On August 26, the Belarusian Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of the Minsk Icon of the Mother of God. The image was discovered in the river which flows through Minsk. The icon is safely located today in the Holy Spirit Cathedral. It is the most revered icon of the Belarusian capital. In its history, it has been desecrated, renewed, glorified by miracles and involved in historical events. On the eve of the Icon's feast day, let us recall some of the events associated with it.
1. Tradition has it that, on August 13 (26), 1500, the icon "travelled" to Minsk by water. It is said that the Angels miraculously transferred the holy image to the city of Minsk where it stood on the waters of the Svisloch River. A miraculous light emanated from the icon which revealed to the townspeople its location. They brought the icon into the Castle church on August 13, 1500.
Before reaching Minsk, our ancestors have known about this ancient icon in ancient Rus’ since the adoption of Orthodoxy. The icon of the Mother of God was in the 10th-century Church of the Tithes in Kyiv. In 1240, Kyiv was turned into ruins and plundered by the Mongol-Tatars. The Tithe church was also devastated, but the image miraculously survived. In 1482, Kyiv was again attacked by Tatar troops, led by Khan Mengli Giray. One of the Tatars, seduced by the rich icon cover, took it off and threw the icon itself into the waters of the Dnieper River.
Apostle and Evangelist Luke
2. According to tradition, the image was written by the holy apostle and evangelist Luke. The Holy Virgin Herself blessed it, saying that the grace of God would dwell upon Her icon until the end of time, as upon a visible image of Her eternal presence among people.
St. Luke the Evangelist had the opportunity to depict the Most Pure Face of the Mother of God during Her earthly life. Since then, we have seen numerous copies from the original image, captured through the eyes of the evangelist. According to tradition, the Minsk icon is one of the earliest such copies.
3. The icon is revered by representatives of different denominations. Historic records show that around 1616, the Uniate Metropolitan Joseph Rutsky (Velyaminov) ordered the image to be transferred to the Uniate Church of the Holy Spirit in the Upper City (the church has not been preserved). This is known to have happened on the feast day of St. Luke, which indirectly confirms that the holy evangelist was already credited with the authorship of the Minsk Icon at that time.
In 1733, the Uniate Archimandrite Augustine (Lubenetsky) donated 1,000 thalers for a particularly solemn veneration of the icon. The money went to pay a professional choir at the Holy Spirit Church, which performed various chants in front of the Minsk icon during divine services.
Minsk Icon of the Mother of God in the Holy Spirit Cathedral
4. In the 19th century, the story of a miracle in the Holy Spirit Cathedral of the monastery in Minsk was passed from mouth to mouth. It happened before the Minsk Icon of the Mother of God located there. A poor old man was fervently praying before the holy image and asking for help. Finally, the Mother of God appeared to him. With words of consolation, She took out a diamond from her silver crown and gave it to the old man. Leaving the church, the poor man was seized by the gendarmes and arrested on charges of stealing a diamond.
The court listened to the eyewitnesses’ testimonies and decided to leave the diamond with the old man, giving him a comical order "from now on, to accept no gifts from God or the Saints."
5. At the beginning of the First World War, the headquarters of the Supreme Commander of the Russian army was located at a distance of 150 km southwest from Minsk, in the town of Baranovichi. On October 22, 1914, during a visit to Minsk, Russian Tsar Nicholas II venerated the highly revered Minsk Icon of the Mother of God. Bishop Mitrofan presented the Sovereign Emperor with a copy of the icon upon his departure from the church.
6. Archpriest Pavel Afonsky described how people in Minsk honoured the Mother of God before the revolution of 1917: "... It can be assumed with confidence that even at the present time of the waning of faith in the hearts of Christians, miraculous healings of various ailments and illnesses are happening through prayers to the Mother of God before Her Minsk icon. This is attested by the donations brought to adorn this holy icon. Following the Western Russian tradition, these donations are in the form of various parts of the body made of different metals (for example, silver images of hands, feet or heart), depending on the part of the body healed after fervent prayer before the icon. With the donations, placed in the donation box, some petitioners enclose a brief record of the healing of their illnesses, albeit not giving details or their names."
7. In the spring of 1922, during the campaign to confiscate church valuables, the cover was removed from the miraculous icon. The parishioners of the Holy Spirit Cathedral tried to prevent this. They raised an amount in gold and jewels, equal to the cost of the icon cover, in order to pay for it. However, having accepted this settlement, the Communist authorities proceeded with the confiscation. After the Second World War, the cover for the holy image was restored with donations from believers.
Holy Spirit Cathedral in Minsk, modern view
8. Before the beginning of World War II, the image was stored in a wooden warehouse not far from the District Officers' Club. On the seventh day of the war, the Nazis occupied Minsk. Varvara Vasilievna Slobko, an Orthodox believer from Minsk petitioned the German occupation authorities to transfer the icon to the Church and received permission to collect the icon. Thus, in the years of trials, the Mother of God appeared again in the city of Minsk to comfort and strengthen Her people.
After being stored for a long time in a warehouse, the icon had to be carefully restored. Since 1941, the shrine has been located in the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral on Nemiga Str., and after its shut-down in 1945, it was moved to its original place. It was then that the Church of the Holy Spirit became a cathedral, and the icon has been kept there ever since.
Coat of arms of Minsk
9. It is not surprising that the main relic of Minsk has become the symbol of the city. In 1591, less than a hundred years after the icon's appearance, the Polish king Sigismund III Vasa granted Minsk a coat of arms depicting the Virgin Mary surrounded by two angels and two cherubs. In subsequent centuries, it underwent minor changes and refinements, but the presence of the Mother of God on it was inviolable, (except during the Soviet period).
After Minsk became part of the Russian Empire, Empress Ekaterina the Great, by her decree of 1796, left the coat of arms unchanged. According to the City Charter of Minsk, the current coat of arms, approved in 2001, "represents a baroque shield, in the blue field of which the Mother of God is depicted on a silver cloud in red and blue robes, with two angels and two cherubs."
Procession from the Holy Dormition Zhirovichi Monastery to the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Minsk
10. This year, from August 19 to 26, a large Orthodox procession took place for the first time in Belarus, timed to coincide with the celebrations in honour of the Minsk Icon of the Mother of God. During the summer days of fasting and preparation for the feast of the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos, pilgrims left the Holy Dormition Zhirovichi Monastery, where another remarkable shrine of Belarus is kept — the Zhirovitskaya Icon of the Mother of God.
For eight days, the procession walked about 250 km, visiting four dioceses and eight churches and heading towards the capital in order to reach the Holy Spirit Cathedral and pray in front of the Minsk icon of the Mother of God on the day when her appearance on the waters of the Svisloch River is celebrated.
We hope that this procession will become a good tradition in our land.
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