The Transfer of the Relics of the Holy Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb.
Saint Boris (July 24) was a brother of the Great Prince of Kiev Yaroslav the Wise (1019-1054), and was baptized with the name
Roman. The murdered Prince Boris was buried at the church of Saint Basil the Great at Vyshgorod near Kiev.
Metropolitan John I of Kiev (1008-1035) and his clergy solemnly met the incorrupt
relics of the holy passion-bearer Gleb and placed them in the church where the relics of Saint Boris rested. Soon the burial
place was glorified by miracles. Then the relics of the holy brothers Boris and Gleb were removed from the ground and placed
in a specially constructed chapel. On July 24, 1026 a church of five cupolas built by Yaroslav the Wise was consecrated in
honor of the holy martyrs.
In later years, the Vyshgorod Saints
Boris and Gleb church containing the relics of the holy Passion-Bearers became the family church of the Yaroslavichi, their
sanctuary of brotherly love and service to the nation. The symbol of their unity was the celebration of the Transfer of the
Relics of Boris and Gleb, observed on May 2. The history of the establishing of this Feast is bound up with the preceding
events of Russian history. On May 2, 1069 the Great Prince Izyaslav, who had been expelled from the princedom for seven months
(i.e. from September 1068) because of an uprising of the Kievan people, entered into Kiev. In gratitude for God’s help
in establishing peace in the Russian land, the prince built a new church to replace an older structure. Two Metropolitans,
George of Kiev and Neophytus of Chernigov, participated in its consecration with other bishops, igumens, and clergy. The transfer
of the relics, in which all three of the Yaroslavichi (Izyaslav, Svyatoslav, Vsevolod) participated, was set for May 2, and
it was designated as an annual celebration.
Yaroslavich, Prince of Kiev during 1073-1076, made an effort to transform the Saints Boris and Gleb temple into a stone church,
but he was able to build the walls only eight cubits high. Later Vsevolod (+ 1093) finished the church construction, but it
collapsed by night.
The veneration of Saints Boris
and Gleb developed during the time of Yaroslav’s grandsons, often producing a peculiar pious competition among them.
Izyaslav’s son Svyatopolk (+ 1113), built silver reliquaries for the saints. In 1102 Vsevolod’s son Vladimir Monomakh
(+ 1125), sent master craftsmen by night and secretly adorned the silver reliquaries with gold leaf. Svyatoslav’s son
Oleg (+ 1115) outdid them. He was called “Gorislavich”, and was mentioned in the “Tale of Igor’s Campaign.”
He “intended to raise up the collapsed stone (church) and hired some builders.” He provided everything that was
The church was ready in the year 1111,
and Oleg “pressured and besought Svyatopolk to transfer the holy relics into it.” Svyatopolk did not want to do
this, “because he did not build this church.”
The death of Svyatopolk Izyaslavich (+ 1113) brought a new insurrection to Kiev, which nearly killed Vladimir Monomakh,
who had become Great Prince of that city. He decided to cultivate friendship with the Svyatoslavichi through the solemn transfer
of the relics into the Oleg church. “Vladimir gathered his sons, and David and Oleg with their sons. They all arrived
at Vyshgorod. All the hierarchs, igumens, monks and priests came, filling all the town and there was no space left for the
citizenry along the walls.”
On the morning of May 2, 1115,
the Sunday of the Myrhhbearing Women, they began to sing Matins at both churches, old and new, and the transfer of relics
began. The three were separated. “First they brought Saint Boris in a cart, and with him went Metropolitan Vladimir
and his clergy.” On other carts went Saint Gleb “and David with bishops and clergy.” (Oleg waited for them
in the church).
This separation was adhered to
in future generations. Saint Boris was considered a heavenly protector of the Monomashichi; Saint Gleb, of the Ol’govichi
and the Davidovichi. When Vladimir Monomakh speaks about Boris in his “Testament”, he does not mention Gleb. In
the Ol’govichi line, none of the princes received the name Boris.
In general the names Boris and Gleb, and so also Roman and David, were esteemed by many generations
of Russian princes. The brothers of Oleg Gorislavich were named Roman (+ 1079), Gleb (+ 1078), David (+ 1123), and one of
his sons was named Gleb (+ 1138).
From Monomakh were the sons Roman
and Gleb; from Yuri Dolgoruky, Boris and Gleb; of Saint Rostislav of Smolensk, Boris and Gleb; of Saint Andrew Bogoliubsky,
Saint Gleb (+ 1174); of Vsevolod Big Nest, Boris and Gleb. Among the sons of Vseslav of Polotsk (+ 1101) was the full range
of “Saints Boris and Gleb” names: Roman, Gleb, David, Boris.
The Vyshgorod sanctuaries were not the only centers for the liturgical veneration of Saints Boris
and Gleb. It was spread throughout the Russian land. First of all, there were churches and monasteries in specific places
connected with the martyrdom of the saints, and their miraculous help for people; the temple of Boris and Gleb at Dorogozhich
on the road to Vyshgorod, where Saint Boris died; the Saints Boris and Gleb monastery at Tmo near Tver where Gleb’s
horse injured its leg; a monastery of the same name at Smyadyno at the place of Gleb’s murder; and at the River Tvertsa
near Torzhok (founded in 1030), where the head of Saint George the Hungarian was preserved [trans. note: the beloved servant
of Saint Boris was beheaded in order to steal the gold medallion given him by Saint Boris]. Churches dedicated to Saints Boris
and Gleb were built at the Alta in memory of the victory of Yaroslav the Wise over Svyatopolk the Accursed on July 24, 1019;
and also at Gzena near Novgorod where Gleb Svyatoslavich defeated a sorcerer.
The Ol’govichi and the Monomashichi vied with each other in building churches dedicated to
the holy martyrs. Oleg himself, in addition to the Vyshgorod church, built the Saints Boris and Gleb cathedral in Old Ryazan
in 1115 (therefore, the diocese was later called Saints Boris and Gleb). His brother David also built at Chernigov (in 1120).
In the year 1132 Yuri Dolgoruky built a church of Boris and Gleb at Kideksh at the River Nerla, “where the encampment
of Saint Boris had been.” In 1145, Saint Rostislav of Smolensk “put a stone church at Smyadyno,” at Smolensk.
In the following year the first (wooden) Saints Boris and Gleb church was built in Novgorod. In 1167 a stone foundation replaced
the wood, and it was completed and consecrated in the year 1173. The Novgorod Chronicles name the legendary Sotko Sytinich
as the builder of the church.
The holy Passion-Bearers Boris
and Gleb were the first Russian saints glorified by the Russian and Byzantine Churches. A service to them was composed soon
after their death, and its author was Saint John I, Metropolitan of Kiev (1008-1035), which a MENAION of the twelfth century
corroborates. The innumerable copies of their Life, the accounts of the relics, the miracles and eulogies in the manuscripts
and printed books of the twelfth-fourteenth centuries bear witness to the special veneration of the holy Martyrs Boris and
Gleb in Russia.
[trans. note: Neither this account
nor those of the individual feastdays give the details of their martyrdom. Perhaps it is assumed that the reader is familiar
with the story, or perhaps it is too painful to recount. The saints chose not to take up arms to defend themselves, or flee
to safety. In their final prayers, they refer to the Lord’s voluntary suffering and death, as recorded by the chroniclers.
Since they meekly accepted an unjust death for the sake of Christ, they are known as “Passion-Bearers.”]