The Legendary Russian Warriors – The Story of Iliya Moorometz (Ilya Muromets)

Iliya Moorometz – or Iliya of the city of Moorom.

He is the most well-known and loved warrior of ancient Russia, famous for his incredible strength, fighting skill, unique life story, kindness and righteousness, the qualities that brought him many victories over the attackers of Russia and over the forces of evil.

The big painting you may have seen at our school is called “The Three Warriors”.

Iliya Moorometz is the one in the middle of the picture (click to enlarge)

Iliya’s assistants in many battles:

Dobrinya Nikitich – on his right hand,

Alesha Popovich – on his left side

The history of the righteous Russian warriors begins in the year 998. Until that time paganism was the religion of the people. Prince Vladimir, initially a cruel and aggressive pagan follower, became the first Russian ruler who accepted Christianity. He married the Christian orthodox princess Anna of Greece, got christened himself with his 12 sons, then his boyars (the rich people around him) got christened as well. Prince Vladimir then invited 6 Greek bishops, Metropolitan, and numerous priests to come to his capital city -Kievat that time – to get all the Russian people christened too.

On a set day in 998 Prince Vladimir ordered for all the residents of Kiev, many thousands of people, to come to the river Dnepr, and the Greek clergy performed the sacrament of christening, forever blessing the people of Russia to carry God in their hearts.

Prince Vladimir changed himself greatly, he became kind and generous. Poor people of the country could come to his palace any time and receive food, clothing and money. Big carts were filled with bread, meat, fish, vegetables, honey and kvas (the Russian beverage) and sent to towns and villages for the poor and sick that could not walk themselves. People loved their Prince and called him “The Red Sun”. (The word ‘red’ in Russian also means beautiful).

Christian faith then quickly spread throughout Russia. Thousands of churches and monasteries were build, and along with them, schools and hospitals. Literacy, Art and the Russian culture began to develop as well.

To confirm his faith and policies, Prince Vladimir had each of his 12 sons become the ruler of each of the 12 great cities of the Russian land. The youngest son, count Gleb was given the city of Moorom.

In 1015 Prince Vladimir died. His stepson Sviatopolk conquered his capital city Kiev. Sviatopolk decided to kill all his 12 stepbrothers, including the very young count Gleb. Gleb begged the killers to spare him, but when he saw that they would not listen, he kneeled and humbly accepted his death. Gleb was one of the first Russian martyrs.

About 100 years later, in a village by the same city of Moorom, a miracle-boy, and the future mighty warrior was born to his peasant parents. One day while he was still a baby in the crib, his father was working in the field and his mother washing clothing in the river, a terrible storm happened in the area. The door of Iliya Moorometz’s house was open and the black storm cloud got inside. As his mother ran into the house, the black cloud rushed out and she found the baby was lying on the floor near his crib alive but all white and motionless. According to the legend, this was the spirit of evil trying to kill his future opponent.

From that day Iliya Moorometz became unable to use his legs, and had only very light use of his arms. He grew up and only sat on the bench inside the house by the door, staring wistfully into the floor. His parents tried all the possible treatments, but nothing helped. They were very religious people, and always prayed for their son at home and in church, but a lot of time had to pass before their prayers were answered.

Iliya Moorometz turned 20, he was very handsome, with huge shoulders, but his legs continued to be extremely weak. He was angry at the whole world, hardly spoke a word with anyone, and just sat on his bench with a gloomy stare at the floor. The worst torture for him was to watch the Maslenitza games (fist fight games held every winter on the week before Lent). From his window, Iliya saw the young men of his hometown beaten up by the neighbors every time. His father was the best fighter in town when he was young, and really counted on his son to replace him in fistfights and in his heavy peasant labor one day.

The only person that warmed up Iliya’s heart and brought a smile to his face was the quiet and tender local girl. She would come for a visit every now and then, would bring him a treat, would say some kind words, or would just sit in the house feeling compassion for Iliya. One day his parents brought home terrible news for their son – this girl was getting married to one of the fighters from the neighboring town.

Iliya Moorometz could not take it any more, blinded by anger; he was yelling that no one would now love him. “We love you” – gasped his mother – “and God, he loves everyone”  Iliya yelled so loudly that his parents dropped to the floor as if shocked by thunder.  “Where? If He loves me, why does He punish me so for 20 years? For what sins? ” Iliya ripped the cross off his neck and threw it across the room to the door. And then a miracle happened. The cross with the ripped piece of string froze in the air. Iliya could no longer say a word, and he heard a quiet voice “Oh Iliya, look how far you have gone in your sorrow. ” A white cloud appeared and a very young man, with light and humble face, dressed as a count.

“Who is this? “- kept thinking amazed Iliya. “I am count Gleb, son of the great Prince Vladimir” – said the visitor.   Iliya said that it could not be, as 100 years has passed since Gleb had been slaughtered. Gleb put down his left hand that he was holding at his chest, and Iliya saw the big and horrible knife wound under the young man’s heart.

The Saint explained that God sent him to help Iliya, to strengthen his spirit and faith, that this illness was likely given to prevent Iliya from the big sins he would have committed if his body was strong. He reminded how Iliya was ready to kill the fist fighters so many times, and how just now he was willing to destroy the fiance of the girl he liked. He told Iliya that God would give everything to the one who has love, hope and faith.

Ilya’s face was all wet from tears -“How can I be forgiven now that I betrayed God, and ripped the cross off my chest”  “God’s mercy has no limits” – was the Saint’s reply – “Disciple Peter renounced Christ three times, and was forgiven. God can see your sincere tears of remorse, and here is the sign that you are forgiven. ” Gleb opened his hand and the cross floated across the room back under Iliya’s shirt, and the ripped string tied itself into a knot. “Remember, ” – said the count – “that ‘Iliya’ means God’s strength” – and he disappeared.

Only then Iliya’s parents came back to their senses. He realized that they had not seen anything, but the new knot was definitely there on the string around his neck.

From that day he became a different person, never a word of resentment, never any anger in his eyes or sadness in his heart. He began to admire the world, to pray, to be kind to everyone and to accept his illness in a calm and humble way.

Many years passed, and Iliya turned 33. On the Easter night he had another great vision -Saint Pau land Saint Peter came to him and said that for his patience and faith he will now be healed. They gave him a wooden dipper of holy water to drink and then told him to get up and walk. And the miracle had happened; Iliya walked to the door, out of the house, and yelled his praise to God.

There was no end to visitors to Iliya’s house. All people of his town knew about the illness, and now came to see the miraculous recovery. Iliya had to tell his story hundreds of times.  All summer and fall Iliya worked in the fields with great enjoyment, he was easily handling all the heaviest jobs, tearing oak trees right out of the ground to make room for new fields. His parents were well rewarded for the years of their patience.

When the last day of harvest was over, Iliya went to get a drink of water from the spring. A huge chestnut speckled horse with thick mane and tail came up behind him. The saddle was fully equipped with all the weapons of the time: a wide sword, a tightly drawn bow with a case full of arrows, a 36 pound spiked club, a sharp spear, and a red shield engraved with the gold sun and a warrior’s helmet. Iliya could not see the owner of the horse, he called out, but there was no reply, just the echo. He admired the horse for a while and headed home. The horse walked after him, then bit Iliya’s shirt and would not let go until Iliya jokingly said that he would make him ride to the sky.

Iliya Moorometz then jumped into the saddle and rode off. The wonder horse could jump higher that the forest, over the rivers and hills, up to quarter mile at a time. Fresh water springs would come from the ground where the horse would strike his hoof. (These springs are still there and are called ‘horse-wells’). The horse brought Iliya to a beautiful church on a hill amidst deep woods. In great amazement, Iliya recognized the great monastery ofKievthat he heard about when he was ill and had always dreamed of visiting.

An old man met him as Iliya walked into the monastery and asked why he was here. Iliya said that he wishes to see the holy remains of Saint Feodociy buried here and to ask the elders for advice on how to thank God for his miraculous healing. “God gave you power – said the old man – to overcome all the attackers of Russia and all the forces of evil, so that nothing would harm you. I bless you to join the king’s army for the military service. When the time comes that you are no longer able to hold the sword in your hands, then come back here and continue to defeat the evil with the sword of your prayer.

Iliya realized that the wonder horse was sent for him and that his road in life is clear. He asked the old man where he could see and bow to the holy remains of the Saint Feodociy. “You can say you have done that already” – said the old man and disappeared.

The brave warrior Iliya Moorometz has fought great many battles, defeated countless enemies. Many wonderful stories, songs and tales were written about him. Alone, he was able to fight off up to 300 attackers at a time. He could create an invisible space around his body that could not be penetrated by any weapon. He was tireless on the battlefields, courageous, and never cruel.

When Iliya Moorometz became old and gray, he came to live to the Monastery of Kiev and became a monk. His body is buried there in a cave, his remains still untouched by the decay up to now.  The icon-lamp is always lit over his icon, where we can see a calm and handsome face of a Russian Warrior.

Legendary as these stories may seem to some of us, the fact remains that several years ago, Iliya Moorometz’s holy remains were taken out and studied in a lab. It was confirmed that the incurable disease had affected his spine for many years.

This article originally apeared on Vladimir’s Vasieliev’s website. We thank him for bringing this material to the English speaking world and for his leadership.