On 4 November, Orthodox believers commemorate the Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, one of the most venerated icons in Russia. The icon was discovered in the town of Kazan 25 years after Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible conquered the hostile Tartar state of Kazan. Christianity was gradually taking root in the Islamic town of Kazan and, probably, to consolidate the Orthodox faith, God revealed a miracle-working icon of the Mother of God. Once, there was a fire in Kazan and half of the town was destroyed. A house of a strelets (a regular soldier of a special regiment in the 16th and 17th centuries) burnt to the ground. When the man decided to build a new house, his 9-year-old daughter, Matrona, saw the Birthgiver in a dream. The Mother of God demanded that the town authorities and the clergy dig out Her icon in the place She indicated. The girl told the dream to her mother, but she didn’t pay much attention to her daughter’s words. The dream came again, however. Only when the Birthgiver appeared in Matrona’s dream for the third time did her mother, along with Matrona, go to the clergy and told them about it. Then, the mother and the daughter began digging in the place indicated by the Mother of God, and they found an icon wrapped in a sleeve of some old clothing. The icon was undamaged, without a single dark spot. People rushed to the icon, they prayed and kissed it reverently. The clergy served moliebens and the icon was placed in the Annunciation Cathedral. On that very day, two blind men were miraculously cured. As became known later, the icon was a replica of the miracle-working icon of the Virgin traditionally attributed to St Luke and kept in Constantinople. Following the order of the Tsar, a church and a convent in the honour of Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God were built on the site where they had found the icon. Matrona, the girl who saw the Virgin in her dreams, was the first novice to be initiated into the convent.
Prior to 1612, the Kazan Icon was a locally venerated icon, and a feast in its honour was established on the day it revealed itself, 21 July. In the early 17th century, Russia went through the Smuta, the Time of Troubles. Secular state power was very weak. As a result, Polish invaders seized Moscow. St Germogen, the Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, who was then in prison, appealed to the nation. He called for unity in the struggle against the invaders. He also gave instructions that people should bring the Kazan Icon to Moscow. On the eve of the decisive battle, the clergy served a molieben before the wonder-working icon. After fierce battles, the opolchenie drove the Polish invaders out of the capital. To mark the event, Tsar Mikhail Romanov established a second holiday in the honour of the Kazan Icon on 4 November. Later, the Kazan Cathedral was built on Red Square to house the icon. Destroyed in Soviet times, the cathedral was rebuilt in the 1990s.
From that time on, the Kazan Icon saved Russia more than once. For instance, in 1941, during the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany, the Virgin appeared to Metropolitan Ilya of the Antiochian Church, who prayed wholeheartedly for Russia. She instructed him to tell the Russians that they should carry the Kazan Icon in a religious procession around the besieged city of Leningrad (now St Petersburg). Then, the Virgin said, they should serve a molieben before the icon in Moscow. The Virgin said that the icon should stay with the Russian troops in Stalingrad, and later move with them to the Russian border. Leningrad didn’t surrender. Miraculously, Moscow was also saved. During the Battle of Stalingrad, the icon was with the Russian army on the right bank of the Volga, and the Nazi troops couldn’t cross the river. The Battle of Stalingrad began with a molieben before the Kazan Icon. Only when it was finished, did the troops receive the order to attack. The Kazan Icon was at the most important sectors of the front, and in the places where the troops were preparing for an offensive. It was like in the old times, when in response to earnest prayers, the Virgin instilled fear in enemies and drove them away. Even atheists told stories of the Virgin’s help to the Russian troops. During the assault on Königsberg in 1945, the Soviet troops were in a critical situation. Suddenly, the soldiers saw their commander arrive with priests and an icon. Many made jokes, “Just wait, that’ll help us!” The commander silenced the jokers. He ordered everybody to line up and to take off their caps. When the priests finished the molieben, they moved to the frontline carrying the icon. The amazed soldiers watched them going straight forward, under intense Nazi fire. Suddenly, the Nazis stopped shooting. Then, the Russian troops received orders to attack on the ground and from the sea. Nazis died in the thousands. Nazi prisoners told the Russians that they saw the Virgin in the sky before the Russians began to attack, the whole of the Nazi army saw Her, and their weapons wouldn’t fire. Today, the Orthodox Church also turns to the Virgin in any difficulty. We say, “Our Lady and intercessor, pray to God for us!”
2 November 2006
This is Russia
Voice of Russia World Service