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April 1 — commemoration of Saint Sophia, Princess of Slutsk

Righteous Sophia was the last descendant of the famous family of the princes of Slutsk and Kopyl, who were descendants of the Great Prince Alherd from the family of Rurick. Some representatives of this family had been the Great Princes of Kiev, some had been the rulers of the Great Novgorod. The ancestor of the princes of Slutsk was Alherd’s grandson Olelko Vladimirovich.

Righteous Sophia was born on May 1, 1585. Her mother died the same year, and her father, Prince Yury Semenovich, died on May 6 of the following year. The orphan was entrusted to the care of her distant relatives: first the governor of Zhmud province Yury Chodkiewicz, who took her with him to Vilna (now Vilnius), and then the castellan of Vilna, and the governor of Brest province Hieronymus Chodkiewicz.

Both the tutors of the young Sophia owed large sums to Princes Radzivil and wanted to use their guardianship, so that they could do away with their debts and multiply their own wealth thanks to the huge wealth of the only direct descendant of the rich family, Princess Sophia. It was because of this that Chodkiewicz and the Princes Radzivil signed a contract, according to which they were to marry Princess Sophia to Janusz Radzivil, Prince of Nesvizh, a son of the governor of Vilna, Prince Christopher Radzivil.

Prince Janusz was permitted to see young Princess Sophia who lived in the mansion of the Chodkiewicz in Vilna at that time. The Princess was eleven then and she was considered to be the bride of the Prince of Nesvizh.

Some time passed when the Radzivils suddenly banned the property of Chodkiewicz, a small town Kopyl near Orsha. The angry debtors immediately forbade the meetings of Prince Janusz and Princess Sophia; neither of the two parties were going to give in, everybody were preparing for an interclan war. The Radzivils gathered 6000 persons of armed infantry and cavalry and strengthened the defence of their palace with cannons. The Chodkiewicz, in turn, gathered 24 cannons and armed 2,000 of their servants. A dreadful bloodshed was about to burst out in the very centre of the city, but the envoys sent by the king managed to prevent the battle and talk both parties into peace.

A new compromise was achieved under the following conditions: the property claims of the Radzivils to the Chodkiewicz were declared null and void and the latter received certificates proving that their management of the assets of Princess Sophia was satisfactory.

When the princess reached marriageable age, Prince Janusz Radzivil petitioned the Pope on July 20, 1600, asking him for permission to marry Princess Sophia of Slutsk who remained adamant in her decision to remain Orthodox and to bring up their children in the Orthodox faith.

Marriage of Princess Sophia and Prince Janusz Radzivil was held in one of cathedrals in Brest according to Orthodox rite. According to some researchers, the circumstances of this interclan and interdenominational marriage, and in particular, the condition of raising children of any sex in Orthodox faith were later discussed by Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope of Rome in a series of letters.

The life of Princess Sophia under patronage of greedy Chodkiewicz was not a bed of roses, and it definitely did not change for the better after her wedding. The Orthodox faith was the sole joy and consolation for the princess of Slutsk: she had been used to praying to God in all her sorrows since her early childhood. One new sorrow was greater than all personal problems of the princess. It was church union with Rome, proclaimed in the Great Duchy of Lithuania in 1596.

At the time of the union Slutsk was the property of Princess Sophia. It was she who firmly defended the Orthodox faith and protected the people from Uniate violence. The young princess had a great moral influence on the Orthodox people. She supported the Orthodox both spiritually and financially, which gave the Orthodox inhabitants of Slutsk an opportunity to unite under the aegis of Slutsk Fraternity in honour of Transfiguration, which had the defence of Orthodoxy as its aim.

Righteous Sophia actively participated in the work of the Fraternity. Whereas her husband was a Catholic, she persuaded him to talk the King into issuing a law, which prohibited forcing the Orthodox into the Union. The law was issued, and this most important attempt to legally defend Orthodoxy was successfully accomplished by St Sophia. Thanks to great efforts of Princess Sophia, Slutsk was the only city in Belarus that survived the pressure from the Uniates and retained integrity, purity and inviolability of the doctrine that had been shining over our lands since 998.

The righteous Princess had such an outstanding influence that even her husband issued edicts in favour of Orthodoxy, thus paying a tribute to the traditions set by the pious princess. One of such edicts reads, “…the churches and monasteries of the Old Russian religion within my property must be kept as they were, and my descendants must npt change anything.”

In the meantime, Princess Ludwiga Radzivil issued a similar edict, “Having explained to everyone who has to know that the churches of the Old Greek-Russian religion that were built or rented in the towns of Slutsk and Kopyl, as well as in my properties Koidanovo, Kopyl, Belitsa, Zabludovo, Nevel, Sebezh, etc, have always been under the aegis of the Eastern Patriarch of Constantinople, and my beloved ancestors, the Prince and the Princess, have always protected this religion and the faithful of this religion and that these faithful have always used their Old Greek worship without any obstacle. Therefore, I hereby state that the churches, Fraternities, archimandrites, hegumens, and monasteries in the Principality of Slutsk and other properties of mine must have absolute freedom of their worship in all its detail for ever. As Orthodox priests die, Uniates must not take their offices and the Union must not be brought into these churches under any conditions. Moreover, they must have the possibility to travel to their bishops abroad for consecration without any obstacles. This is what I have promised to Slutsk clergy and I oblige my descendants to keep this privilege for the Orthodox Church.”

Apart from legally defending Orthodoxy, Princess Sophia always cared for material welfare of monasteries, churches and clergy. She donated large sums on the churches of God, made precious vestments for priests, embroidered with gold and silver, gave money to build churches. She often went on pilgrimages to remote parishes on their patron saint’s days.

It was thanks to the work of Princess Sophia that Slutsk became especially important in the religious life of Belarus as a stronghold of Orthodoxy. The town gradually became a religious centre and the centre of church administration, around which the patriots of Belarus gathered.

Blessed Sophia died on March 19, 1612 when delivering her first baby. She was 26 at that time. The uncorrupted relics of Saint Princess Sophia of Slutsk now rest in the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Minsk.

Saint Sophia was canonized in 1983.


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