Friday Object Lesson #24: Boris and Gleb

Continuing the month’s religious theme, this week’s object is a small icon of Boris and Gleb which I bought at the Danilovsky Monastery in Moscow. The first saints to be canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, Boris and Gleb were princes of Kievan Rus. They were murdered in the year 1015 on the orders of their brother Sviatopolk ‘the Accursed’, who had usurped the throne following the death of their father, the Great Prince Vladimir the Great. Learning that Sviatopolk had taken power, Boris and Gleb refused to resist him, supposedly even after having been warned that assassins had been sent to kill them.

Boris and Gleb are models of kenoticism, a philosophy which claims that accepting undeserved suffering is morally praiseworthy, and which therefore encourages non-resistance to evil. The martyred brothers can be seen in a negative light as exemplifying a submissive attitude to oppressive authority, or rather more positively as symbols of peace.


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