The Life of Saint Euphrosyne of Połack
Introduced and translated by Alexander Nadson
Journal of Belarusian Studies, Vol.51:1 (1969)
Introduction: Saint Euphrosyne (c. 1105-1167) was the granddaughter of the famous prince of Polack, Usiaslau (Vseslav) whose long reign (1044-1101) and many exploits – in particular his determined struggle against Kiev – made such an impression on his contemporaries that they refused to believe him to be an ordinary mortal. Thus the contemporary Kievan chronicle ascribed his birth to enchantment: ” In that year (1044) Bracyslau died …and his son Usiaslau, born to his mother by means of sorcery, sat on the throne. When he was born there was a mark on his head and the wizards told his mother: ‘Put a band round his mark, and let him wear it all his life.’ Thus Usiaslau wears it till the present day: that is why he is merciless when it comes to the shedding of blood.’ Almost a century later the author of the Lay of Igor’s Campaign gave the following description of Usiaslau: ‘Prince Usiaslau judged the people, granted cities to the princes, but at night he prowled about in the guise of a wolf. He would race from Kiev to Tmutorkan before the cock-crow and, in the shape of a wolf, would cross the paths of the great Chors. For him the bells of the cathedral of the Holy Wisdom at Polack would toll for mattins in the the arly morning, and he heard them by the time he reached Kiev.’
Young Pradslava – such was the name of Euphrosyne before she took the veil – seems to have inherited many traits of her grandfather’s character, in particular his strong will, energy and determination to persevere in a chosen path. This became manifest early in her life when she refused all proposals of marriage and, without her parent’s knowledge, run away to the convent of which her aunt was abbess. Later she founded a convent of her own and was joined there by her sister, her cousin and two nieces. This was no mean achievement, for – unlike the custom in the West and in Byzantium – it was unusual for a young girl in Byelorussia and the other East Slav lands of that time to choose the monastic life in preference to marriage. This may partly explain why Euphrosyne has up to the present day remained the only East Slav virgin saint.