, as his parents were obliged to be absent from home for several years. After some years, Sabas, disgusted with the world, in which he saw nothing but selfishness and avarice, went into a monastery, where he served the Lord during ten years with great zeal. At the expiration of this time, he went, with the permission of his superior, to Jerusalem to visit the holy places and the cloisters of the hermits of Palestine. The most renowned of these, at that period, was that of which Saint Euthymius was superior. Sabas, desiring to reach the highest degree of spiritual perfection, begged to be received into it, and his wish was fulfilled. His conduct while there was so exemplary, that it served as a mirror to all the other religious. He was the first and most fervent at prayers; the most industrious at work; the quickest in obedience; the most severe in chastising his body, and the most edifying in all his actions. His superior sent him, after some time, to Alexandria, where his parents resided; but when he perceived that they desired to retain him, he’ escaped secretly and returned into the monastery. He left it again, however, soon after, and retired into a solitary cave, where he lived five years in still greater austerity than before. By the inspiration of the Almighty who had chosen him as an instructor for many others, he then selected another solitude, where he dwelt with several others who desired to live under his guidance. God sent him, through kind-hearted people, so much money, that he was enabled to build a large monastery, which, in a short time, was occupied by 150 monks. Scarcely was this monastery finished, when he found it necessary to build another, which was, in the course of time, followed by five more, so rapidly did the number of his disciples increase. The miracles he wrought by divine aid, and the holy life he led, spread his fame over all Christendom. Hence, when the Emperor Anastasius most barbarously persecuted the Catholics in the East, the patriarch of Jerusalem requested our holy abbot to go, with some pious hermits, to Constantinople and endeavor to prevent the emperor from further cruelties. Sabas, although already 70 years old, cheerfully undertook this fatiguing journey. When he arrived at Constantinople, he entered the imperial hall, and Anastasius saw a bright Angel walking before the Saint. Awe-struck at this, he hastily rose from his throne, and going to meet Sabas, received him with every mark of courtesy, listened to him most respectfully, and granted him all he asked.

At that time the city was ravaged by a most terrible famine and by many contagious diseases, but notwithstanding this, the inhabitants were miserably oppressed by fresh imposts. Sabas, pitying them, represented to the emperor the general distress, and exhorted him to abolish the new taxes. The emperor granted his request immediately, but Marinus, the chief treasurer, resisted, and advised the king not to alter the laws. The Saint menaced Marinus with divine punishment, in case he refused to retract his wicked advice. Marinus did not heed the menace, and soon experienced the wrath of God; for, the oppressed people revolted, made an attack upon his house and set fire to it. He would doubtless have lost his life, had he not saved himself by flight. This occurrence brought the emperor to relinquish his purpose; and Saint Sabas was so beloved by the inhabitants of the city, that they paid him all honor as to their greatest benefactor. To escape from this, the holy man hastened to leave the city, and reached his solitude in safety, where he continued in the exercise of good works, until the 89th year of his life, when* at the request of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, he made a second journey to Constantinople. His mission was to ask the assistance of the emperor against the Samaritans who had invaded Palestine and persecuted the Christians. The emperor Justinian, who had heard much of the holiness of Saint Sabas, requested the patriarch of the city to bring the Abbot to the palace. When the Saint entered, the emperor saw a bright crown on his head, and rising to receive him, embraced him most warmly, and not only promised him the required aid, but immediately issued the necessary orders to the imperial officers in Palestine. During the audience, the clock struck three, the hour at which the Saint was wont to recite a portion of his daily prayers. He, therefore, went out to pray, and when told that it was not becoming to leave at the very moment when the em- peror was occupied in granting a petition, the Saint replied: u The Emperor does his duty, and I do mine.” After the Saint’s requests had all been granted, he returned to Jerusalem, and thence to his beloved solitude, where, with increasing years, he increased in holiness. In 531, he ended his holy life by a happy death* in the 92d year of his age. The many miracles which were performed at his intercession, were evidence of the happy life he had commenced in heaven.

Practical Considerations

The entire life of Saint Sabas was a continual exercise of good works. The same may be said of a great many other Saints. To understand this, and to follow Saint Sabas, it is necessary to know that there are two kinds of good works: the first are those which are commanded by God or by the Church; the second, those which are not expressly commanded, but recommended as very agreeable to the Lord. The latter are called volun tary good works. The Saints have always endeavored not only to per- form those good deeds which are expressly commanded, but also such as are not commanded. All good Christians should do likewise. They should serve the Lord, not like slaves, but like children. A slave does nothing but what is commanded him, and that only for fear of punishment. An affectionate son does not only that which his father commands, but also what he knows is agreeable to his father, although it has not been expressly commanded; because he loves his father. For he that loves, does everything that he knows is agreeable to the beloved. In this man- ner our divine Lord acted towards His heavenly Father, as He Himself says: “For I do always the things that please him.” (John 8) Thus also did the Saints act, because they endeavored to be true children of God. Hence we find so much in their lives of voluntary fasts and abstinences, of long prayers at night, of frequent visits to the churches, of reading devout books, of practising divers penances, of avoiding entertainments in themselves not sinful, of leaving all temporal goods, of their flight to convents and into deserts, and of continual mortification in eating, drinking, sleeping, talking, seeing, hearing, and bearing heat and cold. If you wish to be a true child of God, follow Christ and His Saints. Before all things, practise those good works which are commanded, and then also those which are not commanded, but which are agreeable to your God. You daily have opportunities to do this; make use of them. Make today the resolution which the holy king David made, who practised many good works which were voluntary. Thus, for instance, during the day, he prayed seven times; he rose in the middle of the night to praise the Lord; wept bitterly over his sins every day; fasted most austerely; wore a rough hair-shirt and abstained from refreshing himself with a draught of water, which had been offered him when very thirsty. “I will voluntarily sacrifice to thee.” (Psalm 77) This was his resolution, which he faithfully kept. “I will sacrifice to thee of my own accord, and praise thy name.” Let this also be your resolution.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Sabas, Abbot and Confessor”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 2 June 2018. Web. 19 November 2018. <>