Thursday, July 30, 2015

Video of Solemn Requiem at St Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA

Saint Vincent Archabbey celebrated a Requiem High Mass in October last year for Br. Nathan Cochran, O.S.B., who passed away on July 30, 2014. H.I.R.H. Archduke Georg Habsburg-Lothringen of Salzburg, Austria, gave an opening address on behalf of the Habsburg Family and the Emperor Karl League of Prayers. It included words from League President, Fr. Marian Gruber, O.Cist., of Heiligenkreuz Abbey.

Br. Nathan was a monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he taught art and music at Saint Vincent College and served as curator and director of The Saint Vincent Gallery for over 20 years. He is most well-known for his works as the Canadian and U.S.A. Delegate for the Kaiser-Karl-Gebetsliga für den Völkerfreiden, (Emperor Karl League of Prayers for Peace Among the Nations). He worked at Vatican City as the special secretary for the Beatification of Emperor Karl I of Austria. He received the Signum Memoriae Civilian Medal of Honor from H.I.R.H. Otto von Habsburg, Archduke and Crown Prince of Austria and King of Hungary; this was the first time the medal had been bestowed since 1898, and was presented in honor of Archduke Otto’s 95th birthday. Br. Nathan also initiated a Nationwide Juried Catholic Art Exhibition; for the such exhibit, he enlisted famed British art historian Sister Wendy Beckett to serve as judge. She praised his endeavors, noting that “artists often come to understand their faith by the actual creation of artworks. We need these artworks, these attempts by artists known or unknown, to share with us their understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Would that there were hundreds of Brother Nathans in all countries!”

In the video of the complete ceremony below, the homilist speaks about this concern for beauty and art in the Church. The Mass had a large attendance and was the first time a Requiem High Mass has been celebrated in the Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica in over 50 years.

To learn more about Br. Nathan, visit:

Book Notice: Phoenix from the Ashes by H. J. A. Sire

Of considerable interest to NLM readers will be this newly published book from Angelico Press. I have already begun reading it and am finding it a gripping page-turner, brimming with keen insights and strong but well-grounded opinions. The treatment of Church crises (Arianism, Protestant revolt) is beautifully done and I look forward to the author's analysis of Vatican II and aftermath. I don't feel in a position to write a proper review yet, but my initial reaction is very positive.

PHOENIX FROM THE ASHES is a comprehensive look at the state of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council — one of a series of recurrent periods of moral and intellectual crisis to which it has succumbed in its history. A chapter on the Council describes in detail how Pope Paul VI diverted it by placing it under the exclusive control of European liberals. An equally close study is devoted to the liturgical “reform” entrusted by the same pope to a group of radicals whose work undermined the spiritual and devotional legacy of the faithful. The loss of orthodox teaching and the disorientation following upon these changes produced a grave crisis in both clergy and laity, but the movement of return to tradition visible today promises a revival of the full Catholic life of the Church. Catholic readers now have a complete and eminently accessible account of the last 50 years of momentous changes in the Church, right up to the pontificates of Benedict XVI and Francis I.

488 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62138-140-2
Link to
Link to

Praise for the Book
“This wide-ranging account of the self-destruction of the Roman Catholic Church and its identification of her only realistic route back to the land of the living simultaneously strikes a blow at history’s two most prevalent temptations: rejection or twisting of evidence in the service of an ideological thesis, and honest dedication to intense research on subjects whose ultimate existential value the ‘unbiased’ historian somehow fears to reveal to his readers. Henry Sire courageously shuts no doors and stifles no evidence, employing a passionate and lively prose that leaves no doubt regarding his sense of the crucial moral and cultural importance of his topic.”
JOHN RAO, author of Black Legends and the Light of the World and Removing the Blindfold

“For Catholics feeling lost at sea as a result of the turbulent crisis tossing and flooding the Barque of Peter, Henry Sire’s work identifies clear landmarks to steady our gaze. He situates the present disarray within the larger historical context of the Arian heresy and Protestant revolution, and points to the buoys of tradition — liturgical, doctrinal, and philosophical—as sure guides to our way out. Sire distills entire epochs of history, from the first centuries of the Church through the current pontificate, into a highly readable and thought-provoking story. In the course of his tale he exposes the radical progressivism of the Second Vatican Council and its after-effects as well as the tepid conservatism of the Reform of the Reform and the Hermeneutic of Continuity.”
BRIAN M. MCCALL, author of To Build the City of God

“Historian H.J.A. Sire has compiled a balanced assessment of the revolution in the Roman Catholic Church. His mastery of the material is complete. The book flows along easily and readers will finish it confident that they have a comprehensive understanding of the last 60 years in the Church.”
ROGER MCCAFFREY, President, Roman Catholic Books

“Thanks to Henry Sire’s penetrating book, we have some profound answers to nagging questions. How did the West end up so quickly in a post-Christian age, when only decades ago one could still speak of a Christian culture?  How did we go from the seemingly healthy Roman Catholic Church of the 1950s to the mass apostasy and grave scandals of recent years? As Sire shows, the antecedents go back quite far, in fact many centuries, but the possibility of healing and regeneration is not as remote as we think.”
STEPHEN KLIMCZUK-MASSION, Senior Adviser, Hildebrand Project

About the Author

H. J. A. SIRE was born in 1949 in Barcelona of a family of French ancestry and was educated in England, at Stonyhurst College and at Exeter College, Oxford, where he took a degree in Modern History. He has written several books on subjects of Catholic history and biography and currently lives in Rome, where he works professionally as a historian.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Drawn through Beauty - Guest Article by Fr Charles Byrd

Fr Charles Byrd, pastor of Our Lady of the Mountains in Jasper, Georgia, here writes about his encounter with a man who wasn’t quite sure his church was Catholic, because the liturgy was done with some care for beauty. Our thanks to Fr Byrd for sharing this with our readers.

After the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass, I was spending time greeting people beneath the porch and in the narthex. It is a time when most pastors have a hundred or more conversations with folks who wait just to say a few words. There are some regular families who always want to briefly chat. Others might want to comment on the homily, and still others might want a scapular blessed, ask for prayers or for a special blessing before they travel. The narthex after Mass can be a joyful place really. On this particular Sunday, as the crowds grew thinner, I decided it was time to make my exit and go to divest, so I turned to walk towards the vestry.

From the shadows emerged a man I had never met before, who was obviously visiting for the first time, and who had evidently been waiting to speak to me last, once the crowds had cleared out. He was an older gentleman. You could tell by his stance and the diplomatic caution with which he was trying to form his question that he really didn’t want to be rude, but he needed some clarification. I could tell his heart was troubled, so I stopped to hear him out. He asked “Father, excuse me, but might I ask … is this parish under the auspices of the Holy See … that is to say the Pope?” To which I responded, “Yes sir, we are.” But he still needed further clarification “So then this parish is under the Archdiocese?” And again, I assured him, “Yes sir, we are.” He seemed relieved, and smiled, and just to make sure he said “Well, you see, Father, there are some parishes that claim to be Catholic but they really aren’t.” I nodded and assured him we were really Roman Catholic and in communion with the Pope.

Evidently, our guest was trying to make sure we really were not a schismatic parish. The reason this is so ironic is because it was summer, and during ordinary time our Mass parts are ordinarily sung in English. I mean we sung a Kyrie in Greek, but the rest of the Mass was entirely in the vernacular. Looking back over the liturgy in fact, there was not even a peep of Latin in any other part of that Mass. The summer break means there was no choir, and so it was a Mass with a cantor and an organist. All the proper chants were done in English. There was a hymn after communion and a hymn at the recessional, but both of these were in English too. My point is this was a congregational singing Mass … there were none of the anthems or polyphonic offerings we might hear when our choir gathers.

I also recall that some of our altar servers had failed to show up that Sunday so all we had were two servers for that Mass, which is unusual for us. One was the crucifer and the other was the thurifer. Moreover, our deacon’s dear wife was not well, so we had no deacon that weekend either. Consequently the liturgy was a bit sparse for us. I remember that I had preached briefly on the new stained glass windows in the narthex, and that we had prayed the Roman Canon that Sunday (again, in English, and versus populum). We had prayed for the pope and bishops in the anaphora and in the prayers of the faithful, and we had prayed for the cardinals in the upcoming Synod for the Family, that they would uphold the teachings of our Founder, and yet still, this gentleman wanted to make sure that we were Catholic.

This is a funny story, but it is also a sad one. You see this kind man wanted us to be Catholic, but he wasn’t sure we were Catholic because, well, we seemed to be really Catholic. I am not even sure he communicated that Sunday, so concerned was he that we might not really be Catholics (though he came back later that week for a daily Mass, and came up for Communion). Still this story demonstrates a point that needs to sink in. Our little parish does use Latin Mass parts seasonally, and our choirs will sing in Latin motets here and there, but none were heard that Sunday. Our rural parish doesn’t offer the Extraordinary Form Mass, though we might pray the Roman Canon in Latin but once a year. We routinely sing the dialogue prayers and presiding prayers on Sundays, and our cantor or choirs sing every sequence they can throughout the year, but again these are sung in English, and we almost never sing the Gospel. Our Sunday Masses are usually over within an hour, and if they go longer, it is because most folks come to the choir Mass, and those communion lines are longer (I’m sorry, but communion rails were just so much faster). The point is, our parish tries but we aren’t overly fussy about things (especially in the summer). This is not a city parish with lots of money and loads of nearby professional musicians for hire. We like to think of ourselves as poor, but classy, but we are decidedly rural and small. Nevertheless, because we are mindful of the liturgy, and because we sing the propers, and because our liturgies are noble and dignified, this confused guest presumed we must not really be Catholic.

What does that say about what is going on in other parishes?

I later came to find out that our guest was a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus. He was an ordinary Catholic man who wanted nothing more than to be a good Catholic. And I have to say he was so happy to find an ordinary Catholic parish that offered the Mass with dignity. I won’t be surprised if he makes us his permanent home. As a Catholic priest, I would like to challenge other parishes to consider this story. Keep in mind that I have nothing against the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. We’re just so small and rural, and I am all alone as a priest in the county, and swamped, and I want to bring unity to my parish. So we forge ahead the best we can out here. But I get a lot of folks driving up from the suburbs looking for something different. Why? I think it is because too often in the frenetic delirium to be relevant and up-to-date, and to try to reach the masses, we Catholics may just be losing the masses. So maybe it is time we paid more attention to the Mass. Seems to me what we need is stability and sanity. Just saying.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Maronites Celebrate A New Priest

Just a great picture, from the Portuguese-language facebook page Direto da Sacristia, used with their kind permission. Newly ordained Fr Marc Khouryhanna, carried on the shoulders of the faithful in priestly vestments, at Zgharta, in northern Lebanon.

Proceedings of Fota VI Soon to be Published

The Proceedings of the Sixth Fota International Liturgical Conference, held in 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, will be published by Smenos publications, who are offering it at a special pre-publication price through their website. (click here) The complete list of the essays is given below.

Preface - John M. Cunningham, O.P.

1. Liturgical Law in Sacrosanctum Concilium and its Implementation - Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke
2. Liturgical Translations and Two Instructions in Perspective - George Cardinal Pell
3. The Mass as the Sacrifice of Christ and the Church according to Sacrosanctum Concilium - Robert L. Fastiggi
4. Sacrosanctum Concilium: A Review of the Theological Critique - Mariusz Biliniewicz
5. The Hermeneutic of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Liturgical Renewal - Helmut Hoping
6. Liturgical Reform and the Unity of Dogma and Prayer - Serafino M. Lanzetta, F.I.
7. Active Participation in the Renewal and Promotion of the Liturgy of Vatican Council II - Paul Gunter, O.S.B.
8. Sacrosanctum Concilium on the Liturgy in the Apostolic Life of the Church - Carmina Chapp
9. The Dogmatic Discussion on Concelebration from Sacrosanctum Concilium to the Present - Manfred Hauke
10. Sharing in Jesus’ Self-gift (Benedict XVI). On the Theology of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in the Light of Vatican Council II - Sven Leo Conrad FSSP
11. The Anaphora of the Apostles Addai and Mari and the Narrative of Institution - Robert Abeynaike, O.Cist.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Catholic Indifference to the Liturgy

One of the most astonishing things about the Catholic Church is the almost universal indifference of her members (including her clergy) to the sacred liturgy as such. Sure, many parish parking lots are full on Sunday mornings. Many of the laity are “involved” in one ministry or another. Plenty of socializing goes on around the Mass — sometimes, indeed, with excessive enthusiasm in the pews before and after Mass. Coffee hours are not unknown across the land. And priests work very hard, often at thankless tasks. But when it comes to being “thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14) or “living a liturgical life” (cf. SC 18, 42), the evidence for it is nada.

It was one of the great complaints of the Liturgical Movement prior to the Council that Catholics, generally speaking, did not possess an intimate knowledge of the treasure of their liturgy or cherish a particularly intense desire to live “under the sign” of liturgical seasons and feasts. A combination of clericalism and growing secularization had removed many of the faithful from close contact with the sacred mysteries conducted in the church, and a rift appeared to yawn between the social aspect of Christianity, its mission in the needy world of today, and the ritual enactment of age-old, august ceremonies. In spite of a whirl of contrary currents in the aula, the view prevailed at the Second Vatican Council that the liturgy is the fons et culmen of the Church, the “font and apex” (or “source and summit”) of the Christian life — a conclusion that would surely have sounded fairly strange back then, but not quite as strange as it does now, when it is well-nigh incomprehensible.

Have we not known Catholics who, in spite of their sincere faith, don’t seem to “get it” when it comes to the liturgy? People who could not possibly agree with the statement that it is the “source and summit” of who they are, what they do, why they live, where they are going, and how they will get there? It seems that Cardinal George was so right when he once quipped: “American Catholics are Protestants who go to Mass on Sundays.” A nefarious combination of individualism and collectivism prevents many Catholics, regardless of their level of education, from perceiving the loss of the liturgical spirit in the context of the Ordinary Form, the loss of the primacy of the transcendent and of adoration. It impedes them, too, from longing for something more authentically Catholic and reaching out for it even when it is available to them in their own neighborhood. The individualism makes us wear blinkers and settle for a minimum criterion, namely, “what works for me”; the collectivism encourages a herd mentality that blocks common sense, legitimate critical thinking, and the desire for better things.

In the end, it simply seems that other things are more important in life than the liturgy. It does not come first and last; it does not take precedence and determine the shape of our days, weeks, years. Let’s face it: for such Catholics, Vatican II was wrong about the “font and apex” business, just as far too many might say Paul VI was wrong in Humanae Vitae, or John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

How, then, might we describe the predominant view, the one we will find in chancery corridors no less than humble homes? It might be summarized thus: the liturgy is one particular means among many for realizing a personal vision of Christian life. The Christian life is a potpourri or hodgepodge of personally meaningful practices, or, at its best, a mosaic of tesserae put together with artistic discretion. The note of modern subjectivism here is unmistakable, and perhaps, also, traces of the scattered, isolated, excessively busy nature of modern life. It can be difficult for people to want to care about something outside the family or outside of work, to stir themselves out of their private world to enter the common and objective world of the liturgy.[1]

It is a great irony of the postconciliar period that the Catholics today who are taking the sacred liturgy most seriously — the ones who are, quite conscientiously, building their everyday lives on it and around it, following its seasons, frequently the sacraments and using the sacramentals — are the faithful flocking to the traditional Latin Mass, especially where it is offered as the daily fare of a dedicated chapel or parish. The churches where the “unreformed” Mass is celebrated are exhibiting to the Church at large what the Council itself meant by “living a liturgical life” by the “spirit and power” of the liturgy itself. They are largely the ones buying books like Mary Reed Newland’s We and Our Children: How to Make a Catholic Home and David Clayton’s The Little Oratory.

Additional ironies include the fact that there is, in many ways, more active participation going on in these communities than is normal throughout the mainstream church (see here), that the magisterium of John Paul II on such topics as marriage and family and the importance of sacramental confession is being much more consistently implemented in them, and that, by every standard of Catholic identity and mission, they are rock-solid and energetic. How could this be surprising, if what Vatican II said about the liturgy is actually true, and that truth is put into practice?

Apart from these enclaves, however, it seems to me that we are further away than ever from recovering a genuinely Catholic perception and experience of the sacred liturgy as the foundational, central, and definitive activity of the Catholic, the origin of our identity, the purpose of our existence on earth. This is not to say our identity is exhausted in the liturgy or that we do not need to pursue subordinate goods as well.[2] What it does mean is that the beginning of our life is baptism and that the culmination of our friendship with God in this life, as well as our most vital means of staying alive, is communion with the flesh and blood reality of our Lord. Apart from these, we have no life within us, and we have no life to give to the world. We are Christians insofar as we are sacramental, liturgical, and eucharistic — and not otherwise. Even our works of charity are Christian only if they are thoroughly steeped in the worship of God and the Spirit of Christ, which we drink in through the liturgy of His Church.

Sursum corda!
What are the prerequisites for living a truly liturgical life? The liturgy demands time. One has to be willing to give up something — be it extra time in the office, extra time in recreation with friends, extra down time at home. One has to be, at least to some degree, at peace — enough to see a need for prayer and meditation as a work more important than the countless “urgent” items of business or pleasure that clamor for attention. One has to believe profoundly in the words of Jesus: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all the rest will be given to you” (Matt 6:33).[3] One has to recognize that the formal, objective, public worship offered to God by the Church is in itself far superior to our private prayers, however indispensable the latter are in their own order.

It seems to me that one reason we are further than ever from developing and practicing these habits is that, with the modern liturgy being so shallow, horizontal, and mutable, we are not really willing to allow it to be the foundational, central, and definitive activity of our lives as Catholics. Unconsciously, we sense that it cannot serve the purpose: it is too exiguous, too amorphous, too human, too insubstantial. As P. G. Wodehouse would say, “It fails to grip.” Not being either the contemplative reservoir of the Low Mass or the majestic pageant of the High Mass, it comes and goes without seizing hold of our imaginations and our hearts. If we continue to attend it week after week, it is from a sense of duty and a fondness for community. If, like increasing numbers of Catholics, we drift away, it is probably because there was not much to drift away from. Modern Catholics have been given “Doctrine Lite” and “Worship Lite,” instead of an all-embracing and all-demanding philosophy of life that aims at total immersion in the Mystery of God. The latter is worth living and dying for. But the former . . . ?


[1] I am reminded here of the words of the Presocratic philosopher Heraclitus (ca. 535–475 BC): “For though all things come into being in accordance with this logos, men seem as if they had never met with it, when they meet with words and actions such as I expound, separating each thing according to its nature and explaining how it is made. As for the rest of mankind, they are unaware of what they are doing after they wake, just as they forget what they did while asleep. What intelligence or understanding have they? They believe the popular singers, and take as their teacher the populace, not knowing that the majority are bad and the good are few.”

On the public, objective, and (in a sense) non-emotional nature of the liturgy,  see the excerpts from the opening chapter of Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy, posted recently at NLM.

[2] As Vatican II points out: see Sacrosanctum Concilium 9.

[3] See Benedict Constable, "Attending the Traditional Mass: Well Worth the Effort."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Prayer Request for the Crescat

I have just learned that Katrina Fernandez, better known to blogdom as The Crescat, has been hospitalized with complications associated with her heart, after experiencing chest pains this weekend. In the next few days, she will be receiving a stent as a corrective measure, after which she expects to be, in her words, “right as rain.” Of your charity, please be so good as to offer a prayer or two for her swift recovery. (The friend who posted this news on her facebook wall asked that people please NOT overload her email with messages. Prayers are sufficient!)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Feast of St Christopher

Ss Christopher, Roch and Sebastian, by Lorenzo Lotto, 1535; from the Sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto 
Today is the feast of the martyr St Christopher, who was traditionally kept as a commemoration on the feast of the Apostle St James the Greater. One of the legends about him is that his persecutors attempted to kill him in the same manner that would later befall St Sebastian, by tying him to a stake and shooting him full of arrows. In Christopher’s case, the arrows simply stopped moving when they got close to him and hung in the air around him. Arrows were taken as a symbol of the plague, and so he came to be honored as one of the many Saints whose intercession was invoked against it. The Venetian painter Lotto therefore shows him here in the company of two such other Saints.

The Sarum Missal contains a series of votive Masses for Saints invoked for protection against plagues and diseases: Sebastian, Erasmus, Genevieve, Roch, Christopher, Anthony the Abbot, and the archangel Raphael. The Mass for St Christopher in this series contains this beautiful collect, which also refers to the well-known legend that he once bore the infant Jesus on his shoulders across a river.

“Grant, we ask, almighty and merciful God, that we who keep the memory of Thy blessed martyr Christopher, by his pious merits and intercession may be delivered on earth from perpetual death, sudden plague, famine, fear, poverty, and from all the snares of our enemies; through Thee, Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, and King of glory, whom the same Christopher merited to bear upon his shoulders. Who livest etc.” (Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens et misericors Deus, ut qui beati Christophori martyris tui memoriam agimus, ejus piis meritis et intercessionibus a morte perpetua, subitanea peste, fame, timore, paupertate, et ab omnibus insidiis inimicorum liberemur in terris; per te Jesu Christe, salvator mundi, rex gloriae, quem idem Christophorus meruit in suis humeris portare. Qui vivis etc.)

The TLM Returns to Taiwan

We received this message a few days ago from the Latin Mass group of Taiwan, which has been formed under the auspices of the Diocese of Hsinchu and the Shrine Parish of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which is served by the Discalced Carmelite Friars.

“We are happy to share our humble beginnings in reviving the TLM with our first Missa Cantata on the Fourth Sunday after the Pentecost, celebrated at Fujen Catholic University, SVD Chapel. The celebrant was Rev. Fr. Jerome Guevara, SJ, who is one of the chaplains of CMLT. The choir was the Fujen Catholic University Music Studies Department, directed by Prof. Pan Tien-ming and Prof. Lionel Hong. We are having our regular Mass monthly usually every third Saturday of the month at 4:30 pm.
Our officers:
President: Mr. Gregory Chen
Schola Coordinator: Prof. Pan Tien-ming and Prof. Lionel Hong
Master of Ceremony: Mr. Aristotle Bulaclac, OCDS
Chaplains: Most. Rev. Luke Liu, DD Bishop Emeritus, Diocese of Hsinchu
Rev. Fr. Jerome Guevara, SJ
Rev. Fr. Sinwee Chin, OCD

Currently, we are assisted by the Tridentine Community of Hong Kong for technical and spiritual support. Although we are inter-diocesan, we are officially based in the Diocese of Hsinchu under the leadership of Most. Rev. John Baptist Lee, Bishop of Hsinchu. I am attaching some photos of our first Mass which was a Missa Cantata. Please continue to pray for us as we begin this journey.”

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Holy Passion-Bearers Ss Boris and Gleb

Since we mentioned the 1000th anniversary of the death of St Vladimir last week, it seems fitting to say a bit about his sons Ss Boris and Gleb, whose feast day is today.

The Italians have a proverb that “Great sinners by repentance become great Saints,” and of this St Vladimir was an outstanding example. The Primary Chronicle, an essential source for the history of Kievan Rus’, records many acts of cruelty and violence before his conversion, and calls him “insatiable in vice”, comparing his desire for women to that of Solomon. (But where the latter “was wise, and yet came to ruin, … Vladimir, though at first deluded, eventually found salvation.”) Among his many children, his dearest were Boris and Gleb, whom the Chronicle says were born from a wife of Bulgarian origin. (It is disputed by modern historians whether Boris and Gleb were in fact sons of the same mother; many believe they were not, and that Boris was much older than Gleb.) Another son, Sviatopolk, was Vladimir’s son by a Greek woman who had formerly been the mistress of his brother Yaropolk, but before that, a nun; the Chronicle says of him “from a sinful root an evil fruit is produced”, and he is now distinguished from a later king of the same name by the epithet “the Accursed.”
A Russian icon of St Vladmir, and his sons, Ss Boris and Gleb. (ca. 1560.)
Already as a young prince, this Sviatopolk had been imprisoned by St Vladimir for plotting against him; released shortly before his father’s death, he would ultimately kill three of his brothers to secure his place on the throne, before being defeated in battle and overthrown by a fourth brother, Yaroslav I, called “the Wise.” Boris was popular as the former chief of his father’s bodyguards, and might have opposed his brother, but was unwilling to take the throne by violence, saying, “Be it not for me to raise my hand against my elder brother. Now that my father has passed away, let him take the place of my father in my heart.” He dismissed his supporters, and was soon killed by Sviatopolk’s men, along with a several of his servants, as he prayed by the banks of the river Alta. The Chronicle records his prayer before he was set upon: “Lord Jesus Christ, who in this image hast appeared on earth for our salvation, and who, having voluntarily suffered thy hands to be nailed to the cross, didst endure thy passion for our sins, so help me now to endure my passion. For I accept it not from those who are my enemies, but from the hand of my own brother. Hold it not against him as a sin, O Lord!”

Sviatopolk then tricked Gleb into coming to him by sending a messenger that their father was dying, but Gleb was warned by Yaroslav that Vladimir was already dead and Boris murdered. He then prayed, again according to the Primary Chronicle, “Woe is me, O Lord! It were better for me to die with my brother than to live on in this world. O my brother, had I but seen thy angelic countenance, I should have died with thee. Why am I now left alone? Where are thy words that thou didst say to me, my brother? No longer do I hear thy sweet counsel. If thou hast received affliction from God, pray for me that I may endure the same passion. For it were better for me to dwell with thee than in this deceitful world.” He was attacked while on a boat, and slain by his own cook, who was forced to the murder by Sviatopolk’s men, “offered up as a sacrifice to God like an innocent lamb, a glorious offering amid the perfume of incense, and he received the crown of glory.”

Ss Boris and Gleb, depicted in a famous icon written about 1340, now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
The deaths of the two princes took place very shortly after their father’s death in 1015. When Yaroslav had secured the throne five years later, Sviatpolk being now defeated and dead, he had the incorrupt bodies of his slain brothers brought to the church of St Basil in the town of Vyshgorod, the royal residence close to Kiev. The tomb at once became a place of pilgrimage, and the site of many miracles, such that Yaroslav asked the Church to formally recognize them as Saints. The metropolitan of Kiev (a Greek, since the hierarchy had only just been established out of Constantinople) was skeptical; Boris and Gleb were not martyrs, since they had not died for the Faith, nor were they ascetics, or bishops, or great teachers. But popular devotion would not be denied, and the brothers were officially recognized as the first of a new category of Saint, called “Passion-bearers” (страстотéрпецъ in Old Church Slavonic, ‘strastoterpets’); that is, Saints who, in imitation of Christ’s humility, have accepted suffering and death, even where they might have resisted it justly, for the sake of His name. By the end of the eleventh century, devotion to them had reached even to Constantinople itself, and an icon of them was exposed in Hagia Sophia.

Prince Igor of Kiev and Chernigov, a great-grandson of Yaroslav the Wise who was murdered in another round of dynastic struggles in the following century, is also called a Passion-bearer. More recently, the title has been accorded by the Russian Orthodox Church to the seven members of the Imperial family who were murdered by the Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918, exactly one week before the feast of Ss Boris and Gleb. A church has been built in the city of Yekaterinburg over the site of their murder, called “the Church on the Blood”, but their relics are interred in the cathedral of Ss Peter and Paul in St Petersburg. Sadly, the relics of Ss Boris and Gleb were lost when the church of St Basil in Vyshgorod was destroyed by Mongol invaders in 1240.

The Church on the Blood, completed in 2003 
The Troparion of Ss. Boris and Gleb

O Passion-bearers and fulfillers of the Gospel of Christ, chaste Boris and guileless Gleb: you did not oppose the attacks of the enemy, your brother, when he killed your bodies, but could not touch your souls. Let him therefore mourn, while you rejoice with the Angels, standing before the Holy Trinity. Pray that those who honor your memory may find grace with God, and that all orthodox people may be saved.

The Kontakion

Today your memory shines forth, noble sufferers, and summons us to glorify Christ our God. Those who come to the shrine of your relics receive healing through your prayers, for you are holy physicians.

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