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The Life of Saint Dmitry Donskoy

Defender of the Orthodox Faith and Holy Russia

the right-believing Prince Dmitry Donskoy

“By the account of the glorious Sergius, you achieved a great victory in the name of the Triune God, wise Prince Dmitry. Thus, we all honour you as an intercessor before God.”
(Svetilen)

The people’s love for the right-believing Prince Dmitry Ivanovich has not waned despite the passage of time and historical upheavals. Over the centuries, his wondrous image has only grown brighter. After Vladimir Monomakh and Alexander Nevsky, no one was so beloved and revered by the Russian people. Yet, neither before nor after did any rulers of Moscow face such dire circumstances as those that fell to the lot of the pious Demetrios. What, then, is the essence of Prince Dmitry Donskoy’s glorious feat?

The service of pious rulers seems to be the most arduous and rocky path to achieving holiness. Pious Demetrios Donskoy managed to unite his homeland on a truly solid spiritual foundation. The light of his soul, the purity of his heart, and the deep piety of the holy prince illuminated his personality, and the people saw and understood: that this ruler did not seek his own gain but sacrificed himself in arduous state and military labours for the good of his country. Trust in the right-believing Grand Prince fostered faith in his all-Russian cause. The Mother Church blessed him for his feats; he was a disciple of Bishop Alexius, supported by the prayers of Saint Sergius. He called people to follow him in the name of Christ, and those who rallied under his princely banner no longer felt like Suzdalites or Yaroslavites but as one Orthodox Russian people. Through the labours of this holy ruler, a unified surge towards Heavenly assistance was created among the Russian people. This is the essence of his life and his greatest achievement. Yet, it was ultimately the Merciful Lord who became the Creator of true unity and freedom for Russia.

Having lost his father at nine years old, Demetrios visited the Horde at eleven and narrowly escaped the horrors of a massacre there. This journey, despite its mortal danger, was necessary not only for political reasons: the prince had to sail along three Russian rivers to see with his own eyes the land he was destined to rule and to encounter an enemy with whom he needed to learn not only to fight but also to negotiate.

The installation of Right-Believing Demetrios

The installation of Right-Believing Demetrios as a prince, a fresco from the Church of Saint Demetrios Donskoy (Tula)

At thirteen, the Moscow prince rode ahead of his retinue against rebellious Suzdal. His reign was filled with numerous calamities: blazing fires, groans of destruction and hunger, and endless wars. Amidst all these sorrows, bloodshed, and smoke from fires, the greatest of Moscow’s rulers steadfastly led his earthly homeland towards revival while nurturing his soul for the Heavenly Homeland. The sovereign feat of the Right Believing Prince Demetrios is inseparably linked with his attainment of holiness. He maintained strict adherence to church rituals and prescriptions, warming them with living faith.

The flight of Lithuanian Prince Olgerd from the walls of the Moscow Kremlin

The flight of Lithuanian Prince Olgerd from the walls of the Moscow Kremlin, fresco from the church honouring Saint Demetrios Donskoy (Tula)

During this era, the Russian Church flourished like never before. It was a golden age of Russian holiness — a time marked by the heroic deeds of Saint Sergius of Radonezh and his disciples, who shone like stars in the sky. It was an age enriched by the spiritual labours of saintly bishops such as Alexius of Moscow, Stephen of Perm, Dionysius of Suzdal, and Arsenius of Tver. Countless known and unknown ascetics blessed the Russian land with their prayers, drawing God’s favour upon it. Despite the dire circumstances, threats from the East and West, and the treacherous intrigues of local princes, a steadfast spiritual foundation for Russia’s revival was being mysteriously built.

Protectors of Christian Marriage — Pious Prince Demetrios Donskoy and his wife Eudoxia

Protectors of Christian Marriage — Pious Prince Demetrios Donskoy and his wife Eudoxia (in monastic life, Euphrosyne)

Prince Dmitry Ivanovich guarded the sanctity of his family home with chastity and true Christian love. In 1367, the Lord blessed him with a wife, Eudoxia — the daughter of a Suzdal prince and a maiden of remarkable spiritual beauty, raised under the guidance of Saint Sergius of Radonezh. Their marriage, born out of holy peacemaking, was truly blessed by the Almighty. It was a genuinely Christian union of saintly spouses. As one biographer eloquently put it: “As the wise have said, the soul of one who loves resides in the body of the beloved. Thus, I am not ashamed to say that these two carried a single soul in two bodies, living a virtuous life together, always looking towards future glory with their eyes lifted to Heaven. Such was Dmitry's wife.” And while Prince Dmitry did not entirely avoid mistakes and sins on his complex path, the image of his wife, Eudoxia (who took the monastic name Euphrosyne after her husband’s death), radiates pure light. The brilliance of her holy soul is attested by miracles both during her earthly life and after her ascent to Heaven. When speaking of Saint Demetrios Donskoy’s great contributions to his homeland, one cannot overlook the pious Princess Eudoxia-Euphrosyne. Her love for her husband built a domestic church family, inspiring and enlightening him for his state achievements. They had twelve children, two of whom were baptised by Saint Sergius of Radonezh, while Saint Dmitry of Priluki served as godfather to their other children.

The Baptism of one of Prince Dmitry Ivanovich’s sons by Saint Sergius

The Baptism of one of Prince Dmitry Ivanovich’s sons by Saint Sergius, fresco from the church honouring Saint Demetrios Donskoy (Tula)

Prince Demetrios Donskoy was a beacon of justice, kindness, and fraternity in his dealings with those around him. He could rightfully remind his comrades, whom he entrusted with the mission of uniting the Russian lands, “I shared your joys in times of prosperity and grieved with you in misfortunes; I loved you sincerely and rewarded you according to your merits. I never touched your honour or property, fearing to offend you with even a single harsh word.” Dmitry was not a cold-hearted politician who manipulated people like chess pieces. Instead, he was a compassionate soul, deeply moved by the sufferings of his people. He wept over the ashes of burnt cities, used his funds to aid the destitute, and buried the fallen. He showed mercy not only to peaceful citizens but also to the warriors of rival principalities and even spared his staunch enemies when their lives were in his hands, always ready to make peace with them.

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In those harsh times, when deceit and betrayal were often seen as permissible cunning, Dmitry never strayed onto the crooked path or resorted to lowly deception for so-called “higher” goals. He knew that evil could only breed more evil. The greatest deeds of this devout Christian prince were performed with the blessing of the Mother Church, with prayers to the Lord, and in His name.

In both church and national history, the Grand Prince of Moscow, Dmitry Ivanovich, is celebrated as the hero of the Battle of Kulikovo. In 1380, he secured a decisive victory over Mamai’s Horde. After this battle, he earned the title “Donskoy.” This monumental event is immortalised in many ancient Russian literary works, such as “The Tale of the Life and Death of Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich, Tsar of Russia.” This tale glorifies his heroic deeds: “Emulating the bravery of Abraham, praying to God and calling upon Saint Peter, the new miracle-worker and protector of Russian lands, the prince marched forth like the ancient Yaroslav against the vile Mamai, a second Svyatopolk. They met on the Tatar field by the River Don. The armies clashed like mighty storm clouds, and weapons gleamed like lightning on a rainy day. Warriors fought hand-to-hand; blood flowed through the valleys, mingling with the waters of the Don. Tatars’ heads fell like stones, and their corpses lay scattered like a felled forest. Many devout Christians saw angels aiding them. God helped Prince Dmitry, along with his kinsmen, Saints Boris and Gleb; the wicked Mamai fled before him. The cursed Svyatopolk ran to his doom, and the ungodly Mamai perished into obscurity. Prince Dmitry returned with a great victory like Moses vanquishing Amalek. Peace descended upon the Russian land, and his enemies were humbled.”

Prince Dmitry Donskoy visiting the monastery of Saint Sergius of Radonezh

Prince Dmitry Donskoy visiting the monastery of Saint Sergius of Radonezh after his victory at Kulikovo Field, fresco from the church honouring Saint Dmitry Donskoy (Tula)

Prince Dmitry Donskoy’s name is also associated with the construction of several religious sites: Golutvin Monastery, Nikolo-Ugreshsky Monastery, All Saints Church in Moscow’s Kulishki district, and the Stone Assumption Cathedral of Simonov Monastery, among others. Dmitry Ivanovich supported ascetics who founded monasteries in Northern Russia — Saint Stephen of Makhra and Saint Dmitry of Priluki.

Dmitry Donskoy’s deep piety extended far beyond his role as a church builder. This devout prince attended church daily, partook in Holy Communion every Sunday while fasting, and wore a hair shirt beneath his princely robes as a sign of humility and penance.

The passing of Saint Dmitry Donskoy, fresco from the church dedicated to Saint Dmitry Donskoy (Tula)

After his great victory, the last nine years of Demetrios Donskoy’s earthly life were fraught with trials. In the summer of 1382, Tatar Khan Tokhtamysh marched on Moscow with an overwhelming force, devastating Russian lands and effectively destroying the capital. The Tatars slaughtered indiscriminately, looted churches, desecrated altars, and burned books; the princely treasury was plundered. According to legend, Dmitry wept over the ruins of the city and used his own money to bury the dead. Internal strife also resumed, with old rivalries flaring up with Tver and Ryazan. Only Saint Sergius of Radonezh managed to persuade Prince Oleg of Ryazan to make peace with Moscow. The prince’s health also deteriorated after the superhuman exertion of the Battle of Kulikovo. In May 1389, sensing his end was near, he summoned Saint Sergius, who witnessed the drafting of his spiritual testament and administered Holy Communion to him. In his will, Saint Demetrios instructed his children to deeply honour their mother, the holy Princess Eudoxia and urged the boyars to live by God’s commandments, fostering peace and love. On 19 May 1389, having barely reached 40 years of age, Saint Demetrios Donskoy passed away. Saint Sergius attended his funeral service. The prince was buried in the Archangel Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.

Archangel Cathedral, the burial place of Moscow princes

Archangel Cathedral, the burial place of Moscow princes

In 1988, at the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, Prince Dmitry Donskoy was canonised as a saint, with his feast day set on 1 June. On 13 July 2015, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church established a joint commemoration for Saints Demetrios Donskoy and his wife Eudoxia (in monasticism Euphrosyne).

“O holy and righteous great Prince Dmitry! Pray together with your holy spouse and companion, righteous Princess Eudoxia, that the light of God’s Face may shine upon us and guide us to the Kingdom of Christ’s Righteousness, eternal and unending. Amen.”
(Prayer to Saint Demetrios Donskoy)

This material was prepared by the editorial team of obitel-minsk.ru

Photos from the internet

Books used in preparing this material:
1. Davydov, A. Yu. The Influence of Basil the Great on the Growth of Personal Spirituality in Russian Culture of the 14th Century — First Half of the 15th Century / A.Yu. Davydov. — Text: direct // History and Archaeology: materials of the II International Scientific
Conference (Perm, May 2014). — Vol. 0. — Perm: Mercury, 2014. — Pp. 38-43. — URL: https://moluch.ru/conf/hist/archive/117/5614/
2. Metropolitan Vladimir of Tashkent and Central Asia (Ikim) (7) — Book (textarchive.ru)
3. Metropolitan Vladimir of Tashkent and Central Asia (Ikim) (1) — Document (textarchive.ru)

May 31, 2024
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