Saint Efrasinnia (Euphrasinne) (1110-1173) was the Granddaughter of the famous prince of Polacak (pronounced Polatsak or Polatsk), Usiaslau.
Young Pradslava - such was the name of Efrasinnia 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 a chosen path. This became manifest early in her life when she refused all proposals of marriage and, without her parents' knowledge, ran away to the convent of which her aunt was the 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 Belarus and the other East Slav lands of that time to choose the monastic life in preference to marriage. This may partly explain why Efrasinnia has up to the present day remained the only East Slav virgin saint.
In addition to a convent of nuns Saint Euphroyne founded a monastery for monks and remained superior of both establishments - another unusual occurrence in The East, although not unknown in the West, Finally, towards the end of her life, she undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, were she died sometime after 1167. Her body after the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187, was carried by the monks to Kiev and deposited there in the Monastery of the Caves. It was only in 1910 that the relics of the saint were brought back to her native town of Polacak.
The cross of Saint Efrasinnia
Her name was immortalized by (among other things) a splendid gem-studded cross created at Efrasinnia's behest by a local master, Lasar Bohsa. The famous six-armed golden cross was decorated with enamels and precious stones and presented by her to the church of the Holy Saviour in 1161. Of exquisite beauty , the relic survived centuries of turbulence until World War II, when it mysteriously disappeared. In its attempts to trace the whereabouts of this treasure, the government of the Republic of Belarus has looked virtually everywhere, examining even private collections in the United States.
The document "The life of Saint Efrasinnia" is a useful source on the 12th century Polacak and its culture, made more valuable by the fact that most other written documents regarding the early history of that city have long since been destroyed or lost. The Life my be regarded as an example of early Belarusian literature.
The Holy Saviour Church
A striking feature of the Life is the hagiographer's insistence on the great role played by Saint Efrasinnia in the cultural development of her native town. As a young she was "exceedingly fond of learning". Later, as a nun in the cathedral of the Holy Wisdom, she spent her time copying books, and the money she thus earned she distributed amongst the poor. Finally, when she moved to the church of the Holy Savior, among her scanty possessions were books, in which - according to the worlds put into her mouth by the hagiographer - "my soul finds consolation and my heart rejoices". It is interesting also to note that when she wanted her father, prince Sviataslau, to give permission to her sister to come to the convent, her argument was: "Let my sister Hardzislava come to me so that she may learn to read and write".
It was not only in the world of learning that the activities of Saint Efrasinnia were being felt. She also built two churches in the monasteries founded by her. Of these two, the church of The Holy Saviour still stands and is considered to be the most precious monument of early Belarusian architecture. The author of this early Belarusian masterpiece was o local architect, Iaan, and we owe the knowledge of his name to the Life of Saint Euphrosyhe.
For the preparation of this Page I have used the article after Alexander Nadson "Come, Saint Euphrosyne, and stand up for us!" taken from the newspaper "Belarus News" 12, 1995 and the book of Jan Zaprudnik "Belarus at the Crossroads in History".