31°42′18″N 35°19′52″E / 31.70500°N 35.33111°E / 31.70500; 35.33111

Mar Saba seen from the air
Tomb of Saint Sabbas

The Holy Lavra of Saint Sabbas,[Note 1] known in Arabic and Syriac as Mar Saba (Syriac: ܕܝܪܐ ܕܡܪܝ ܣܒܐ, Arabic: دير مار سابا; Hebrew: מנזר מר סבא; Greek: Ἱερὰ Λαύρα τοῦ Ὁσίου Σάββα τοῦ Ἡγιασμένου) and historically as the Great Laura of Saint Sabas,[1] is a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley in the Bethlehem Governorate of Palestine, in the West Bank,[2] at a point halfway between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea.[3] The monks of Mar Saba and those of subsidiary houses are known as Sabaites.

Mar Saba is considered to be one of the oldest (almost) continuously inhabited monasteries in the world, and it maintains many of its ancient traditions. One in particular is the restriction on women entering the main compound. The only building that women can enter is the Women's Tower, near the main entrance.


Byzantine period

The monastery was founded by Sabbas the Sanctified in 483,[4] on the eastern side of the Kidron Valley, where - according to the monastery's own website - the first seventy hermits gathered around the hermitage of St Sabbas.[5] Later on, the laura relocated to the opposite, western side of the gorge, where the Church of Theoktistos was built in 486 and consecrated in 491[5] (today rededicated to St Nicholas). The constant growth of the community meant that soon after, in 502, the Church of the God-bearing Virgin Mary, in Greek Theotokos, was built to serve as the main church of the monastery.[5] Saint Sabbas' Typikon, the set of rules applied at the Great Laura and recorded by the saint, eventually became the worldwide model of monastic life and liturgical order[5] known as the Byzantine Rite.

St John of Damascus

Mar Saba was the home of St John of Damascus (676–749; Arabic: يوحنا الدمشقي), a key religious figure in the Iconoclastic Controversy, who, around 726, wrote letters to the Byzantine emperor Leo III the Isaurian refuting his edicts prohibiting the veneration of icons (images of Christ or other Christian religious figures). Born to a prominent Damascene political family, John worked as a high financial officer to the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik; he eventually felt a higher calling and migrated to the Judaean desert, where he was tonsured and was ordained a hieromonk (monastic priest) at the Monastery of Mar Saba. St. John's tomb lies in a cave under the monastery.

Early Muslim period

Ancient sources describe an Arab attack on the monastery in 797, leading to the massacre of twenty monks.[6] Between the late eight to the tenth century, the monastery was a major translation center for Greek works into Arabic. For instance, Yannah ibn Istifan al-Fakhuri (fl. 910) translated works of Leontius of Damascus and Barsanuphius of Gaza.[7] Mar Saba was the home of the famous Georgian monk and scribe Ioane-Zosime, who moved before 973 to Saint Catherine's Monastery taking several parchment manuscripts with him.[8]

The community seems to have also suffered under the persecutions of caliph al-Hakim in 1009 as well as Turkmen raids in the 11th century but experienced occasional phases of peace as can be seen by the continued scribal and artistic activities.[9]

Crusader period

The monastery kept its importance during the existence of the Catholic Kingdom of Jerusalem established by Crusaders in 1099.[10]

Mamluk and Ottoman periods

In the late medieval period, the monastery experienced like the other Palestinian monasteries a period of decline as a result of Mamluk persecutions, the Black Death, demographic and economic degradation and the expansion of nomadic tribes. Whereas the Russian monk Zosimus estimated in 1420 the number of inhabitants at 30, the German traveler Felix Fabri recorded in the early 1480s only 6 who were living together with a group of nomadic Arabs. Thereafter, the monastery was abandoned and the remaining monks seem to have moved to St Catherine's monastery.[11]

In 1504, the Serbian monastic community of Palestine, based out of the fourteenth century monastery of St. Michael the Archangel, purchased Mar Saba..[12] The Serbs controlled the monastery until the late 1630s, and the significant financial support the monastery received from the Tsar of Russia allowed them to run the monastery semi-independently from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the monastery's nominal overseer (much to the vexation of the patriarchate).[12] The Serbs' control of Mar Saba allowed them to play an important role in the politics of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, often siding with the Arabic laity and priests against the Greeks who dominated the episcopate.[12] Serbian control of the monastery eventually ended in the 1600s when the monastery got into massive debt due to the simultaneous combination of a massive building program at the monastery and a cutting off of financial support from Russia due to the outbreak of the Time of Troubles.[12] The Serbs were forced to sell the monastery to the Patriarch of Jerusalem in order to pay off their debts.[12]


The monastery, considered among the oldest continuously inhabited in the Christian world, has been a place of learning and has exerted an important influence in doctrinal developments in the Byzantine Church. Important personalities in this regard included Saint Sabbas himself, John of Damascus (676–749), and the brothers Theodorus and Theophanes (770s–840s).

The monastery is important in the historical development of the liturgy of the Orthodox Church in that the monastic Typicon (manner of celebrating worship services) of Saint Sabbas became the standard throughout the Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches under the Pope which follow the Byzantine Rite. The Typicon took the standard form of services which were celebrated in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and added some specifically monastic usages which were local traditions at Saint Sabbas. From there it spread to Constantinople, and thence throughout the Byzantine world. Although this Typicon has undergone further evolution, particularly at the Monastery of the Stoudion in Constantinople, it is still referred to as the Typicon of Saint Sabbas. A tradition states that this monastery will host the last Divine Liturgy on earth before the parousia of Jesus Christ, therefore the last pillar of true Christianity.[citation needed]


The monastery holds the relics of Saint Sabbas. The relics were seized by Latin crusaders in the 12th century and remained in Italy until Pope Paul VI returned them to the monastery in 1965 as a gesture of repentance and good will towards Orthodox Christians.


Mar Saba is where Morton Smith purportedly found a copy of a letter ascribed to Clement of Alexandria containing excerpts of a so-called Secret Gospel of Mark,[13] and was for several centuries home to the Archimedes Palimpsest.[14]


Women are only allowed to come to the main entrance, but without entering the walled compound.

The monastery is closed for visitors on Wednesdays and Fridays (the fasting days of the week).[citation needed]


List of abbots

There are gaps in this list. Prior to the 18th century, dates are years when the abbot (or hegumen) is known to have held office and not the start and end dates. From the 18th century on, the dates indicate the start of an abbot's term, which usually lasted two years at first, longer later on. The official list goes back to 1704, but still has gaps.[15]

  1. Sabas, 483–532
  2. Melitas, 532–537
  3. Gelasios, 537–546
  4. George the Origenist, 547
  5. Kassianos of Scythopolis, 547–548
  6. Konon of Lycia, 548–568
  7. Stephanos Trichinas
  8. Nikomedes, 614[a]
  9. Justinus, 614[b]
  10. Thomas, 614[c]
  11. John, c. 649
  12. Nikodemus, 8th century[d]
  13. Strategios
  14. Basil, 797–809[e]
  15. John, 808–825
  16. David, mid–9th century[f]
  17. Solomon, 864
  18. Paul, 962
  19. Ioannikios, 1071–1072
  20. Mark, first half of the 11th century
  21. Mark Makrinos
  22. Arsenios, 12th century
  23. Basil, 12th century[dubious ]
  24. Basil, 12th century
  25. Miletus (Meletios), 1163–1164
  26. Sabas, before 1187
  27. Nicholas, 1229[g]
  28. Ioannikios, 1334
  29. Mark, before c. 1370[h]
  30. Stephen, 1370s[i]
  31. Pachomius, 15th century[j]
  32. Maximos Oikonomos, 1533–1534
  33. Joachim the Wallachian, 1540–1547[k]
  34. Germanos
  35. Isaias, 1550
  36. Nathanael, 1566
  37. Pachomius, 1577–1578
  38. Timothy, 1581
  39. Athansios
  40. Christophoros, 1593[l]
  41. Daniel, 1619
  42. Galaktion, 1630
  43. Neophytos, 1649
  44. Daniel, c. 1672[m]
  45. George of Chios, 1682
  46. Nikeophoros of Cyprus, 1696
  47. Gerasimos, 1704
  48. Kallistos, 1705
  49. Anthimos, 1707
  50. Kallinikos, 1710
  51. Gerasimos Oikonomos, 1714
  52. Kyrillos, 1714
  53. Ignatios, 1722
  54. Iakobos, 1724
  55. Neophytos of Smyrna, 1731
  56. Parthenios of Constantinople, 1732
  57. Meletios, 1733
  58. Anthimos Anatolites, 1740
  59. Symeon Baskopolites, 1744
  60. Gennadios of Ioannina, 1745
  61. Daniel Moutaniotes, 1747
  62. Ananias Anatolites, 1749
  63. Kyrillos of Amaseia, 1753
  64. Ieremias, 1753
  65. Nikephoros of Ioannina, 1754/5
  66. Kyrillos, 1756
  67. Amphilochios, 1757
  68. Arsenios of Cyprus, 1758
  69. Gabriel, 1759
  70. Arsenios of Galatia, 1760
  71. Raphael Anatolites, 1761/2
  72. Meletios of Cyprus, 1763 (first term)
  73. Arsenios, 1766
  74. Silvestros Anatolites, 1767
  75. Ioannikos, 1768
  76. Meletios of Cyprus, 1769 (second term)
  77. Gerasimos of Cyprus, 1770
  78. Iakobos Boskopolites, 1772
  79. Melechisedek of Cyprus, 1775
  80. Seraphim Anatolites, 1777
  81. Kallinikos Tseritsaniotes, 1778
  82. Iakobos the Albanian, 1779
  83. Parthenios of Chaldias, 1782
  84. Melkisedek, 1786
  85. Sophronios, 1788
  86. Joachim of Cyprus, 1790
  87. Dionysios Proussaeus, 1791
  88. Anthimos of Philippopolis, 1792
  89. Gregory of Kos, 1794
  90. Michael of Cyprus, 18th century
  91. Athanasios (second term)
  92. Kallinikos, 1804 (first term)
  93. Gabriel, 1806–1809
  94. Athanasios, 1810 (third term)
  95. Kallinikos, 1813 (second term)
  96. Misael Petras, 1814
  97. Paisios, 1817
  98. Pankratios, 1818
  99. Theodosios Skopianos, 1820
  100. Agapios of Peloponnesos, 1832
  101. Theophanes
  102. Euthymios of Cyprus (first term)
  103. Isaias, 1837
  104. Euthymios of Cyprus, 1838 (second term)
  105. Symeon, 1843 (first term)
  106. Symeon, 1844 (second term)
  107. Neophytos of Cyprus
  108. Joasaph, 1845–1874
  109. Anthimos, 1874
  110. Silvestros of Leukas, 1918–1932
  111. Nikolaos of Proussa, 1932–1937
  112. Sabas of Elassona, 1937–1957
  113. Seraphim of Kythira, 1957–2003
  114. Eudokimos, 2003–


  1. ^ fled to Arabia during the Sasanian invasion
  2. ^ abbot of the community in the monastery of Saint Anastasius
  3. ^ abbot of those who returned
  4. ^ under him John of Damascus and Cosmas of Maiuma joined the community
  5. ^ witnessed the martyrdom of the twenty monks in 797 and corresponded with Theodore of Stoudios in 809
  6. ^ sent out George, one of the martyrs of Córdoba
  7. ^ hosted Saint Sava
  8. ^ bishop of Damascus in the 1370s
  9. ^ abbot during the visit of Agrefeny
  10. ^ abbot of the Serbian community
  11. ^ resettled the monastery with 50 monks
  12. ^ abbot during the visit of Tryphon Korobeinikov
  13. ^ signed the acts of the Synod of Jerusalem

See also


  1. ^ A lavra was historically a semi-eremitical monastic community, but most lavras today only have the name for historical reasons and follow a more centralized coenobitic regimen.


  1. ^ Patrich, Joseph (2011). Studies in the Archaeology and History of Caesarea Maritima: Caput Judaeae, Metropolis Palaestinae. Volume 77 of Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. BRILL. p. 147. ISBN 978-9004175112. Retrieved 21 February 2022.
  2. ^ Melhem, Ahmad (9 May 2016). "Ancient Palestinian monastery under UNESCO consideration". Al Monitor. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
  3. ^ "Mar Saba Monastery". WysInfo.com. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
  4. ^ Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents at Dumbarton Oaks Online Publications. Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b c d "St Sabbas the Sanctified Monastery - Jerusalem". from album published by Mar Saba in 2002, via homepage of St. Sabbas Orthodox Monastery, Harper Woods, MI. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  6. ^ Bianchi, Davide (2021). From the Byzantine period to Islamic rule: continuity and decline of monasticism beyond the River Jordan (PDF). Philosophisch-Historische Klassedenkschriften, Vol. 527 / Archäologische Forschungen, Vol. 31. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences. p. 201. ISBN 978-3-7001-8648-9. Retrieved 22 September 2021. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  7. ^ Treiger, Alexander (2021). "Section VI". In Papaioannou, Stratis (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Literature. Oxford University Press. p. 642. ISBN 978-0-19-935176-3. Retrieved 18 January 2024.
  8. ^ Brock, Sebastian P. (2012). "Sinai: a Meeting Point of Georgian with Syriac and Christian Palestinian Aramaic", in The Caucasus between East & West. Tbilisi, pp. 482–494.
  9. ^ Hamilton, Bernard; Jotischky, Andrew (22 Oct 2020). Latin and Greek Monasticism in the Crusader States. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108915922.
  10. ^ "800 Year Old Lead Seal Stamped Monastery St Sabas". allaboutJerusalem.com. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  11. ^ Panchenko (24 August 2021). Arabic Christianity between the Ottoman Levant and Eastern Europe. BRILL. pp. 30–33. ISBN 978-90-04-46583-1. Retrieved 18 January 2024.
  12. ^ a b c d e Panchenko, Constantin (2016). Arab Orthodox Christians under the Ottomans: 1516-1831. Holy Trinity Seminary Press. pp. 140–47.
  13. ^ Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Harvard University Press) 1973
  14. ^ "The History of the Archimedes Manuscript". The Archimedes Palimpsest Project. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  15. ^ Patrich, Joseph. "The Sabaite Heritage: An Introductory Survey", in J. Patrich (ed.), The Sabaite Heritage in the Orthodox Church from the Fifth Century to the Present (Louvain: Peeters, 2001), pp. 1–30, at 25–27 (Appendix: List of Hegoumenoi).