Martyrs prince Michael
and boyar Theodore
Oct. 3 (Sept. 20 old calendar).
In the middle of the 13th century great misfortune befell Russia - it was the Mongol invasion. Ryazan and Vladimir princedoms were the first victims of the plunder, then southern Russian cities Pereyaslavl, Chernigov, Kiev and others were devastated. The majority of the population in those princedoms and towns were killed in gory battles; churches were robbed and desecrated, the famous Kiev monastery was destroyed, and the monks were scattered in the forests.
All those terrible calamities were yet an avoidable consequence of invasion of barbarous tribes, who regarded war as just a pretext for plunder. Mongols would generally be impartial to all beliefs. Yasa (a book of taboos) was the code of rules governing their life. One of those rules was to respect and fear any god irrespective of the nation worshiping it. Due to that, The Golden Horde allowed services and practice of various religions without any restriction; and even the khans themselves would often be present at the services of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and other rituals.
But even though the khans were indifferent and even respectful towards Christianity, they demanded that our princes obeyed some of their supposititious rituals, such as passing through the cleansing fire before an audience with a khan or bowing to the images of deceased khans, the sun and a bush. According to Christian notions, that would be a betrayal of the Holy faith, and some of our princes preferred to die rather than perform those rites. From among those people we should especially remember prince Michael of Chernigov and his boyar Theodore, who suffered a martyrs' death in the Horde in 1246.
When khan Batyi demanded prince Michael to visit and pay his respects to the khan, Michael upon receiving the blessings of his spiritual father bishop Ioann, promised him that he would rather die for Christ and the Holy faith than bow to idols. Boyar Theodore pledged the same. The bishop encouraged them to abide by their holy resoluteness and gave them sacred Gifts and blessed them for the life everlasting. Before Michael and Theodore could enter the headquarters of the khan, Mongol priests demanded that they first bow to the south where the grave of Chinguiz khan was, then to fire and then to felt idols. Michael said, "A Christian should bow to a Creator, not to a beast."
Having learnt about that, Batyi got enraged and told Michael to make his choice: either obey the priests or die. Michael answered that he was ready to bow to the khan as God himself endowed power on him, but that he would not fulfill the demand of the priests. Michael's grandson, prince Boris and Rostov entreated him to save his life and offered that they themselves and his people would accept penance for his sin. Michael paid no heed to their words. He tossed his royal fur coat off his shoulders and said, "I will not destroy my soul, I care not for the glory of the perishable world!" While the reply was being reported to the khan, Michael and his boyar were singing psalms and partaking of the Holy Gifts given to them by the bishop. Soon the murderers were there. They started beating him on his chest with fists and sticks, then turned him face to the ground and stamped him with their feet and finally cut his head off. His last words were, "I am a Christian!" After that his intrepid boyar suffered the same death of a martyr. Their holy relics were preserved in the Moscow Archangel cathedral.
In the beginning of the 14th century (in 1313) khans adopted the Muslim religion, which was always distinguished for its fanaticism and intolerance. Yet as far as the Russians are concerned khans continued to stick to the ancient law of Chinguis khan and traditions of their ancestors. Not only was there no persecution of Christianity in Russia, but the khans even patronized the Russian church. That was due to the contribution of famous princes and clergy of the Russian church, who were lifted up by the Lord during those hard times for Russia.
Troparion, Tone 4
You fulfilled your lives as martyrs,/ were adorned with the crowns of confession and ascended into heaven./ O wise Michael and brave Theodore,/ pray to Christ our God to have mercy on your fatherland/ and on all Orthodox Christians.
Kontakion, Tone 8
Despising earthly dominion thou didst abandon fame as transient./ Thou didst enter the contests and proclaim the Trinity before thy tormentors, strong Michael and brave Theodore./ As you stand before the King of Angels pray for your fatherland and Orthodox Christians,/ that we may ever venerate you.
Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church
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