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24 September 2018

  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.


Author: Anastasia Osipova
Translation: Paul E. Richardson
Illustrations/Images by Evgeny Sinitsyn

Nov/Dec 2017
Religion & Spirituality
Page 54   ( 5 pages)

Summary: Icons have been revered in Russia for centuries, and when it comes to miracle-working icons, pilgrims will travel thousands of kilometers to seek their divine assistance. 
We look at three you can find in Moscow.


Icons have been revered in Russia for centuries, and when it comes to miracle-working icons, pilgrims will travel thousands of kilometers to seek their divine assistance. People bring flowers to these works of art, and speak to them as if they were living beings. Orthodox believers have reported seeing myrrh seeping from such icons. They are said to have a remarkable fragrance, and some icons are known to weep.

Behind every miracle-working icon is a fantastical story of its appearance – indeed, such an “appearance” (явление) is critical to an icon’s status as a miracle-worker. And often this appearance bespeaks some important episode in the history of the Russian state.

In reality, most miracle-working Russian icons are actually copies (“списки” – which is what in the Orthodox tradition they call copies of the original miracle-working icons) of a venerated original. The copies are believed to inherit the original’s miraculous powers.

There are at least three miracle-working icons you can visit in Moscow churches.

The Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God
Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Old Simonovo
Тихвинская икона Божией Матери.
Храм Рождества Пресвятой богородицы в Старом Симонове

The Tikhvin Icon is one of the most revered icons in Russia, and the original is reputed to have been painted by Luke the Evangelist himself.

The icon is thought to have been brought from Jerusalem to Constantinople in the fifth century. Centuries later, however, 70 years before the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1383, it disappeared from the city. It is believed to have flown through the air and appeared above Lake Ladoga, where it was seen by fishermen. The icon continued on its journey, stopping near the city of Tikhvin (which is south of the lake and east of Veliky Novgorod).

A church was built on the site of the icon’s appearance,* and in 1560 Ivan the Terrible decreed that a monastery (Tikhvin Assumption Monastery) be founded here.

The Swedes tried to destroy the monastery more than once after they took Novgorod in 1611, and when they approached the monastery in 1613-14, its monks decided to flee. When the monks tried to take the icon with them, however, they could not budge it. So they resolved to stay and defend their monastery.

After their victory (legend has it that the Swedes bolted after imagining that they were surrounded by legions of troops), the tsar’s emissaries ordered that a copy of the miracle-working icon be painted. In 1617, peace was concluded with the Swedes not far from Tikhvin, in Stolbovo.

When Russian monasteries were closed in the 1920s, the original icon found its way into a local museum. It remained in Russia until 1941, when it was stolen by the Germans and taken to Pskov, from where it found its way to Riga and later Chicago. Only in 2004 was it returned to Tikhvin.

In addition to the miracle-working copy of this venerated icon, this Moscow church also contains the remains of two revered figures from Russian history: Alexander Peresvet and Rodion Oslyabya, who faced the Tatar Temir-Murza in the Battle of Kulikovo Field in 1380.


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