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St. Boris: A Friendly Guide to His Impact and Legacy

St. Boris is a revered historical figure who holds a significant place in the cultural and religious history of Eastern Europe. He was the ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire from 852 to 889 and was later venerated as a saint due to his efforts in baptizing the Bulgarian people. Boris was instrumental in the Christianization of Kievan Rus as well, where he became known along with his brother Gleb as the first saints canonized in the region.

The Christian names of Boris and Gleb were Roman (Romanus) and David respectively. Their story is one of martyrdom and sacrifice, as they chose not to resist evil with violence and eventually received the crown of martyrdom. The Orthodox Church commemorates the brothers together on July 24th, recognizing their unwavering faith and devotion.

During his reign as the ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire, Boris I (also known as Bogoris) left a lasting legacy that still resonates today. His actions as a ruler not only impacted the religious trajectory of his people, but also the geopolitical landscape of the region. With his determination and dedication, St. Boris remains a celebrated figure in the Orthodox Church and a symbol of faith across Eastern Europe.

Life of St. Boris

Early Life

St. Boris, born as the son of Vladimir the Great, had a Bulgarian woman as his mother. He grew up alongside his brother, Gleb, and they were favored by their father in comparison to his other children. Their early lives revolved around the court of Kiev, where they were exposed to Christian teachings and values.

Religious Conversion

At some point, St. Boris embraced Christianity and was baptized with the name Romanus. This event marked a turning point in his life, as it garnered the resolve to pursue missionary work and spread his newfound faith. Boris’ brother, Gleb, also converted to Christianity and was named David after his baptism.

Missionary Work

Together, St. Boris and St. Gleb embarked on their mission to expand the reach of Christianity. They traveled through various regions, preaching the gospel and converting many people to their faith. Their missionary work not only fortified the presence of Christianity in Eastern Europe, but also inspired future generations to pursue a similar path.

However, their endeavors were not without challenges. Following their father’s death, their eldest brother, Sviatopolk, sought to seize power by plotting the murder of Boris, Gleb, and another brother, Yaroslav. St. Boris eventually met his untimely demise on July 24th on the Alta River, near Pereyaslavl, while St. Gleb suffered a similar fate on September 5th on the bank of the Smyadinya River, near Smolensk.

Historical Context

Medieval Bulgaria

Medieval Bulgaria was a significant political and cultural power in Southeastern Europe, spanning from the late 7th century to the late 14th century. It was established by the Bulgars, a Turkic-speaking semi-nomadic Ural-Altaic tribe, led by Khan Asparuh, who united with the Slavic tribes in the region. The Bulgarian Empire experienced periods of prosperity, contributing to the development of art, literature, and architecture.

Christianity in the Balkans

Though Saint Boris is commonly associated with Kievan Rus’ rather than the Balkans, more information is provided for context relevance.

Christianity reached the Balkans during the Roman Empire era when many people in the region embraced the faith. In the 9th century, missionaries Cyril and Methodius, who were later known as the Apostles to the Slavs, created the Glagolitic alphabet, which allowed the translation of religious texts into Slavic languages. This crucial development helped to spread Christianity among the Slavic-speaking peoples in the Balkans.

Political Climate

The early Middle Ages were marked by the Muslim expansion, and the Balkan region was also affected. For example, Bulgaria sometimes waged wars against the Byzantine Empire but also fought against Magyar and Pecheneg invasions. The Christianization of Kievan Rus’ began at the end of the 10th century, when Grand Prince Vladimir the Great converted to Christianity. This event marked the beginning of the political and religious integration of medieval East Slavic states, which created a new context for the lives and deeds of religious figures such as SS Boris and Gleb.

Legacy of St. Boris


St. Boris, along with his brother Gleb, were canonized by the Orthodox Church in Rus’ in 1071, soon after their martyrdom in 1015. They are known as Strastoterptsy or Passion-Bearers, as they chose not to resist evil with violence. Their relics were initially kept at the Church of St. Basil in Vyshhorod, which was later destroyed.

Cultural Impact

The story of Boris and Gleb is an important part of Russian and Ukrainian history, as their martyrdom symbolizes the suffering of the people during difficult times. The brothers have been depicted in various works of art, including icons and frescoes. The canonization of Boris and Gleb had an impact not only on religious life in the region, but also on the development of Rus’ as a Christian state.

Modern Devotion

In the present day, devotion to the Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb remains strong. Churches and monasteries dedicated to these saints can be found throughout Eastern Europe, particularly in Russia and Ukraine. Their feast days are observed with great reverence, honoring their ultimate sacrifice for the Christian faith and their embodiment of compassion and non-violence.

St. Boris in Art and Literature


St. Boris, along with his brother Gleb, has been extensively depicted in religious art. Their images often portray them as Orthodox good Christians and Russian princes1. In the early 18th century, an example of their iconography would be Tempera and paper on wood panel2.

Literary Depictions

In Russian literature, the lives of Boris and Gleb have been documented through various accounts. One such account, The Lives of SS Boris and Gleb, offers a detailed examination of the events surrounding the brothers3. In addition, “The Tale of Bygone Years” chronicles their story, following Vladimir’s death and the seizure of the grand prince’s throne by their sibling, Prince Svyatopolk3.

Festivals and Commemorations

Feast Days

St. Boris is commemorated on various feast days throughout the year. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, his feast day is celebrated on May 2. The Roman Catholic Church honors St. Boris on July 24. In addition to these feast days, there are local celebrations and services held in his memory.

Pilgrimages and Shrines

St. Boris’s legacy continues to inspire the faithful, who often make pilgrimages to sites connected to his life. Notable shrines include the Church of St. Boris and Gleb in Kideksha, Russia, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. Other sites include the cathedral in Vyshhorod, Ukraine, and various churches in Belarus and Bulgaria that bear his name. These shrines and pilgrimage sites offer an opportunity for believers to honor St. Boris’s contributions and draw inspiration from his example.

Comparative Analysis

St. Boris vs. Other Saints

St. Boris, also known as Boris the Humble, was a Russian monk. He is known for his humility and pious lifestyle, distinguishing him from other saints with more flamboyant backgrounds. Like many saints, he dedicated his life to spiritual service, but took a more modest approach, which set him apart from his peers.

Influence on Eastern Orthodoxy

St. Boris had a profound influence on Eastern Orthodox Christianity. His humble lifestyle served as inspiration for many future monks and believers. Below is a brief comparison between St. Boris’s impact and that of other prominent figures within Eastern Orthodoxy:

Person Influence on Eastern Orthodoxy
St. Boris Promoted humility and introspection as virtues
St. Athanasius Contributed to the development of early church doctrine
St. Basil Established rules and practices for monastic life

In Eastern Orthodoxy, St. Boris’s legacy stands as a testament to the power of humility. Through this example, he paved the way for the development of a unique spiritual tradition.


  1. Saints Boris and Gleb – The Metropolitan Museum of Art, available at:

  2. Sts. Boris and Gleb – Saint Louis Art Museum, available at:

  3. The Lives of SS Boris and Gleb — History of Russian Literature, available at: 2