St. Vladimir Prince of the Rus is noted of course for his choosing to become a Christian in 988AD and thus bringing the Christian Faith to the people of Rus (both Ukrainians and Russians claim this is how Orthodox Christianity came to them). His decision to embrace Christianity proved fateful to his own children as well. When Vladimir died, there was a question as to which of his sons would succeed him to the throne. One of his sons, Svyatopolk, was determined to use lethal force to attain the throne. Two of St. Vladimir’s sons however, influenced by their new Christian faith decided that it would not be right to take up arms against their brothers to gain the throne. They were not only filial brothers, they were now through baptism brothers in Christ. Svyatopolk however lusted for power and sent his men to kill Boris first. Fr. Sergei Hackel tells the story this way:
“The murderers arrived when it was still dark: but Boris, as they could hear, was already up and at prayer. “O Lord Jesus Christ, who in this form didst come down to us on earth” (he was praying before an icon) ‘and who of thine own free will didst deign to be nailed upon the cross and endure suffering for our sins: vouchsafe me also to end suffering.’”
Boris decides to imitate Christ and accept martyrdom rather than even defend himself from those sent to murder him. Gleb the other brother also decides not to retaliate or defend himself, but accepting his role as a martyr for Christ, lays down his life rather than kill another. Fr. Hackel concludes the account of these martyred saints of the Orthodox Church:
We see them facing death. Are not we, with them, awaiting death? How do they face it? At first, alone and — like us — afraid. There is no one at hand to help them. They are not immediately willing to submit. There is no cheap victory when it comes. The agony of Gethsemane precedes the submission of Gethsemane.
Yet no sooner have they submitted than they find they are no longer alone in their agony, they are under Christ’s yoke, he is lifting the weight off their shoulders. He is their partner under the yoke; they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and they fear no evil: His rod and His staff comfort them. … But Svyatopolk is evil, says the world. Oppose him; you have the force, use it, your cause is just. You will live and rule your people wisely. Even the justice of their cause does not provoke them: was not the most just of causes defended by Peter in Gethsemane, and was he not rebuked? Could not the Son of God have called down more than twelve legions of angels to His defense? Yet He submitted.
Boris and Gleb, in these last moments, link their lives with Christ’s, and, with Thomas the Apostle, they are able to say: “Let us also go with Him, that we may die with Him”