The Holy Nobleborn Prince of Chernigov Michael
Commemorated on September 20
The Holy Nobleborn
Prince of Chernigov Michael, son of Vsevolod Ol'govich the Dark-Red (+
1212), was noted from childhood for his piety and mildness. He had very poor
health, but hoping on the mercy of God, the young prince in 1186 besought the
holy prayers of the Monk Nikita of Pereyaslavl' the Pillar-Dweller (Comm. 24
May), who during these years received reknown by his prayerful intercession
before the Lord. Having received a wooden staff from the holy ascetic, the
prince at once was healed. In 1223 noble prince Michael took part in a meeting
of Russian princes at Kiev, deliberating the question of whether to aid the
Polovetsians against the approaching Mongol-Tatar hordes. With the perishing in
the Battle at the Kalka River in 1223 of his uncle, Mstislav of Chernigov,
Saint Michael became prince of Chernigov. In 1225 he was invited to be prince
for the Novgorod people. Through his sense of justice, compassion and firmness
he gained the love and respect of Old Novgorod. This was particularly important
for the Novgorodians, in that the ascent of Michael as prince signified a
reconciliation of Novgorod with the city of Vladimir holy nobleborn GreatPrince
Georgii Vsevolodovich (Comm. 4 March), the wife of whom was the holy princess
Agathia, sister of prince Michael.
But Saint Michael did not long remain prince at Novgorod. He soon returned to his native Chernigov. To the stipulations and requests of the Novgorodians to remain prince he answered, that Chernigov and Novgorod ought to become kindred lands, and their inhabitants – like brothers, and he would forge the bonds of friendship of these cities.
The noble prince assiduously concerned himself with the building up of his appenage realm. But it was difficult for him in these troubled times. His activity provoked unease in the Kursk prince Oleg, and in 1227 internecine strife nearly erupted – save that the Kiev metropolitan Kirill (Cyril, 1224-1233) reconciled them. And in this same year prince Michael peacefully resolved a dispute between the Kiev GreatPrince Vladimir Rurikovich and the Galich prince.
In 1235 noble prince Michael occupied the Kiev great-princely throne.
Troublesome times ensued. In 1238 the Tatars (Mongols) laid waste to Ryazan, Suzdal', Vladimir. In 1239 they moved against South Russia, and ravaged the left-bank of the Dniepr River, the Chernigov and Pereyaslavl' lands. By autumn of 1240 the Mongols were coming nigh to Kiev. The khan's emissaries proposed that Kiev surrender voluntarily, but the noble prince would not negotiate with them. Prince Michael rode urgently to Hungary, to persuade the Hungarian king Bela to organise allied forces to resist the common enemy. Saint Michael tired to recruit into the struggle against the Mongols both Poland, and the German emperor. But the moment for a combined resistance was lost: Rus' was devastated, and later in turn Hungary and Poland. Having received no foreign support, noble prince Michael returned to the ruins of Kiev and for a certain while he lived not far from the city on an island, and then he resettled to Chernigov.
The prince did not abandon hope in the possibility of an united Christian Europe against the Asiatic nomads. In 1245 at a Lyons Council in France was present as emissary, sent by Saint Michael, his co-worker the metropolitan Peter (Akerovich), calling for a crusade to march against the pagan Horde. Catholic Europe in the persons of its chief spiritual leaders, the Roman pope and the German emperor, betrayed the interests of Christianity. The pope was involved in a war with the German emperor, and the Germans indeed took advantage of the Mongol invasion, to attack Rus' themselves.
In these circumstances affecting Christianity in general, there is an universal significance to the confessor's deed of the Orthodox prince-martyr Saint Michael of Chernigov amidst the pagan Horde. In Rus' soon appeared emissaries of the khan, in order to carry out a census of the Russian population and to impose tribute-taxes upon it. From the prince was demanded full submission to the Tatar khan, and for his princely realm – the khan's special permission of a charter ("yarlyk"). The emissaries informed prince Michael, that it was necessary for him to set off in journey to the Horse for an affirmation of rights to rule the princedom under the khan's yarlyk. Seeing the woeful plight of Rus', noble prince Michael recognised the need to obey the khan, but as a fervent Christian he knew, that he would not abjure his faith before the pagans. From his spiritual father, the bishop John, he received blessing to journey to the Horde and be there a true confessor of the Name of Christ.
Together with holy prince Michael on the journey to the Horde went his faithful friend and companion, the boyar-noble Theodore (Feodor). At the Horde they knew about the attempts of prince Michael to organise an uprising against the Tatars concurrently with Hungary and the other European powers. His enemies had long sought the opportunity to destroy him. In 1246 when noble prince Michael and the boyar Theodore arrived at the Horde, they were ordered on how to go to the khan, to proceed through a flaming bon-fire, to cleanse them of their evil intents, and to worship the primal-elements considered gods by the Mongols: the sun and fire. In answer to the pagan-priests commanding them to perform the pagan rituals, the holy prince replied: "A Christian doth worship only God, the Creator of the world, and not creatures". They reported to the khan about the unyielding of the Russian prince. Batu's attendant El'deg delivered the conditions: either fulfill the demands of the pagan priests, or die unyielding in torments. But this also was followed by the resolute answer of holy prince Michael: "I am prepared to submit to the emperor, since that God hath entrusted him with the destiny of the earthly kingdoms, but as a Christian, I cannot worship idols". The fate of the brave Christians was sealed. Taking courage in the words of the Lord: "Whoso wouldst to save their soul, shalt lose it, and whoso shalt lose their soul for My sake and the Gospel, that one wilt save it" (Mt. 8: 35‑38), the holy prince and his devoted boyar prepared for a martyr's end and communed the Holy Mysteries, which their spiritual father foreseeing this gave them. The Tatar executioners seized hold of the noble prince and for a long time they beat him fiercely, until the ground ran crimson with blood. Finally one of the apostates from the faith in Christ, by the name of Daman, cut off the head of the holy martyr.
To the boyar Saint Theodore, if he were to fulfill the pagan ritual, the Tatars deceitfully began to promise the princely honours of the martyred sufferer. But Saint Theodore was not swayed by this – he followed the example of his prince. After quite vicious torments they beheaded him. The bodies of the holy passion-bearers were thrown for devouring by dogs, but the Lord miraculously guarded them for several days, until faithful Christians could secretly bury them with reverence. Later on the relics of the holy martyrs were transferred to Chernigov.
The confessor's act of Saint Theodore amazed even his executioners. Persuaded of the steadfast keeping to the Orthodox faith by the Russian people, and their readiness to die with joy for Christ, the Tatar khans decided not to try the patience of God as before, and they ceased demanding of Russians at the Horde any outright fulfilling of pagan rituals. But the struggle of the Russian nation and the Russian Church against the Mongol Yoke continued for yet a long time. The Orthodox Church was embellished in this struggle by new martyrs and confessors. GreatPrince Theodore (Feodor, + 1246) was poisoned by the Mongols. Also martyred were Saint Roman of Ryazan (+ 1270), Saint Michael of Tver' (+ 1318), his sons Dimitrii (+ 1325) and Alexander (+ 1339). All of these took courage at the example and holy prayers of the Russian FirstMartyr at the Horde –Saint Michael of Chernigov.
On 14 February 1572, at the wish of tsar Ivan Vasil'evich the Terrible, and with the blessing of the metropolitan Antonii, the relics of the holy martyrs were transferred to Moscow, into the temple dedicated to their name. From there in 1770 they were transferred into the Visitation (Sretenie) cathedral, and on 21 November 1774 – into the Archangel cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.
The Lives and service to Saints Michael and Theodore were compiled in the mid‑XVI Century by the reknown church writer, the monk Zinovii of Otonsk.
"The lineage of the righteous wilt be blest", – says the holy Psalmodist David. This occurred in full measure for Saint Michael. He is at the head of many a famous family-line in Russian history. His children and grandchildren continued with the holy Christian service of Saint Michael. The Church enumerated to the ranks of the saints his daughter – the Nun Evphrosynia of Suzdal' (Comm. 25 September), and his grandson – holy nobleborn Oleg of Bryansk (Comm. 20 September).
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.