May 15, 2017

Holy Tsarevich Demetrius of Moscow (+ 1591)

St. Demetrius of Moscow (Feast Days - October 19, May 15, June 3)

Demetrius, born 19 October 1582, was the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible and Ivan's only child born to Maria Nagaya. After the death of Ivan IV, Demetrius's older brother, Feodor I, ascended to power. However, the actual ruler of the Russian state was Feodor's brother-in-law, a boyar, Boris Godunov, who had a claim on the Russian throne. Godunov wanted to get rid of Demetrius, who could have succeeded the throne in light of Feodor's childlessness. In 1584, Godunov sent Demetrius, his mother and her brothers into exile to the Tsarevich's appanage city of Uglich. On 15 May 1591, at the age of eight, Demetrius died from a stab wound, under mysterious circumstances.

The death of the Tsarevich roused a violent riot in Uglich, instigated by the loud claims of Demetrius's mother Maria Nagaya and her brother Mikhail that Demetrius was murdered. Hearing this, enraged citizens lynched fifteen of Demetrius's supposed "assassins", including the local representative of the Moscow government (dyak) and one of Demetrius's playmates. The subsequent official investigation, led by Vasily Shuisky, after a thorough examination of witnesses, concluded the Tsarevich had died from a self-inflicted stab wound to the throat. Following the official investigation, Maria Nagaya was forcibly tonsured as a nun and exiled to a remote convent.

However, when the political circumstances changed, Shuisky retracted his earlier claim of accidental death and asserted that Demetrius was murdered on Godunov's orders. Countless miracles were worked at the grave of the Tsarevich. When his tomb was opened fifteen years after his death, his relics were found whole and incorrupt. On 3 June 1606, Demetrius's remains were transferred from Uglich to the Church of the Archangel Michael in the Moscow Kremlin, “in the side altar of John the Forerunner, where his father and his brothers were buried.” His veneration soon developed and he was glorified a saint. The reason for this was the desire, in the expression of Tsar Basil Shuisky, “to stop lying lips and blind unbelieving eyes from saying that the Tsarevich had escaped alive from the hands of the murderers.” This was because of the appearance of a pretender, who declared himself to be the Tsarevich Demetrius. In the calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church, his feast days are 19 October, 15 May and 3 June.

The Death of Tsarevich Demetrius, by Pavel Pleshanov

Scene of the crime: Demetrius was found dead a few steps from his residence.

Church of Saint Demetrius on Blood in Uglich (17th century) - commemorates the murder of Tsarevich Demetrius