Saint Prince-Martyr Boris (baptized as Roman), the son of the Equal to the Apostles St. Prince Vladimir. Boris and Gleb are the first canonized Russian saints.
The story of his life and death, post-mortem miracles and canonization are contained in chronicles and some hagiography works written soon after St. Boris’ death based on oral accounts. One of them, The tale and passion and praise to saint martyrs Boris and Gleb, reports that the mother of brothers Boris and Gleb was a native of Bulgaria. Upon reaching adulthood, Boris accepted the management of Rostov from his father Prince Vladimir. But in 1015, Prince Vladimir, suffering from a heavy disease, summoned his son to Kiev, threatened by the Pecheneg invasion. The Kievan prince put Boris in charge of his druzhina (warriors) and sent him against the nomads. Boris did not encounter the Pechenegs and turned back to Kiev. On his way to Kiev, he learned that his father had died and that his brother Svyatopolk seized power in Kiev. Boris’ heart filled with sorrow in anticipation of trouble. His warriors counseled him to go to Kiev and succeed his father’s reign. But Boris replied that he wouldn’t raise a hand on his older brother, as he was now held in the same esteem as his father. Following this the warriors deserted Gleb, leaving him only with his loyal young soldiers.
Svyatopolk, who proclaimed himself the prince of Kiev, sent Boris a message saying that he wanted to live in peace with him and would give him more lands apart from the ones presented by his father. Meanwhile, he secretly ordered the assassins from Vyshgorod named Putsha, Talets, Elovich and Lyashko to find and kill his brother. The assassins attacked the saint prince early in the morning as he was praying in his tent. Hearing sinister whisper by his tent, he said: “Glory to be God for all, for Thee honored me, for the sake of envy, accept the bitter death and suffer all for the sake of your commandments.” Besides Prince Boris, the assassins killed his loyal people, including St. Georgy Ugrin, who tried to protect prince with his own body. The assassins wrapped the prince’s body into a tent, put it on a horse wagon and rode to Vyshgorod. St. Boris was buried near the church of St. Basil. His brother Gleb, who died at the hands of the assassins sent by Svyatopolk, would be later buried next to Boris’ grave. Soon the grave was famous for working miracles. Having learned about the miracle, Prince Yaroslav the Wise, brother of Boris and Gleb, on advice from the Metropolitan of Kiev John, build a five-domed church in the name of Sts. Boris and Gleb. On July 24th, the day of the assassination of St. Boris, the church was consecrated, and the relics of the saints were translated into the cathedral. In the opinion of historians, this happened in the second half of 1940s. Since that time the saint martyrs Boris and Gleb have been broadly venerated across Russia. They were considered heavenly patrons of Russian princes, protectors of the Russian land and healers.
The first icon of St. Boris was painted for the church in honor of the saints, built by Yaroslav the Wise. While Boris and Gleb are normally portrayed together, their separate images are also encountered. The tale and passion and praise to saint martyrs Boris and Gleb describes St. Boris as a man with “a nice body, tall, round face, broad shoulders, thin waits, kind eyes, joyful face, small beard and moustaches, for he was young, shone like a king, strong”. According to this description, the saint was depicted with a beard and moustaches, dressed in the Russian national garment – a round fur-linen hat and a cloak, with a cross and a sword in his hands. The earliest example of St. Boris’ portrait is a slate icon from the Solotchinsky monastery, dated to the first third of the 13th century (presently kept at the Ryazan Museum of Art).
In the 14th century there appeared icons depicting Sts. Boris and Gleb as horsemen, such as the 1340 icon from the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin (State Tretyakov Gallery). These images are derived from the late Byzantine icons of saint warriors.
The feast day of St. Boris is celebrated on May 15 (May 2, in the old style) and August 6th (July 24th , in the old style).
1. Назаренко А. В., Павлинов П. С. Борис и Глеб. // Православная энциклопедия. Том VI. — М.: Церковно-научный центр «Православная энциклопедия», 2003. — С. 44–60.
2. «Сказание и страдание и похвала мученикам святым Борису и Глебу»: Успенский сборник XII—XIII вв. Издание подготовили Князевская О. А., Демьянов В. Г., Ляпон М. В. — М., 1971. Интернет ресурс Института русской литературы (Пушкинский Дом) РАН: http://www.pushkinskijdom.ru/Default.aspx?tabid=4871
3. Кондаков Н. П. Изображения русской княжеской семьи в миниатюрах XI в. — СПб., 1906.
4. Саенкова Е. М., Герасименко Н. В. Иконы святых воинов. — М.: Интербук-бизнес, 2008.