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Saint Igor, an Innocent Victim of Discord, Animosity, and Hatred

Saint Igor, the Martyr who Blotted out the Sin of Internecine Strife

Saint Prince Igor of Chernigov and Kiev

Prince Igor of Chernigov and Kiev lived in a Kievan Rus divided by a fierce struggle between two competing factions fighting for the Kiev throne in the 12th century. The conflict was not his fault, but he accepted death at the hands of a vengeful mob without protest, erasing the sin of arrogance, conceit, and ill will that had consumed his homeland. In the hymns of his feast day, he is praised for "putting off the perishable robe of mankind, and was clothed in the imperishable and much-suffering robe of Christ."

He was a member of the Olegovichi royal dynasty, descending from Oleg Svyatoslavovich, one of the great-grandsons of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, famous for his righteous reign and the prosperity it brought to the Kievan Rus. Oleg Sviatoslavovich was the son of Kievan Prince Sviatoslav, (+ 1076), who took part in the Transfer of the Relics the Holy Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb in 1072. The Mstislavichi were the rival faction, with lineage to Saint Mstislav the Great.

Vsevolod Olegovich, the Great Prince of Kiev, chose his brother Igor to succeed him in case of his death in 1138. He was already unpopular in Kiev since his short-lived reign was marked by multiple wars. Furthermore, many considered his choice as arbitrary and in violation of succession rules. Ill will towards Vsevolod, his brother Igor, and the entire dynasty rose. The Kievan Council was at the centre of the opposition. Saint Igor, driven without his will into the centre of events, became an innocent victim of the increasing animosity.

When Prince Vsevolod died in August 1146, the Kievans kissed the cross and recognised Igor as their new prince. Igor kissed the cross and pledged to rule and defend the people of Kiev justly. Only two weeks later, however, the Kievan nobles broke their word and summoned his opponents, the Mstislavichi, with their armies. Similarly, the Kievan forces that had sworn allegiance to Igor switched sides. Igor Olegovich hid in the marshes outside Kiev for four days before he was caught, taken to Kiev, and imprisoned in a "blockhouse," a dark log house with no windows or doors.

He became so ill in his captivity that nobody gave him more than a few days to live. Under the conditions, his adversaries consented to liberate him and tonsure him as a schema monk. The prince miraculously recovered. He spent his time as a monk in tearful prayer.

That did not appease the Kievan nobles' rage towards the Olegoviches. Determined to wipe out the whole dynasty, they incited the crowd to murder Igor. The Metropolitan and the clergy tried in vain to persuade the people not to shed blood. Even Igor's adversary, Izyaslav Mstislavich, attempted to reason with the crowd, risking becoming a victim of its anger.

The mob stormed the church where Igor was attending the Holy Liturgy, pulled him out, and slaughtered him on the stairwell. Even after Igor died, the enraged crowd continued to beat and humiliate his body. They eventually pulled Igor by the feet and "hung him up in the marketplace."

On June 18, we commemorate the transfer of Prince Igor's relics from Kiev to Chernigov. It is also the feast of the Igorevskaya Icon of the Mother of God, which bears the saint's name because of its importance in his ascent to sainthood. The original image was adorned with a silver Riza and engraved with the name Igor Olegovich. In the final hours before his martyrdom, Prince Igor prayed in front of this icon.

The image's origins are uncertain, however, it is of the same Eleusa type as the Vladimir and Iberon Icons. It shows Jesus embracing His Mother and placing His face to Hers. Her expression is sorrowful and contemplative. She holds Her beloved Son, as though dreading His impending death. Christ is shown as a young man rather than a kid. He looks at her with tremendous affection and love to console her and give her hope. Jesus is dressed in a white robe, while the Theotokos wears a red veil. These characteristics situate the artwork within the Greek iconographic tradition that arrived in Kievan Rus from Byzantium.

The icon was stored for a long time at the Church of the Dormition of the Kiev Caves Lavra, but during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, the original icon was lost and has never been recovered. Fortunately, several copies of it have survived and most are found in Russia. Two of the most well-known are at Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery. Both come from the 16th century. The image was particularly revered in Rostov, and its depiction can be seen in numerous iconographic images of Saint Sergius of Radonezh, who was born in this region.

The Igorevskaya icon of the Mother of God reminds us of the tragedy of the Kievan prince Igor and his martyrdom. It is well-known for its miracle-working powers. Many faithful pray before the icon for protection, spiritual direction, and solace in their sorrows. Christians continue to pray to the Holy Virgin for spiritual strength, protection from fires and evil thoughts.

June 19, 2023
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