The daughter of the Byzantine Emperor, St. Anna was given in marriage to the Great Zhupan of Serbia St. Stefan Nemanja (commemorated February 13th), by whom she had three sons: Vukan, Stefan and Rastko—the future St. Sava (commemorated January 14th). When her husband became a monk under the name of Symeon, she took the veil in a monastery that she had founded on the right bank of the river Toplitsa, and received the name: Anastasia. Having lived there in devotion and holiness, she entered into rest in peace on the 21st of June, 1200. Her relics are venerated in the Monastery of Studenica.
—Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra
Our Venerable Mother, Anastasija, Mother of St. Sava
(+1200; commemorated June 21st)
“When we seek familial virtue, we must begin with the praise
of the righteous and God-loving mother.”
—Fr. Daniel Rogich
According to Eastern Christian spiritual tradition, the meditation upon the righteousness of a God-loving mother can be considered a proper starting point for the soul’s understanding of the definition of personal Christian virtue within the family setting. For example, what is emphasized most concerning the personal identity of the Virgin Mary is her role as righteous and holy mother, as the highest title given to her by the Church is Theotokos which is a Greek compound noun meaning “Mother of God.” The Theotokos as the fountain of virtue is gleaned from the context of her devotion and true commitment to Her Son and our God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The pinnacle of all Christian virtues, steadfast love, is what She continues to express and to even grant to all those who desire salvation. Every Orthodox Christian, therefore, exalts the Ever-Virgin Mary primarily for Her beautiful motherhood which was ultimately fulfilled by her virtuous steadfast love for her Son and our God, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
In keeping with this tradition, the most honored Saints of the Orthodox Church have always espoused a divine role to their mothers. Gregory the Theologian exalted his mother Nonna; Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa both exalted their mother Emmelia; Amphilochius exalted his mother Livia; John Chrysostom exalted his mother Anthusa; and the list goes on and on. These women were accorded honor and glory due to their virtues of committed faith and love for the Lord Jesus Christ and His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, which they expressed concretely in this world by their dedication and steadfast love for their own children and family. Literally speaking, behind every Saint stands his or her own righteous and God-loving mother! And this tradition was continued by the Saint we wish to now humbly remember, Holy Anastasija, the righteous and venerable mother of St. Sava, the Enlightener of Serbia.
Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, Anastasija was of royal lineage. She was born in 1125, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor. Her name at birth was Anna, as Anastasija was her monastic name during her later years. Thus the mother of the greatest Serbian Saint, Sava, was Greek by birth. There is no doubt that St. Sava’s excellence in the Greek language—a great benefit to the Serbs especially during his episcopacy (1219-1235)—was acquired from his mother Anna.
We know very little of the early life of St. Anastasija, which is probably what she prefers, as her grand achievement and exaltation, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, is that she gave birth to Sava, the Christ-like savior of the Serbian Orthodox people.
As a young Princess, Anna was married around 1150 to the Serbian Grand Zhupan (Patriarchal leader) Stephen Nemanja. This royal marriage solidified both political and religious ties between the upstart Kingdom of Serbia (Rashka and Zeta) and the Byzantine Empire centered in Constantinople. During the early years of her marriage, Queen Anna gave birth to two sons, Vukan and Stephan; in her later years, around 1175, when she was close to 50 years old, by the grace of God, she gave birth to her last child, Rastko, later the monk Sava, who became (and still is)the most beloved figure in the history of the Serbian people. Like Elizabeth, the virtuous mother of John the Baptist, Anna was late in years when she gave birth to her beloved son Sava, a birth for which both Zhupan Stephen and she had fervently petitioned the Lord God. And like the Blessed Virgin Mary, Anna “pondered all these things in her heart,” especially the activities of her son Sava, as she felt the hand of the Lord upon her which eventually allowed her to see the beginning of the blossoming of the Serbian Orthodox Christian culture and civilization. In the end, two of Anastasija’s sons, Sava and Stephen the First-Crowned, along with her husband Zhupan Stephen (Simeon as a monk), became monastics and were canonized as Saints by the entire Orthodox Church. The Nemanja family was the first royal Serbian family to be canonized, leading the way for future royalty to proclaim and establish Orthodoxy as the way and criterion for the Kingdom of Serbia to be transformed into the Kingdom of God—by being totally dedicated to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On the Feast of the Annunciation to the Theotokos, March 25, 1196, both her husband, rand Zhupan Stephen Nemanja, and Queen Anna were tonsured monastics. Zhupen Stephan became monk Simeon, retiring to Monastery Studenitsa which was the foundational monastery of the Nemanja dynasty, lying in the Ibar River Valley, on the right bank of the little Studenitsa River, about 20 miles from Ushche. Queen Anna took the name Anastasija, a proper name whose root is from the Greek word “Anastasis” which means “Resurrection” (in terms of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ}. She was 71 years old at the time. Anastasija began her monastic life in the Monastery of the Most Holy Virgin Mary in Kurshumlija near Toplica, one of the very first monasteries (built 1168-117~} of the Nemanja dynasty. When her husband, newly tonsured monk Simeon, left Monastery Studenitsa in 1196, in order to travel to the Holy Mountain to be reunited with St. Sava, leaving the royal throne to her son Stephan the First-Crowned, Anastasija became the sole parent of the original Nemanja dynasty still remaining in the Kingdom of Serbia. After her son Sava left the royal court in 1192, when he was 17 years old, in favor of the monastic life on the Holy Mountain, Blessed Anastasija never again saw her son in this earthly realm.
However, she was blessed by the Lord God to hear the news, while she was still living in this world, of the creation and founding of the Hilandar Monastery on the Holy Mountain, news which enabled her to envision the future solidification and blossoming of Christianity among the Serbian people. Anastasija spent the remaining five years of her life in Monastery Kurshumlija, where she peacefully fell asleep in the Lord on June 21, 1200. She was 75 years old. Her repose in the Lord took place only four months after the falling asleep of her husband, Grand Zhupan Stephan Nemanja-monk Simeon, who fell asleep in the Lord at age 86 in Monastery Hilandar, on February 13, 1200. Holy Anastasija was given an honorable Orthodox Christian burial at Monastery Studenitsa, where she rejoined her beloved husband in “the awaiting of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
The legacy of Holy Anastasija, the beloved Mother of St. Sava, the Enlightener of the Serbs, is one of steadfast love and committed faith to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, which she manifested in her earthly life by her support of her husband, Holy Grand Zhupan Stephen-monk Simeon the Myrrh-gusher, by her zeal for her sons Sava, Stephan the First-crowned, and Vukan, by her love of all God’s people, and by her beautiful imaging of the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love which were brought to fruition in her by the power of the Most Holy and Life-giving Spirit of God. May all pious lovers of Christ attach themselves to her prayers before the Almighty Throne of God.
Holy Mother Anastasija, when we praise virtue we praise thee, for thy steadfast love and zeal for the Lord God is an example and way for all of us to follow; pray, therefore, O virtuous One, that our Lord God may soften our hearts, enabling us also to desire those very same salvific virtues of faith, hope, and love, so that we may remain faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom belongs glory, honor and worship, together with His Unoriginate Father, and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”
From the Serbian Patericon,
by Fr. Daniel Rogich