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Miracles of Faith: the History of "Brotherhood" Icon

Kiev-Bratsk Icon of the Mother of God

Kiev-Bratsk Icon of the Mother of God

The rich history of the wonderworking Kiev-Bratsk (i.e. "Brotherhood") Icon of the Mother of God revealed in 1654 tells us about the arduous spiritual life of Christians of that time, filled with asceticism and prayerful devotion. The icon was originally kept in the church of Saints Boris and Gleb in the city of Vyshgorod (Kiev).

In 1662, during a war with Poland (1659–1667), the city was attacked by the Crimean Tatars who fought against Russia in alliance with the Poles. The invaders destroyed houses, plundered the property of townspeople, and devastated churches. The church of the holy martyrs Boris and Gleb was in ruins amidst the fires and devastation. Devout Christians did not allow the icon and relics kept in the church to be desecrated. The icon of the Mother of God was released along the Dnieper, and the relics of saints were hidden in a cache.

Church of the Holy Martyrs Boris and Gleb in Vyshgorod

Church of the Holy Martyrs Boris and Gleb in Vyshgorod, modern view.

Abandoning the burning city, the Tatars were crossing the Dnieper, when suddenly a storm broke out, and the enemies began perishing in the raging waves. One of the attackers, seeing the icon floating on the water, grabbed hold of it and climbed onto the image of the Holy Virgin as if on a raft. The icon floated along on its own, but soon stopped in the middle of the river before the Epiphany (better known as Brotherhood or Bratsky) Monastery on the bank of the Podol in Kiev. The cry of the frightened Tatar was heard by the monks who rushed to help. Thus the holy icon was recovered, bringing the Tatar to embrace Christianity and become a monk.

This happened on May 10, 1662. The image of the Most Holy Mother of God was received by Orthodox Christians with great joy and carried to the Kiev Brotherhood monastery with a procession and prayerful chants. Thus the icon also became associated with the Monastery where it remained for a long time.

The fame of the miracle-working icon spread far beyond Kiev and its suburbs, while in the city all the important matters like marriages, merchants' deals, legal cases, and disputes, were arranged only after a prayer service before it.

Every week people gathered in front of the icon to serve an akathist to the Theotokos. Some asked for help, while others gave thanks after their prayers had been heard. Monasteries and churches commissioned iconographers to make copies of the Kiev-Bratsk icon, wishing to worship this miraculous relic within their walls. A work entitled "Ode to the Miraculous Kievo-Bratsk Icon of the Mother of God" was written shortly after 1692.

Kiev Brotherhood Monastery and Theological Academy

Kiev Brotherhood Monastery and Theological Academy, early 19th century.

Every year, on August 1 and the Feast of Epiphany, the liturgy celebrated by the Metropolitan of Kiev with the participation of all city clergy was followed by a procession to the Dnieper River carrying the Kievo-Bratsk icon. The people of Kiev trusted their Heavenly Patroness and received speedy help.

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In 1853, a cholera epidemic began in Kiev. On Sunday of All Saints, a procession with the Kievo-Bratsk icon walked to the Zhitny market located in Podol district. During a prayer service in a chapel established there, people faithfully placed their home icons near the miracle-working Bratsk image.

With the help of the Queen of Heaven, people survived wars, epidemics and natural disasters, as well as the troubles of the twentieth century, considered by many witnesses as the dawning of the apocalypse.

Closure of the Monastery. Loss and Acquisition of the Miraculous Image

In 1919, the Soviet authorities closed the Brotherhood Monastery. The Kiev-Bratsk Icon of the Mother of God disappeared. Along with other sacred objects kept in the Monastery, the holy image was considered lost for a long time. There was no information about it until a research conducted in the 1990s established that the legendary image together with the five most valuable icons of the Monastery had been transferred to the All-Ukrainian Museum Settlement established in 1926 on the territory of the Kievo-Pechersk Lavra.

Holy Dormition Kiev-Pechersk Lavra

Holy Dormition Kiev-Pechersk Lavra

However, according to the record in the inventory book of the National Art Museum of Ukraine (NAMU) made in 1948, the fate of the five icons from the Brotherhood Monastery was unknown... Yet, in the 20th and 21st centuries many sacred items were rediscovered.

One of them was the Kievo-Bratsk icon, which is now part of the collection kept in the NAMU. The mystical rediscovery of the icon is seen by believers as confirmation of its miraculous nature. An exact copy of the icon can be seen at the Pokrovsky (Intercession) Monastery in Kiev.

Intercession Monastery in Kiev

Intercession Monastery in Kiev

Another copy of the Kiev-Bratsk Icon of the Mother of God is located in the Dormition Cathedral in Zvenigorod. This image is also famous for miracles. According to tradition, a procession with the wonderworking icon walked through the city streets when the enemy approached Zvenigorod in 1941.

Despite being close to the city, the enemy troops never entered its limits, were repulsed by the Soviet troops and never came back. To this day there are instances of healing from the sacred image and testimonies of numerous prayers being answered.

Icon in Visual Art

The history of the legendary icon is reflected not only in tradition and literary works. There are a number of engravings depicting the Kievo-Bratsk icon floating on the Dnieper. One of them, called "The Epiphany", was made on copper in 1693 to honour the consecration of the Kiev Brotherhood Monastery's Epiphany Cathedral. It depicts the Baptism of the Lord with a boat carrying the Kievo-Bratsk icon across the Dnieper River toward Kiev. To the left of the river is the Church of Sts. Boris and Gleb in Vyshgorod, and on the hills of the opposite bank stand the churches of the city of Kiev. Below, on Podol, is the Epiphany Cathedral of the Bratsky Monastery. Among the depicted worshipers there are Equal to the Apostles Prince Vladimir Sviatoslavovich and his sons, the holy passion-bearers Boris and Gleb.

“Theophany”, late 17th century engraving

“Theophany”, late 17th century engraving

On the 1706 engraving by Hilarion (Migura), the Kiev-Bratsk icon under a riza cover is placed in an elaborate baroque kiot, decorated with carvings and medallions.

In the 1713 engraving panegyric to B.P. Sheremetev, the Kievo-Bratsk icon is depicted in a riza decorated with ornaments. Angels hold a crown above the head of the Mother of God.

The Kievo-Bratsk icon of the Mother of God. Gravure

The Kievo-Bratsk icon of the Mother of God. Gravure, 1713.

Iconography of the Image

The iconography of the icon traces its composition to the ancient Byzantine Eleousa icon of the Theotokos. Translated from Greek, this means Merciful or Tenderness.

The attention of the Mother of God and Jesus Christ is turned to each other. The Theotokos holds the Divine Child close to Her, as He embraces His Holy Mother by the neck or touches Her cheek with His hand.

The icon measures 133.5 x 97 cm, the icon frame 144×108 cm.

Nowadays, the Kievo-Bratsk icon is adorned with a riza – a plating made of silver with chasing and gilding. The crown, wrist plate and star on the shoulder of Mary are decorated with diamonds, emeralds, amethysts, pearls, quartz, and citrines.

In general terms, the riza repeats the gravure of 1713. In contrast to the engraving, the current riza has no depiction of angels holding the crown over the head of the Theotokos. Today, as ever before, the decoration of icons is both a man-made creation of a likeness of paradise, and a way of expressing people's gratitude for receiving blessings and help.

Kiev-Bratsk Icon of the Mother of God

Kiev-Bratsk Icon of the Mother of God. 17-18th century.

Almost five centuries have passed since the Kievo-Bratsk icon was revealed as a wellspring of comfort and help to the Christian people. To this day She sails through the waters of human unbelief, sinfulness, and uncertainty. To this day She saves troubled souls, helps in tribulation, and shows us the way to Her Son. Our land is rich both in holy relics and glorious examples of salvation. We too can partake of these riches when we study our history, closely connected with the sacred and filled with inspiring examples of God's saints.

As always, we remind you of the opportunity to submit your prayer notes to our convent. Please follow the link below and select your prayer need. We will be glad to pray for you and your loved ones.

May 22, 2024
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Judith Murray

Dear Sister

This is a beautiful story about this Icon. Thank you for sharing it.

Many Blessings to all

Judith Murray