Orthodox America

Saint Euphrosyne of Moscow

Holy righteous princess Evdokia was the daughter of the pious and learned prince Dimitry of Suzdal. In 1366 her father gave her in marriage to eighteen-year-old Great Prince Dimitry of Moscow, who was greatly assisted by the able and saintly Metropolitan Alexis. In view of Moscow's ascendency as leader of Russia, it was a favorable marriage, but the young princess was not to be envied. These were turbulent times for the grand duchy, as one crisis spilled into another: Moscow was swept by a plague, ravaged by fire, besieged by the Lithuanians, engaged in a protracted war with Tver, and constantly at the mercy of the Tartars. In 1380 Grand Duke Dimitry gained a victory over the Tartar khan Mamai in a famous battle on the Kulikovo plain near the Don (for which he came to be known as "Donskoi"), but the Russian losses were staggering, and two years later Moscow was unable to adequately defend itself against Mamai's rival, the khan Tokhtamysh, who plundered the city, then set it afire, taking hostage the Grand Prince's eldest son, Basil. In 1386 the Great Prince died from wounds he had received at Kulikovo. He was not yet forty years old.

Soon after his death, the widowed Grand Duchess established there in the palace a convent dedicated to the Ascension. It was among the first to benefit from a new typicon (rule) drawn up by Metropolitan Alexis. Up until that time women's monastic communities were virtual dependencies of men's monasteries, submitting to their abbots and often separated from the men's communities only by a wall. Under the new typicon, which was eventually ratified by the Church Council of 1551, the convents were independent; their spiritual and administrative authority rested with the abbesses.

The Grand Duchess herself did not embrace monasticism. Her sons were still quite young and she began ruling as their regent, in cooperation with the boyars. Dressed in court finery, as her position required, she participated in their councils and banquets. Fired by envy or other passion, slander began circulating around her and reached her sons, who dared repeat this to their mother. She then opened her garments to reveal to them her chest and they saw her body emaciated by fasting and weighed down by heavy chains. Profoundly moved, they threw themselves at her feet with tears, begging her forgiveness. She said to them simply, "Children, never trust outward appearances!" All her ascetic labors, her prayers and works of charity, the Grand Duchess concealed from human eyes. Before she died, an angel appeared and informed her that her earthly sojourn was nearing its end. She became mute and with gestures made it known that she wanted an icon painted of an angel. When the icon was finished she venerated it, but asked that another be painted. It was the same with the second icon. Only when an icon of Archangel Michael was painted did she recognize it to be the angel which appeared to her, and her speech returned.

Sensing that her final days were at hand, she desired to be tonsured and spend them in seclusion and prayer. At that time she appeared in a dream to a blind man and promised him healing. Sitting by the side of the road which the Grand Duchess took to the convent, the unfortunate man heard her approach and cried out: "Holy Grand Duchess, do that which you promised me!" She continued her way, apparently not understanding his words, but in passing by she brushed him, as if accidentally, with the sleeves of her cloak. The man pressed them to his eyes and regained his sight.

A month after she entered the convent, the Saint reposed. She had been tonsured with the name Euphrosyne (Evfrosinia). Above her reliquary in the Ascension Convent was a painting of her healing the blind man. Her convent was considered to be royal; its abbesses had the privilege of being able to see the tsar's consort without special appointment.

(Translated and compiled from Lives of Russian Saints by Nun Taisia; Jordanville, 1983.)