May 19, 2021

Saint Demetrios of the Don, Great Prince of Moscow (+ 1389)

St. Demetrios of the Don of Moscow (Feast Day - May 19)

The Right-believing Great Prince Demetrios Donskoy (of the Don) of Moscow was born in 1350. His father Ivan the Fair died when he was nine years old, and so he was made the Prince of Moscow and entrusted to the guidance of Metropolitan Alexis of Moscow (Feb. 12), who served as his regent. From 1363 to his death he served as Grand Prince. Prince Demetrios combined Christian piety with his remarkable political talents, devoting himself to the unification of the land of Russia and to the emancipation of Russia from the Tatar-Mongol Yoke.

The most important event during Demetrios's early reign was to start building the Moscow Kremlin; it was completed in 1367. Thanks to the new fortress, the city withstood two sieges by Algirdas of Lithuania during the Lithuanian–Muscovite War (1368–72).[3] The war ended with the Treaty of Lyubutsk. In 1375, Demetrios settled, in his own favor, a conflict with Mikhail II of Tver over Vladimir. Other princes of Northern Russia acknowledged his authority and contributed troops to the impending struggle against the Horde. By the end of his reign, Demetrios had more than doubled the territory of the Principality of Moscow.

Mongol domination of Rus began to crumble during Demetrios's thirty-year reign. The Golden Horde was severely weakened by civil war and dynastic rivalries. Demetrios took advantage of this lapse in Mongol authority to openly challenge the Tatars. While he kept the Khan's patent to collect taxes for all of Russia, Demetrios is also famous for leading the first Russian military victory over the Mongols. Mamai, a Mongol general and claimant to the throne, tried to punish Demetrios for attempting to increase his power. In 1378 Mamai sent a Mongol army, but it was defeated by Demetrios's forces in the Battle of Vozha River.

On August 18, 1380, after gathering his forces for a decisive battle with Mamai of the Golden Horde, Demetrios visited Saint Sergius of Radonezh (Sept. 25) in order to receive his blessing. The Elder blessed two monks from his monastery, Schema-monk Rodion [Oslyaba] and Schema-monk Alexander [Peresvet], to go along and help the Prince. He also predicted that the Prince would be victorious. The Prince left Moscow with his army on August 20, and marched toward Kolomna.

As they made camp before the Battle of Kulikovo, an icon of Saint Nicholas appeared in the air, hovering over a pine tree, and it descended into the hands of Prince Demetrios. There is a later icon depicting this event, with Saint Demetrios kneeling before the icon of Saint Nicholas, and laying his gold crown at the roots of the tree.

The Battle of Kulikovo was opened by single combat between two champions. The Russian champion was the Schema-monk Alexander Peresvet. The Horde champion was Temir-murza. The champions killed each other in the first run. Demetrios went on to defeat the Horde in battle.

After winning the battle, the Prince ordered a Moleben of Thanksgiving to God and to Saint Nicholas to be served. Later, he built a church and a monastery dedicated to Saint Nicholas on that site.

Following his victory at Kulikovo Field, between the Don and Nepryadva Rivers (on September 8, the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos), Prince Demetrios received the honorific "of the Don." He established the Dormition Monastery at the Dubenka River, and the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos near the graves of those who died for their country. The Memorial Saturday before the Feast of Saint Demetrios of Thessalonika (October 26) was established in memory of the Orthodox warriors who were killed at Kulikovo Field in the great battle against the Horde.

The defeated Mamai was dethroned by a rival Mongol general, Tokhtamysh. That khan reasserted Mongol rule of Rus and overran Moscow in 1382 for Demetrios's resistance to Mamai. Demetrios, however, pledged his loyalty to Tokhtamysh and to the Golden Horde and was reinstated as Mongol principal tax collector and Great Prince of Vladimir (Moscow).

Saint Demetrios fell asleep in the Lord on May 19, 1389. He was buried in the Cathedral of the Archangels in the Moscow Kremlin. He was the first Great Prince to bequeath his titles to his son Basil I of Russia without consulting the Khan.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
In you the Russian land has found a great defender in a time of tribulation, O vanquisher of the pagans. At the Don you defeated the vainglorious Mamai; having received the blessing of Saint Sergius for this undertaking; and so, Prince Demetrios, pray to Christ God to grant us great mercy.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
By your deeds, Saint Demetrios, God preserved our country by granting you invincible power. And now, our powerful defender, by your holy prayers, keep your city of Moscow safe from all hostile schemes.