Holy Prince Daniel of Moscow was born at Vladimir in the year 1261. He was the fourth son of St Alexander Nevsky (August 30 and November 23) and his second wife Bassa. When he was two years old he lost his father. The date of his mother’s repose is not indicated in the Chronicles; we know only that she was buried in the church of the Nativity of Christ at the Vladimir Dormition monastery (the Princess monastery), and the people in the surroundings venerated her as “Righteous.”
In 1272, Prince Daniel received as his allotted portion the city of Moscow and its adjacent lands. The holy prince built a church (and a monastery beside it) in honor of his patron saint, St Daniel the Stylite (December 11) on the banks of the River Moskva.
During this period, the Moscow principality was small and unobtrusive. While growing up, Prince Daniel strengthened and expanded it, not in unjust or coercive ways, but peacefully and with benevolence. It was a time of unrest. Fratricidal strife among the appanage princes was rife. Often bloodshed was averted, thanks to Prince Daniel and his incessant striving for unity and peace in the Russian Land.
In 1293 his brother, the Great Prince Alexander, with Tatars summoned from the Horde and headed by Diuden (“the Diudenev Host”), laid waste to Russian cities: Murom, Suzdal, Kolomna, Dmitrov, Mozhaisk, and Tver. Prince Daniel decided to join them to Moscow to save their people from perishing, for they were not strong enough to resist.
The prince braced himself for terrible destruction and pillaging. Standing up for his rights, St Daniel was compelled to come out against his brother near a place called Yurievo Tolchische (“Yurievo Threshing-Mill”), but his desire for peace prevailed, and bloodshed was averted.
In 1300, when the Ryazan prince Constantine was making secret preparations for a sudden assault on the Moscow principality, Prince Daniel went to Ryazan with an army. He defeated the enemy, took Constantine captive,and destroyed a multitude of Tatars. This was a first victory over the Tatars, though not a tremendous victory, but it was noteworthy as a first push towards freedom.
When he had beaten the Ryazan prince and scattered his confederates the Tatars, Prince Daniel did not take advantage of his victory to seize foreign lands or take booty, as was the accepted custom during these times. Instead, he displayed an example of true non-covetousness, love and fraternity. The holy prince never resorted to arms to seize the lands of others, nor did he ever take away the property of other princes either by force or by treachery. And so the Lord saw fit to expand the boundaries of his princely realm.
Prince John of Pereslavl-Zalessk, Daniel’s nephew, was gentle and pious and benevolent towards the poor, and he esteemed and loved his uncle. Dying childless in 1302, he bequeathed his principality to St Daniel. The Pereslavl lands together with Dmitrov, had the most inhabitants after Rostov, with the corresponding fortification befitting a major city. Pereslavl-Zalessk was well protected on all sides. But the holy prince remained faithful to Moscow and did not transfer the capital of his princedom to the stronger and more significant seat of Pereslavl. This annexation allowed Moscow to be considered as the most significant principality. Here the principle of the unification of the Russian Land into a single powerful realm was set in place.
Through the ages God’s providence concerning Russia and its destiny was clearly manifest!
Grateful for the constant blessings of the Hodigitria (She who leads the Way) both in his personal life, and also in the life of the Russian realm, St Daniel’s father, St Alexander Nevsky said, “God is not in might, but in right!”
In 1303 St Daniel fell seriously ill. He assumed the great schema and commanded that he be buried at the Danilov monastery. In his deep humility he wanted to be buried not within the church, but in the common monastery cemetery. The holy prince died on March 4.
Less than thirty years after the repose of holy Prince Daniel, the Danilov monastery he founded was transformed into the Moscow Kremlin, the church was transformed into a parish church, and the cemetery became non-monastic.
At the time of Great Prince Ivan III (1462-1505), St Daniel gave reminders of himself to his forgetful descendents. He appeared as a stranger to a youth who attended the Great Prince and said: “Don’t be afraid of me. I was a Christian and the master of this place, my name is Daniel Prince of Moscow, and by the will of God I am here. Tell Great Prince John about me saying: you are enjoying yourself while you have forgotten me, but God has not forgotten me.”
After this, the Great Prince ordered panikhidas for his ancestral princes to be sung in the cathedral. During the time of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, the dying son of a barge merchant was healed at the grave of St Daniel. The Tsar, struck by the miracle, renovated the ancient Danilov monastery and established a yearly church procession. The Metropolitan led the way to the the holy prince’s tomb, and served a panikhida there.
In 1652 holy Prince Daniel was glorified by the uncovering of his incorrupt relics, which were transferred on August 30 to the church dedicated to the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.
The holy relics were placed in a reliquary “to the glory of the Holy Trinity and for the healing of the infirm.” Metropolitan Platon of Moscow (+ 1812), in the Life of the holy prince which he compiled, writes: “The founder laid the foundation of Moscow’s grandeur, modestly making only a small path to it. Just as any edifice, which is not built with excessive haste, but rather with great artistry and skill, receives a particular firmness and stands indestructible for a long time; like a tall tree that grows for many centuries after beginning as a small sapling, then slowly becomes sturdier, with its branches spreading about far around, so this city was to grow from small, but firm beginnings, so that its first sparkle would not bedazzle the eyes of the envious, and so it would not be shaken or felled early on, before it had attained its full height. Thus did this founder prepare the great city given him, giving it a modest but steady radiance, undisturbed by any gusts of the wind. He left the great glory of its rise to his son Great Prince John, called Kalita.”