St. Sava was born in 1169 as Rastko, the third son to Nemanja, ruler of Ras, the forerunner of the medieval Serbian state. As a young prince, he ran away from the royal court to become a monk Sava on Mount Athos, a tale often told among the Serbs as the greatest example of self-sacrifice. There he founded the first Serbian monastery and began his endeavors for which he later acquired the title of the first Serbian Enlightener. With the remains of his father, the founder of the holy dynasty, Sava later returned to Serbia to reconcile an ongoing feud amongst his brothers. Sava secured autocephaly for the Serbian national church from the enfeebled and exiled Byzantine emperor and patriarch in Nicaea, and became its first archbishop. Moreover, St. Sava helped to restore Serbs, exposed to both Roman Catholicism and the Bogomil heresy, to the bosom of the Orthodox Church. Upon his death, St. Sava was canonized together with his father in an act that, gave the Serbian people saints “who had come from among their ranks and would in heaven be tireless protectors of the Serbian state, Serbian rulers, Serbian people and the entire patrimony”. During the four centuries long period of Ottoman domination, which began in the fifteenth century, St. Sava was central for both formal religion and traditional, oral culture, the two forces generally held responsible for keeping alive the national spirit of the Serbs. His miracle working body in the monastery of Mileseva was venerated by pilgrims who came from near and far to implore his intercession. When Serbs began a rebellion against the Turks at the end of sixteenth century, carrying banners with images of St. Sava, Sinan Pasha, an Albanian convert in Ottoman ranks decided to remove what was in his opinion the source of their inspiration. In 1595, Sinan Pasha brought St. Sava’s relics to Belgrade and burned them on Vracar hill, its highest point, so that the rebellious Serbs could see the smoke and flames. From Pest to Pec (the seat of the Serbian Patriarchate at Kosovo), from Nis and Timok to the Adriatic sea, in all four countries where Serbian people live thorn apart from each other, and even in all countries and cities of Europe where only few Serbs gather, everywhere is celebrated St. Sava. It was St. Sava himself who, bringing back his father’s body, fostered this belief, so central to Serbian medieval thought, that the welfare of the kingdom was dependent on its possession of the miracle-working relics of its holy founder. But the relics of St. Sava had been burned so the spreading of ashes performed this task. St. Sava’s ashes were taken by the wind and spread, consecrating the soil wherever his cult was maintained or wherever Serbs lived, dispersed by numerous migrations. The flames that arose also acquired mythical meaning, becoming the “Serbian spiritual hearth” and eternal fire that gave us warmth, home and spirit. The body did not turn into dust but into light that for 400 years warmed the Serbian heart, helping it to keep its national essence, its faith, its language, its Christian Orthodox, its Saint Savaian being.
Metropolitan Mihailo was charged in 1895, to head the Committee made up of Serbia’s foremost citizens for the construction of a church on Belgrade’s Vracar Hill, dedicated to the memory of the greatest Serbian saint, Enlightener and Unifier. The idea to build the church on that very spot, where Sinan Pasha scattered the ashes of Saint Sava finally became a reality. More than a century after its construction was initiated; the Church on Vracar Hill is still awaiting completion.
Poet Matija Beckovic said: „We are not gathering funds for the Church – we are gathering ourselves…St. Sava Church does not belong to anyone, we belong to it. It is built by all times and by all generations, by our patriarchs, ancestors, forebears and fathers… St. Sava Church is all of Serbia.“