First Crowned King of Serbian
Simon the Monk
During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Nemanjic dynasty ruled Serbia. Saint Steven was the middle son of his devout parents, the Grand Zhupan—a title of nobility among medieval Slavs—Stefan Nemanja and his wife, Princess Anna. When his father became aged and abdicated his title in 1196, he chose Stevan as his successor. In the presence of the lords and nobleman of all ranks assembled together with the bishops of the Church, Nemanja called his son Steven before him, blessed him and gave him the scepter of rule. Having done this, Nemanja took monastic vows, receiving the name Simeon, and together with his youngest son Sava, spent the rest of his life in peace and monastic tranquility at the great spiritual center of Hilandar, a monastery which they established on Mount Athos in 1199. A year later, on February 13, 1200, the monk Simeon departed this life, and the Council of monks of the Holy Mountain immediately canonized him a saint.
When he came to the throne, Steven ruled with competence and love—protecting those who were oppressed, feeding the poor, giving abundant alms to the elderly and helpless, treating his royal subjects as brothers and children—mindful that he must give account of his deeds at the Last Judgment. He was a devout Christian and wise and peace loving ruler. He protected the Holy Orthodox Faith from heresies and built many churches and monasteries. It was one of the most productive periods in Serbian history. It remained a time of peace and harmony until a dispute arose between Steven and his brother Vukan, prince of Zeta and Hum. Their brother Sava, being politically astute and a quintessential diplomat, became known as a “peacemaker” for reconciling his brothers. Steven wrote to his brother Sava on Mount Athos, asking him to return to the fatherland and bring with him the body of their father, Simeon, which had been entombed at Hilandar. It was his hope that the prayers and presence of his saintly father would bring God's mercy on them. Sava, anxious to comfort and settle the dispute between his brothers, as well as to fulfill the dying behest of his father, returned to Serbia with Simeon's relics. For Vukan and Steven, it was this event that turned discord into peace, sorrow into joy, and dissonance into brotherly love.
The affection between them was even greater than before, and peace and well-being again reigned in Serbia. Later Sava, the great enlightener and teacher, became the first Archbishop of Serbia.
On the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord in 1220, as Archbishop, Sava assembled the authorities of the Church and state at the Zicha Monastery founded by his brother Steven. In a salient ceremony following the Holy Liturgy, Archbishop Sava crowned his brother Steven, “First Crowned King of Serbia.” Working together, Sava and Steven carefully honored all precepts of the Orthodox Faith as they administered the internal structure and international posture of both the Church and State. These two saints, the First Archbishop and First Crowned King elevated Holy Orthodoxy to great glory among the Serbian people.
As he grew aged, Steven sought to follow in the footsteps of his father and younger brother by taking monastic vows. To fulfill his wish, Saint Sava tonsured Steven a monk before his death, and gave him the name Simon. Steven entered into rest as the monk Simon on September 24, 1224. His miracle-working body rests today alongside his father and mother in the Studenica Monastery in Serbia.
On October 6, 1968, in a ceremony of historic significance, two small particles of the relics of Saint Steven (Simon the monk) were placed in a reliquary and entrusted to Saint Steven's Cathedral. Taken with awed reverence, far from the time and land of Saint Steven's birth, these wonderworking relics will always grace the Cathedral in Alhambra that bears his honored name.