|St. George the Great Prince of Vladimir (Feast Day - February 4)|
Holy Great Prince George (known as Yuri II) was a son of Great Prince Vsevolod III, nicknamed “Big Nest”, and Maria Shvarnovna, and born in the year 1189. He first distinguished himself in the battles against Ryazan in 1208. In 1211, George married Princess Agatha Vsevolodovna, the daughter of Vsevolod Svyatoslavich Cherny, Prince of Chernigov; the wedding was performed in Vladimir, in the Dormition Cathedral, by Bishop John. His father wanted George to inherit Rostov and his elder brother Konstantin to succeed him in Vladimir. The latter, however, declared that he would rule both towns or nothing at all. Thereupon Vsevolod disinherited Konstantin and passed the throne to George in 1212.
After Vsevolod's death, Konstantin allied himself with Mstislav the Bold and defeated George and his other brothers on the Lipitsa River. Having gained Vladimir, Konstantin sent George to rule Rostov and Yaroslavl. Two years later Konstantin died, and George was allowed to return to Vladimir.
From his young years he was distinguished by his fervent love for God and for acts of piety, trying to fulfill the commandments of God and keeping the fear of God in his heart. While still in early youth he furthered the good organization of the Vladimir Nativity of Christ (Rozhdestvensky) Monastery, where "he fervently attended to every liturgical hymn and readings from the Holy Scripture, and listening to the words of the book he instilled them in his heart, and he often mentally reflected that Christians should enter the kingdom of heaven with many misfortunes."
Having become the great prince, he showed special deference to religious education and confirmations of Christian faith among his subjects, as he also equally did among his neighbors of other faiths. With this goal he founded Nizhni-Novgorod and constructed two magnificent temples in it, which became the initial nursery of Orthodoxy in that area. Loving the holy faith, he also fervently loved the Orthodox Russian land, for which he was honored while still living by grateful contemporaries with the title "Father and Sovereign".
During his reign in Vladimir, George waged several wars against Volga Bulgaria and founded the fortress of Nizhny Novgorod on the Volga River to secure the area from Bulgarian attacks. He installed his younger brother Yaroslav in Novgorod. When the Mongols first approached Russia in 1223, he sent a small unit against them, but it arrived too late to take part in the disastrous Battle of the Kalka River.
When the Mongols entered Russia in 1237, George armed against them and posted his troops on the shore of the Sitj River. In 1238, Batu was at the walls of Vladimir. The city was seized, George's family perished, most of the inhabitants were beaten and some were taken into captivity. His wife Agatha and all his family died in Vladimir when a church where they had sought refuge from the fire collapsed. The whole family of George died, only his daughter Dobrava, who had been married to Vasilk Romanovich, Prince Volynsky since 1226, survived from all his offspring. Having learned of the destruction of his family and people, George prepared for a decisive battle and fought the Mongols on the Sitj River. The Russians fought courageously, but had to concede to superior forces. George had fallen among his warriors on March 4, 1238.
The Rostov Bishop Cyril found George's decapitated body in a pile of the dead which he recognized by his princely clothes, brought him to Rostov and placed him there in the Temple of Mother of God. He was placed in the tomb in such a way that his head attached to his body leaving no evidence that it was cutoff.
In 1239, George's body was transferred from Rostov to Vladimir by his brother Jaroslav and was placed in the Dormition Cathedral Church.
In 1645, the relics of Prince George were opened and were placed in the silver reliquary built by Patriarch Joseph. His commemoration began about this time.
According to the witness of the chronicles, Saint George was adorned with good qualities: he tried to carry out the commandments of God and kept the fear of God in his heart; he even bestowed gifts on his enemies. He was merciful and did not shore up his estate, distributing alms to the poor, adorning temples of God with icons and books; honored the rank of monks and priests and gave them what they needed; and offered prayers to the Lord day and night.
The Holy Church praises Saint George as "an intelligent lamp of faith", "who suffered for good and who empurpled his church with the blood of martyrdom" as "the Great Prince and Passion-bearer, who enlightened the Russian land and drove away the sinful darkness with healing grace flowing to all".
Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Sitting on the height of your great princedom, you were revealed as pious and faithful, shining like the sun on your country: Zealousness kindled by the Holy Trinity, and having strongly suffered for the faith, you poured out your blood. Therefore by cutting off your head, they openly witness for Christ for you, attaching it to your body after death. Together with this your relics remain incorruptible to this day. From them you have poured out healing to our souls and bodies. But for having boldness before Christ, O Passion-bearer George, also continually pray by your power, to keep your relatives unharmed through your prayers.
Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Simulating the death of Christ and drinking His coveted cup as life; having bravely moved for Him and having disdained the earthly kingdom, you suffered death from the godless barbarians, O Divinely-wise George. Therefore pray to save our Christ-loving Emperor through your prayers.