December 5, 2023

The First Cell of Saint Savvas the Sanctified

The first cell of Saint Savvas the Sanctified is a natural cave located in the upper part of a vertical cleft in the rock over 6 m high. It is located on the eastern bank of the Kidron, opposite the Lavra of Saint Savvas (Mar Saba), southeast of it. According to legend, it was this cave that was indicated to Savvas by an angel for a monastic feat if he wished to “turn the desert into a city.”

Today the entrance to the cell is through the lower cave along two ladders. The lower cave, with an area of 3.1 x 2.8 m, has a concrete wall with an iron door. A paved path leads to the door from the lower gate of Mar Saba.

Savvas entered his cell through the upper entrance, attaching a rope to the threshold. Today this entrance is widened, covered with a grating, to which an iron shutter with a cross is welded, on the sides of which a spear and a sponge are depicted, reminiscent of the crucifixion of Christ. The cross is surrounded by a frame also in the shape of a cross, on its sides are the letters A and Σ (the initial letters of the Greek words "Agios Savvas"). The upper cave, in which Savvas equipped his cell, has dimensions of 5.5x3.2 m, the height in the eastern part is 2.7 m. Apparently, at first the most minor work was carried out in the cave to equip it and adapt it as a cell, which reflects the initial ascetically harsh living conditions of the monks of the Lavra (after fifty years, much more comfortable and suitable cells began to be equipped for life). The rock ledge inside the cave served as a bench; a semicircular niche for prayers (a kind of apse) was carved from the east; today there is an icon depicting Egyptian saints, the fathers of Lavra monasticism - Sts. Makarios and Anthony. In a later period, the floor was cemented, the gap in the vertical crevice was sealed by pouring concrete, leaving only a small rectangular hatch connecting the upper cave with the “entry” below.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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