The Catholic Southern Front Dispatch

Chapter 9/43 – Russian Icons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first Russian city was founded in 860, was named Novgorod and witnessed Saint Vladimir who happily introduced Christianity in Russia in 988. Prince Yuri Dolgoruky, the ruler of the Rus tribe and the founder of Moscow, built the Kremlin in 1147. In 1170, Prince Andrew Bogoliubsky brought his army before the walls of Novgorod in Russia. The Novgorodians assiduously prayed to God for deliverance from Prince Andrew. On the third night of the siege Archbishop Elijah of Novgorod heard a commanding voice urging him to carry the Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos in holy procession from the Church of the Transfiguration on Illinoi Street and over the walls of the city. As the Archbishop accomplished the procession the outraged enemy shot arrows, one of which pierced the Icon in the face. From the Icon’s painted eyes flowed copious tears, both the enemy troops and the Novgorodians witnessed the miraculous event. The Icon was turned towards the city; the invaders were terrorized at this heavenly sign and quarreled amongst themselves. The Icon instilled much courage within the besieged and the citizens opened the gates and courageously fought off their enemy, routing them in battle. In remembrance of the wondrous help granted by the Queen of Heaven, Archbishop Elijah established a Feast in honor of the ‘Sign of the Mother of God,’ which the whole Russian Church observes to this day. Feast days celebrating the Icon of Novgorod fall on January 2, November 27, December 10 and December 20.

 

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In the thirteenth century the Tartar invasion of Russia devastated entire regions including the City of Kursk. Not far from Kursk, the City of Rylsk was spared and the inhabitants utilized the plundered lands of Kursk as hunting grounds. On September 8, 1295, on the solemnity of Our Lady’s Nativity, a hunter discovered an Icon lying face down close to the roots of a tree. On realizing that it was an ‘Icon of the Sign,’ similar to the Icon in the City of Novgorod, the hunter witnessed its first miracle. A spring gushed forth from underground beneath the spot where it lay. The Icon of Kursk was placed in a chapel constructed on the spot where it was discovered, on attempting to remove the Icon to the City of Rylsk, the Icon miraculously returned to the chapel. In 1383, Tartars re-invaded the region and sought to destroy the chapel with fire, however it would not set alight. The hermit priest Bogoliubsky (love of God) who tended the chapel, pointed out that the Mother of God worked this miracle through her Icon. Immediately the priest was captured and the Icon broken in two halves and cast away. The chapel now was burnt to the ground and Bogoliub was taken into captivity. Whilst in captivity the priest kept his love for the Mother of God and tended the sheep of his captors, spending his time singing hymns and litanies in honor of the Blessed Virgin. One fine day certain representatives of the Russian Czar passed by and heard the priest singing, they agreed on paying his ransom and set him free. On regaining his freedom, Bogoliub returned to the site of the chapel and found the two halves of the Icon. Placing them together the priest witnessed a prodigy, the two halves miraculously joined together. The news of the miracle spread quickly and the residents of Rylsk rebuilt the chapel to house their Icon.

During the times of the Czar Theodore Ivanovich, a monastery was founded on the chapel’s site and was called the Kursk Root Hermitage. In 1612, the residents of Kursk invoked the Mother of God at the Root Hermitage Monastery to intercede in their aid and protect them against the Invading Poles who laid siege to Kursk. The inhabitants made a vow to the Blessed Virgin to erect another monastery in her honor, if she were to deliver them from the invading force. Polish prisoners later spoke of the apparition of a woman and two radiant men upon the city walls. The woman made ‘threatening gestures’ in the direction of the invaders, the Poles knew who the woman was and on realizing that Kursk was protected by the Blessed Virgin they retreated. In March of 1898, the Icon at Kursk survived the destruction of a time bomb placed in the Cathedral. The Icon was removed from Russia during the Communist era, it was taken from one city to another in Europe. Following the end of the Second World War, this Icon was taken to the New Kursk Hermitage in Mahopac, New York and then to the Synod’s Cathedral Church of the Mother of God of the Sign, in New York City. Today, a Feast in honor of the Mother of God of the Sign, is carried out in the aforementioned places on the first Sunday nearest to September 8 and on November 27 and December 10 in New York City in the United States of America. Certain Christians belonging to the Orthodox Faith claim that the region of New York where the Icon was placed, the Cathedral and surrounding blocks, were spared during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack due to the presence of the Kursk Icon, coincidentally one of its Feasts falls on the first Sunday nearest to September 8.

 

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The Icon of ‘Our Lady of Vladimir’ at the Uspensky Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, is said to be one of the Icons painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist. It is known as ‘Eleousa’ meaning the Mother of Tenderness for the Child Jesus and Our Lady are depicted in a manner which exhibits their love for each other. According to the Orthodox tradition, Saint Luke painted the Icon upon Our Lady’s kitchen table. This could well be a possibility, for it was known that two Icons were painted upon Our Lady’s table, one of which being the Icon in Czestochowa, in Poland, and the second would possibly be the Vladimir Icon in Moscow. The Orthodox tradition explains that the Mother of God, having seen this Image, pronounced the words: “Henceforth all generations will call Me blessed. Let the grace of Him Who was born of me, as well as Mine, be with this Icon.” However, it is not certain that the origins of the Vladimir Icon are indeed related to Saint Luke’s epoch. The Vladimirskaya was most probably painted in the eleventh or twelfth centuries; other Icons resembling the Vladimirskaya, are the Damascena at the Greek Catholic Church in Valletta, Malta and the Icon of Kiev. No certain evidence exists proving that the Icon of Czestochowa was indeed painted on Our Lady’s kitchen table, or that two Icons were painted. If this Russian Icon were indeed painted on Our Lady’s tabletop, then it must have been repainted in the twelfth century, thus explaining the style. Having said this, the Polish Icon is indeed miraculous and supernatural healings and deliverance regularly take place before it, while even the Russian one is said to be miraculous. In 1125-1132, the Patriarch of Constantinople donated the Vladimirskaya as a gift to the Ukrainian Prince Mstislav. The Russian brought the Icon from Constantinople to Kiev and brought it to the Devichy Monastery of Vyshgorod. On September 21, 1164, the Icon referred to as the Virgin of Vyshorod, was brought by Prince Andrew Bogolubsky to a newly constructed Cathedral dedicated to the Dormition of Our Lady, in Vladimir, Russia.

Dimitry Donskoy carried an Icon of the Blessed Virgin in the Battle of Kulikovo and victoriously defeated the enemies of his country. The Icon was Our Lady of the Don, for the Mongols were defeated at the River Don. In 1395, Dimitry’s son Grand Prince Vasily, brought his army against another enemy, this time the enemy was Tamerlane the Islamic Prince. Prince Vasily had a numerical inferior force to Tamerlane’s; nonetheless Vasily assembled his force at the Oka River beyond Kolomna. The Moscovites fasted through the Dormition fast and devoutly transferred the Vladimir Icon in solemn procession from Vladimir to Moscow. On August 26, the apprehensive Moscovites left Moscow to greet the Vladimir Icon at the Kuchkovo Field. Tamerlane the Mamluk, the conqueror of Smyrna, the sacker of Damascus, received in a vision or dream an apparition. A majestic woman surrounded by a luminous veil threatened him to leave Russian territory or suffer sure and utter defeat while completely loosing his army in the process. Inquiring as to the meaning of the dream, he was told that the radiant woman was the Mother of God, the great Guardian of the Christians. Tamerlane was both impressed and frightened, he would rather retreat than experience another apparition of the Mother of the Christians. He therefore removed his forces from Russian soil.

In honor of the Vladimir Icon and the intercession of Theotokos, the Monastery of the Presentation of the Lord was erected on the spot where the Moscovites venerated the Icon in the Kuchkovo Field. The Orthodox Feast reserved for the Vladimir Icon, is celebrated on August 26. Triumphantly, the Russian army carried this Icon and sang their hymn: “He who places his trust in you, Mother of God, will never perish.”(1) The Cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir was sacked, however the Icon was miraculously saved. The Icon was honored as the unconquerable shield of the Russian people and in 1395, Grand Duke Basil placed it in the Cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Moscow.

Till 1480, Our Lady of Vladimir was confidently invoked against the continuous waves of Mongol and Tartar incursions. In 1480, Ivan the Great or Czar Ivan III, was forced to rally his army and prepare for the defenses of Moscow against an impending threat. The Khan Achmet of the Golden Horde, was audacious enough to invade Ivan’s Russia, both met in battle at the banks of the Ugra River, otherwise known as the ‘Sash of the Holy Theotokos.’ Faithful to the Blessed Virgin and God, as ever before, the inhabitants of Moscow prayed to Our Lady of Vladimir. Miraculously but not surprisingly, the Khan retreated his forces and left Russian territory. Once again, Our Lady of Vladimir was held in great esteem and a Feast was instituted by the Orthodox Christians to commemorate the event. The Feast commemorating Our Lady’s intercession for this second deliverance during military conflict, was set for June 23.

Our Lady Holy Theotokos of Vladimir was for a third time invoked against a powerful force of Crimean Tartars, Nogoi, Kazan Tartars and Lithuanians, who joined forces under the command of Mahmet-Girei, to defeat Moscow. Czar Vasily led a Russian military force, while Metropolitan Barlaam conducted the Moscovites to prayer and a holy procession of the Vladimir Icon. The Moscovites themselves were blamed for the menacing wave of encroachers, for the monks blamed the people’s unrepentance. At the Spassky Gates, the procession met two venerable monks named Sergius of Radonezh and Barlaam of Khutinsk, who begged the Metropolitan not to proceed further and not to leave Moscow with the Vladimir Icon. The sins of the people were such that, it was safer for the inhabitants if the Icon remained in the City of Moscow. Blessed Basil confirmed that Our Lady of Vladimir was touched by the prayers and the repentance of the Moscovites and for this reason was to deliver them from their enemies. Similarly to Tamerlane, the Tartar Khan received in vision an apparition of the Most Holy Theotokos. He saw his armies surrounded by a multitude of heavenly beings led by the Blessed Mother of God. The Khan, together with his army, fled in fear. On May 21, the Orthodox Russian Church celebrates a third Feast dedicated to the Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos of Vladimir. Before the Vladimirskaya, important state transactions took place, her blessing was sought before battle, Russian Czars were anointed and Metropolitans appointed. The Feast Days of the Vladimirskaya are celebrated on August 26, September 8, May 21 and June 3, in honor of the liberation of Moscow in 1486 from the Khan of Nogay Horde, the victory of Ivan III against the Crimean Khanate in 1521 and for the victory in 1551 from the thralldom to the Khazan Khanate.

 

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An Icon that was considered to be the Guardian of the Russian Monarchy, particularly the Romanoff Dynasty, is the Kazanskaya Icon. In 1579, the Icon protected Russian soldiery in war. In 1579, Czar Ivan IV, otherwise known as ‘Ivan the Terrible,’ victoriously captured the Tartar stronghold of Kazan with the help of Our Lord. In the City of Kazan, a young maiden named Matrona received repeated visions of Our Lady, advising her to warn the Archbishop regarding an Image of hers buried beneath the ground. Putting off the visions as fantasy, her mother kept Matrona from informing the Archbishop. One day within the kitchen fire, Matrona beheld the Icon and heard a voice admonishing her, that if she were not to inform the Archbishop, Our Lady would seek help elsewhere and her soul would be damned. Matrona’s mother was this time not amused and immediately took her daughter to the Archbishop, informed him and returned. Alas, the Archbishop was not too impressed, so Matrona, her mother and a few others, dug the indicated site. Three feet below the ground, a red cloth keeping a beautiful intact Icon was revealed. The Icon was immediately removed to the Church of Saint Ncholas in Kazan; there the Archbishop Jeremiah intoned a ‘Moleiben.’ The procession proceeded to the Annunciation Cathedral in the Kazan Kremlin, miraculous healings occurred on the way. Czar Ivan built a church and monastery dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan on the spot where Matrona discovered the Icon, later the maiden and her mother entered the monastery as novice nuns. The discovery of the Icon coincided with the Feast of the early military martyr of Saint Procopius, July 8. The Orthodox Christians proclaimed that the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan would also be celebrated on the Feast Day of Saint Procopius. Interestingly, the Icon was buried for 350 years from the year 1209 when the Tartars had sacked the City of Kazan and was probably painted in Constantinople.

In 1612, the Poles invaded Russia. Patriarch Hermogenes of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Kazan, requested Prince Dimitry Pozhharsky, to remove the Icon from Kazan to Moscow. The Russians knew that the Polish invasion was heavenly retribution for their sins, so the military and the people of Russia, carried out a three-day fast. Bishop Arsenius was a captive in the hands of the Poles and while in captivity he received a visitation of the Blessed Mother. She revealed that God has relented his judgement and through the intercession of his Mother, will show mercy. On October 22, 1612, a battle ensued, the Poles were defeated and the Russian army freed Moscow. The Icon of Our Lady of Kazan was taken as a victory banner during the storming of the Kremlin which was won over on November 27, 1612. The founder of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Zagorsk, St Serge, had previously also appeared to the visiting Greek Bishop Arsenius, assuring victory under the protection of Our Lady. Bishop Arsenius was freed and appointed Bishop of Suzdal. The Feast Day reserved for Our Lady of Kazan was instituted on October 22 and is observed in Russia to this day. In 1710, Tsarina Praskovia Fedorovna removed the Icon from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. The Kazanskaya was kept in the church dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady. In 1790, Czar Peter the Great used the Icon once again as a victory banner against the invading forces of Swedish King Charles XII. Both in Moscow and in St Petersburg cathedrals were built to keep the Icon of Kazan. The Kazan Basilica was erected following Napoleon’s defeat which also attributed to the intercession of Our Lady, the consecration occurred during Czar Alexander II who “offered all the war trophies and battle flags of the Napoleonic invasion to the shrine as tokens of Our Lady’s victory.”(2) During the Russian Revolution of 1917 the cathedral was desecrated and converted to a museum, while the Icon was saved and moved throughout the world including Poland, England, USA and Fatima, Portugal. Previous to the Russian Revolution reports had reached the Moscow Patriarch that the Kazan Icon was stolen and torn to pieces. This news made the Patriarch assume that evil times were to befall Russia. If this is fact, than the Icon kept at Fatima was either the original or a copy. In 1993 the Kazan-Fatima Icon was presented to Pope John Paul II who had it placed upon his wall in his Vatican study. As he later admitted the Kazan Icon accompanied him through eleven years of his Pontificate. He desired to return it personally to Moscow, however his efforts were blocked. The Icon was exhibited on the Pontifical altar of St Peter’s Basilica on August 26, 2004, Feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa. On August 28 it was delivered to Moscow and on July 21 placed at the Anunciation Cathedral at the Kazan Kremlin. Today it is kept at the Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. A nineteenth century copy of the Icon of Kazan bearing 13 bullet holes is today exhibited throughout many countries to remind the world that previous to the Bolshevik Revolution, Russia was considered as being the “House of Mary.” Pope John Paul II died in 2005, he successfully resisted Communism by evangelising the light of Christ and invoking Our Lady’s protection. He restored this devotion to Poland and reintroduced the Kazan Russian Icon to ex-communist Russia. Our Lady can once again be freely invoked in both Poland and Russia. Our Lady of Kazan Feasts fall on July 8, July 21, October 22 and November 4.

 

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Once again, a Russian Icon claimed to be the work of Saint Luke the Evangelist is the ‘Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God,’ which until recently was kept in Chicago and later at New York’s Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Similarly to the Icon of Vladimir, in the fifth century it was removed from Jerusalem and taken to Constantinople, where it was venerated in a church in the Blachernae district. In 1383, the Icon disappeared and re-appeared hovering over Lake Ladoga in the proximity of Novgorod. A fisherman testified of having seen the Icon covered in a bright light, hovering over the lake. It was subsequently discovered and seen in several towns. The Russan Czar Ivan the Terrible, ordered a monastery to be erected in the vicinity of Tikhvin for the veneration of the Holy Image, the Icon came to be known as the ‘Tikhvin Icon.’

During the years 1613 to 1614, the Swedish Calvinist Army invaded the City of Novgorod. The Swedes attempted to destroy the Monastery of Tikhvin. When the Swedish troops were in sight, the monks made up their minds to flee. They immediately set about removing the Icon; they tried in vane, for the Icon refused to be removed. The monks understood this miraculous event as a sign from the Mother of God, they interpreted the heavenly sign that the Icon should not be dislodged and as faithful monks they should follow suit and defend the monastery. The few defenders of the monastery were indeed successful at repulsing the Swedes by their invocation and supplications to the Virgin, who supernaturally protected the monastery until the Russian army intervened. Peace was eventually sought between the Swedes and the Russians. The Russian emissaries carried a copy of the Tikhvin Icon to the village of Stolbovo, where on February 10, 1617, a treaty was sealed and the peace documents signed beneath the watchful eyes of the copy of Our Lady of Tikhvin. To commemorate the Russian victory over the Swedes, the Tikhvin Icon was placed in the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom in Novgorod. During the Second World War the Icon was smuggled out of Russia by the Bishop John of Riga, who claimed that the Icon was a valueless replica. Kept for a while in Latvia and Bavaria, later it was removed to Chicago in the USA. In July of 2004, the miraculous Icon was returned to the Monastery in Tikhvin, Russia. The Feast Days of Our Lady of Tikhvin fall on June 26 and July 9.

 

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In the ninth century, the heresy of Iconoclasm ravaged the holy shrines of the East. Emperor Theophilus challenged the Orthodox Christians by destroying and burning the holy icons. During those troubled times, the ‘Iberian’ or ‘Iveron Icon of Our Lady’ was venerated on Mount Athos. A pious widow and her son, who lived in the vicinity of Nicea, committed themselves at saving the Icon from the Iconoclasts. Together with her son, the widow placed the Icon upon the surface of the sea, they were surprised at seeing that the Icon did not vanish beneath the waves but on the contrary, was lifted horizontally aloft, above the surface of the waters. The son left for Thessalonica and then to Athos, he entered the Monastery of Iveron and became a monk. He recounted to his brother monks, the manner in which he saw the Icon travel upright upon the surface of the sea. In the tenth century the monks from the Iveron Monastery witnessed a pillar of fire rising from the sea, which continued for several more days. The monks gathered upon the shore and saw the Icon illumed with rays of light. A monk named Gabriel was asked by Our Lady to walk upon the surface of the water and reach for the Icon. The monk did just as he was told and walked over the surface of the sea and retrieved the Icon back to the shore, where he was received amongst the jubilant monks. To commemorate the extraordinary event, a chapel was built on the spot. Miraculously, the Icon disappeared to reappear above the monastery gates. A chapel was once again erected close to the gates, where the most Holy Theotokos was venerated through her Iberian Icon.

Another prodigy occurred when a thief struck the Icon on the face, blood gushed forth from the wound, the robber repented and became a holy monk. In the seventeenth century two copies of the Iberian Icon, were sent to the Czar’s palace. In 1648, the Icon copy was kept in a chapel close to the Resurrection Gates of Moscow. In 1685, the copy was placed within the Monastery of the Holy Lake. In 1812, during the Battle of Borodino, the Iberian Icon together with the Vladimir Icon and the Icon of Smolensk, were carried in procession through the streets of Moscow. The Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feasts of Our Lady of Iveron on February 12, October 13, November 11, November 24, and on Bright Tuesday. Our Lady of Iveron represents the Russian victory against the Napoleonic forces.

 

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In 1340, monks established the Monastery of Pochaev in Volynia, little Russia. An apparition of Our Lady occurred upon the Mount, which was witnessed by a hermit. A healing spring poured forth from the spot of her apparition. In 1559, the Greek Metropolitan, Neophytos, visited a noblewoman in the vicinity of Pochaev, he presented her with an Icon which he brought from Constantinople. The noblewoman’s brother received a healing before the Image and its fame began to spread amongst the people. In 1597, the lady presented the Icon to the monks upon the Mount. In 1602, the Icon was transferred to the newly built Church of the Holy Trinity. During an invasion of Tartars, a monk was captured, as time passed by the monk fervently yearned to be in the monastery and celebrate the approaching Feast of the Dormition, he fervently prayed to Our Lady. The walls of Father Job’s cell vanished and he found himself back in the monastery upon Mount Pochaev.

In 1675, during the wars against the Ottoman Empire, battalions of Tartars encamped beneath the walls of the monastery. The monks could not resist the besiegers for long, so Joseph the Abbot led the brethren into holy prayer and the invocation of their heavenly Protectress and the Venerable Job of Pochaev. They prayed fervently before the Icon and the relics of the holy monk. On July 23, the Tartars prepared to raid the monastery; Joseph the Abbot led his monks in singing the ‘Akathist’ of Constantinople. At the very moment when the Akathist was intoned, ‘Our Lady Help of all Christians,’ appeared resplendent ‘…in full battle array.’ Heavenly angels, with unsheathed swords, surrounded her in full view of the Tartars, Venerable Job was seen bowing before her and praying for the defense of the monastery. The Tartars mistook the apparition for a horde of ghosts and spirits upon the monastery roof and instead of fleeing, took up on themselves the challenge of attacking the heavenly apparition and shot many arrows at the Blessed Virgin. On reaching the Virgin the arrows turned back with greater force and pierced the ones who shot them, killing a few and wounding others. The invaders were now terror-stricken, they fell upon each other killing one another and the rest fled away. The defenders rushed out and pursued the Tartars, cutting them down as they fled. A certain number of captives converted to the Faith and remained in the Monastery of Mount Pochaev. The Orthodox feasts commemorating this miraculous delivery, dedicated to Our Lady of Pochaev, are celebrated on July 23, August 5, September 8, September 21 and on the Friday of Bright Week.

 

 

 

 

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