Blessed Efrem Novotorzshky [of Novy Torzhok] the Wonderworker (X – XI centuries).

Accounts of the life of Efrem Novotorzshky are contained in the Kievo-Pechersk Paterikon dating from the second half of the 16th century. The earliest redaction of his hagiography was lost in the 14th century: the Grand Duke Mikhail of Tver who devastated Torzhok brought his Life to Tver where the manuscript was destroyed by fire.

According to these accounts, Efrem was born in Hungary in the second half of the 10th century. Together with his brothers George and Moses he enlisted in the troops of St. Prince Boris who had received the city of Rostov in appanage. Shortly before his death, in 1015, he had sent his son Boris and his troops against the Cumans. While returning from the campaign, the young prince was informed about his father’s death. Prince Boris refused to fight against his elder brother Svyatopolk and his druzhina left him. The killers sent by Svyatopolk, attacked Boris near the river Alt, killing also Efrem’s brother George Ugrin who was attempting to shield Boris with his body. The murderers beheaded the dead George to steal his golden grivna. Efrem had not been with St. Boris at that moment so he luckily escaped death. He went to the place of his brother’s murder and found his body and head. Having buried the body, he took the head with him and kept it until the end of his life. After that he retired from the military service and founded a hospice in the village of Novy Torg near Novgorod. He also built a church and took tonsure, possibly in Novgorod. Later, together with his monastic cell inmate Arcadius Novotorzhsky, Efrem built a stone church and a monastery dedicated to St. Boris and Gleb, whose first abbot was blessed by Efrem. The saint lived to the old age and was buried together with his brother’s head in a stone tomb at the Church of Boris and Gleb.

In iconography St. Efrem Novotorzhsky is depicted as an old man with grey hair and a beard wearing monastic clothes, sometimes holding a church. One of the earliest depictions of the saint is the icon of Blessed Efrem Novotorzhsky of the last third of the 17th – early 18th century from the Church of the Archangel Michael in Torzhok. Apart from individual depictions of the saint, Sts. Efrem and Arcadius of Novy Torg are also represented against the Monastery of Boris and Gleb in prayer to the Savior shown in the upper field of the icon. One such example is an icon of Sts. Efrem and Arcadius of Novy Torg of the second half of the 19th century from the Church of the Archangel Michael in Torzhok. In some icons St. Efrem is featured together with other saints – Arcadius, George Ugrin and Princess Juliana. One such example is a 1797 icon Sts. Efrem and Arcadius, the martyr George Ugrin and the blessed Princess Juliania of Novy Torg from the Toliatti art museum collections. Besides, the saint is also represented in a group of selected saints.

The blessed Efrem Novotorzsky is commemorated on February 10 (January 28, O.S.), on June 24 (July 11, O.S.), during the Synaxis of the Novgorodian saints on the third Week of the Pentecost in the Synaxis of the Smolensk saints – on Sunday before August 10 (July 28, O.S.), during the Synaxis of the Tver saints – on Sunday after July 12 (June 29, O.S.).

Zhanna G. Belik,

Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.

Olga E. Savchenko,

research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.


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