In his youth he escaped from home to join the orthodox monastic colony on Mount Athos (Holy Mountain on the Chalkidiki peninsula) and was given the name Sava. He first traveled to a Russian monastery and then moved to a Greek Monastery Vatoped. At the end of 1197 his father, king Stefan Nemanja joined him. In 1198 they together moved to and restored the abandoned monastery Hilandar, which was at that time the center of Serbian Christian monastic life.
St. Sava's father took the monastic vows under the name Simeon, and died in Hilandar on February 13, 1200. He is also canonized, as Saint Simeon. After his father's death, Sava retreated to an ascetic monastery in Kareya which he built himself in 1199. He also wrote the Kareya Typicon both for Hilandar and for the monastery of asceticism. The last typicon is inscribed into the marble board at the ascetic monastery, which today also exists in it. He stayed on Athos until the end of 1207.
St. Sava managed to persuade the Byzantine Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople to elevate St. Sava to the position of the first Serbian Archbishop, thereby establishing the Independence of Archbishopic of the Serbian Church in the year of 1219.
After participating in a ceremony called Blessing of the Waters he developed a cough that progressed into pneumonia. He died from pneumonia in the evening between Saturday and Sunday, January 14, 1235. He was buried at the Cathedral of the Holy Forty Martyrs in Trnovo. He remained in Trnovo until May 6, 1237 when his sacred bones were moved to the monastery Mileseva in southern Serbia. Some 360 years later the Ottoman Turks dug out his bones and burnt them on the Vracar plateau in Belgrade.
The Temple of Saint Sava in Belgrade, whose construction was planned in 1939, begun in 1985 and is built on the place where the holy bones were burned.
Saint Sava is celebrated as the founder of the independent Serbian Orthodox Church and as patron saint of education and medicine among Serbs. His day is observed on January 27th of the Gregorian calendar (January 14th of the Julian calendar still observed by the Serbian Church).