Today saw the celebration of the Tikhvinskaya icon of the Mother of God, which was first revealed in Russia in the principality of Novgorod Veliky, suspended in the air above the waters of Lake Ladoga on this day in 1383.
Having miraculously appeared in other local towns before its final appearance in the town of Tikhvin, this wonderworking icon was enshrined in a wooden church, and later in a stone temple built at the behest of the Great Prince of Moscow, Vasily III Ivanovich, before its translation to a monastic stronghold built by his son, Tsar Ivan Grozny (the Terrible).
In the Russo-Swedish Wars of 1613-1614, when the Swedes invaded Novgorod and sought to destroy the Monastery, the Mother of God would not allow the monks to flee with her icon, and finding her precious image immovable, they sheltered within the walls of their coenobium fervently beseeching the help and protection of the Mother of God before her wonderworking image.
Their prayers were answered by the arrival of the Muscovite war-host and the retreat of the Swedes, without engaging in battle.
A copy of the wonderworking icon accompanied Russian emissaries to the village of Stolobovo, where a peace treaty was contracted with the Swedes, with this copy of the icon then resting in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, before its translation to the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom in Novgorod, which was thus protected from further Swedish attacks through the intercession of the Mother of God.
Having preserved her icon from destruction over the centuries, the Mother of God’s miraculous help was shown especially during the onslaught against Faith after the Russian Revolution, when the icon escaped destruction or being sold, but remained in the Tikhvin Monastery, loved and cherished by the faithful.
During German occupation, in World War II, the Nazis removed the icon from the Tikhvin Monastery, and after initially being taken to Pskov it was taken to to Riga, and entrusted to the Church.
When the Germans retreated, Bishop John of Riga, left Latvia before the advancing Red Army, and during the Soviet air bombardment, taking the wonderworking icon to Germany, where it was a source of blessing and comfort for displaced persons crowded into refugee camps.
When Bishop John moved to America, in 1949, he was able to take the icon to Chicago, where he became Archbishop Chicago and the Mid-West in the American Metropolia, now the OCA. The icon was treasured and venerated in the Holy Trinity Cathedral, as well as travelling to various places throughout the United States and Canada.
Bishop John retired in the late 1970s and died on Palm Sunday in 1982, with his adopted son, Archpriest Sergei Garklavs, becoming the custodian of the icon, caring for it in his home
In 2003, over a decade after the fall of communism, the momentous decision was made to return the precious icon to post-Soviet Russia, in accordance with Archbishop John’s stipulation, with the return journey taking a year as the icon travelled from place to place across North America, before the final journey to Russia, with Tikhvin as the final destination for the homecoming of the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God.
The chronicles and journeys of this wonderworking icon, bare witness to a changing world – of wars, conflict divisions and hardship, but the return to its former place of sanctuary, in Tikhvin, is a powerful witness to the possibility of restoration and reconciliation, with the Mother of God overseeing the preservation and return of her wonderworking icon, as the distrust and enmity of the Cold War was replaced with a new era and a new relationship between peoples on different side of a great geo-political divide.
In the present conflicts and re-emerging rifts and sad return of east-west divisions, we should turn to the Mother of God as mediatrix and the Mother of reconciliation: to soften human hearts, to bestow reason and understanding, to be a guide and healer of division, a dispeller of fear and the hope of Christians.
Kontakion of the Icon, Tone 8: O ye people, let us make haste to the Virgin Theotokos and Queen, giving thanks to Christ our God; and gazing with compunction at her miraculous icon, let us fall down and cry out to her: O Mary our Mistress, visiting this land in the miraculous appearance of thy precious icon, save our Orthodox hierarchs and all Christians in peace and prosperity, showing us to be inheritors of the life of heaven. For to thee do we cry with faith: Rejoice, O Virgin, salvation of the world!