(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Boris, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
St. Boris of Bulgaria
For several hundred years the boyars of Bulgaria had kept their country in spiritual darkness, in defiance even of their tsar. However, they met more than their match in the ninth century in a ruler whose deliverance of Bulgaria earned him not only a place in history, but recognition by the Church as a saint. Combining an abiding piety with astute politics, Boris I brought Christ into the hearts of his Balkan countrymen, the Bulgars and Slavs. He eliminated the evil influence of the aristocratic boyars, whose fierce resistance to Christianity had impeded the cultural and spiritual development of what was to become a bastion of the Orthodox faith.
As son of Tsar Pressian, Boris was raised in an atmosphere not too far removed from that of the aristocracy which customarily scoffed at Christianity. In spite of this, he had become a most devout Christian when he succeeded to the throne in 852, a year which saw an important turn in the affairs of Bulgaria. His statesmanship in the unification of his scattered people was subordinate to the goal he set for the acceptance of Christ by all who dwelled under his rule. Seeking no outside help, he embraced the Christian faith as the state religion and set about its adoption throughout his land with the establishment of ecclesiastical authority, under whose jurisdiction they would come.
Both the papacy and Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose dogmatic conflict was widening the gap between them, sought to win Boris over. At length, Boris chose to come under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. Disavowing his allegiance with Louis the Frank, an arrangement which had precluded any treaty with the East, he met with the Byzantine Emperor Michael III in a historic moment for Orthodoxy and was baptized in 865, scarcely three years after he had come into power and set his Christian course. He even took the baptismal name of Michael, in honor of the emperor, in a ceremony conducted by Patriarch Photios. Thus a new era for the Balkans was ushered in.
The true piety of Boris became evident when, to the surprise of those who knew him best, with his high hopes for his country fulfilled, he decided to withdraw to a life of monasticism and named his son Vladimir to succeed him.
Boris-Michael’s long-sought isolation was short-lived, however, and he was forced to return to the state because of the ineptness of his son Vladimir as ruler. He found things in a sorry state and felt that he was doomed to serve as a tsar. He decided that his great love of Christ would be better expressed by sacrificing his own spiritual attainment for the good of his country.After some time, he again withdrew to monasticism.
This time he placed in power his youngest son Symeon, whom he had carefully groomed for the duties of his high office and had imbued with the Christian zeal that was to assure Bulgaria its place as a devoted ally of Constantinople.
From the time Symeon replaced him in 893 until his death in 903, Boris was not known to have left the confines of his cloister. It is certain that he was kept informed of civil and Church affairs, but he gave himself completely to the Lord for the last ten years of his life. Other monarchs have abdicated the throne for various purposes, but none has abdicated for a higher purpose than Boris, who chose a life of austerity over a life of glamor. His desire to bring Christianity to Bulgaria not only had a profound influence over the Balkans, but his choice of Constantinople over Rome contributed to bad feelings between the two sees.
The power struggle between Rome and Constantinople ultimately proved advantageous to Boris, who had longed for an autocephalous church in Bulgaria. Boris died a true servant of Christ, with the knowledge that his country was, above all, a Christian nation.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.