Yandex Metrika
The History of the Appearance of Luhansk Icon of the Mother of God

Luhansk's Holy Defender: the Virgin and Elder

Luhansk Icon of the Mother of God

Within the confines of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Luhansk, an extraordinary icon of the Mother of God, painted in 1992, beckons the faithful and curious alike. As one approaches this awe-inspiring masterpiece, the Holy Virgin’s full stature comes into view, her arms crossed in a gesture reminiscent of the “Tenderness” icon, each detail filled with profound symbolic meaning. Every Wednesday, before the Divine Liturgy, the entire clergy gathers at the centre of the church to serve an Akathist to the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos before this revered icon. However, it is during three days in June, from the 13th to the 15th, that the icon’s commemoration reaches its mystical zenith.

This same image adorns the walls of a chapel built at the resting place of the Luhansk elder, Philip. On the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God in 2002, this mural began to exude myrrh abundantly, as if the Holy Virgin herself was highlighting Elder Philip’s sanctity once more. His prophecies continue to stir the hearts and minds of believers. It was Elder Philip who decreed the three-day celebration of the icon he so deeply venerated. The very appearance, name, and miracles associated with this icon are intricately entwined with his destiny.

The chapel by Elder Philip’s grave

The chapel by Elder Philip’s grave

Threefold miracle: the Mother of God appears to the elder

In the early 20th century, Philip Eliseevich Gorbenko, then about 50 years old, worked as a guard at one of Luhansk’s factories. He was known for his integrity and incorruptibility. On 13th June 1905 (new style), a delivery of timber in four carts was expected at the factory. The workers escorting the load succumbed to temptation and conspired to hide one cart, thinking that Philip would neither count them nor know the exact number.

However, as Philip opened the gate, he noticed the missing cart and saw through their deceit. He questioned them sternly, “Where is the missing cart? One is missing. Do you think you’ll be richer by heeding the devil’s counsel?”

But this did not bring the workers to their senses. Unrepentant, the workers chose not to return the stolen cart but conspired to silence Phillip permanently fearing retribution if he reported them. At midnight, as he finished his shift and walked through the factory grounds, four conspirators sneaked up on him with murderous intent. One grabbed a stone and prepared to strike Philip’s head. But before he could act, all four men were struck blind — the night sky was suddenly illuminated by an extraordinary brilliant light. Stunned by this divine intervention at such a perilous moment, Philip began to pray fervently.

Elder Philip with parishioners

Elder Philip with parishioners during a Gospel reading in the garden

As he gazed upward, Philip beheld the Queen of Heaven herself, walking upon the clouds, and knew she was forty years old. With spiritual discernment, he realized that few were worthy of such a vision and humbly excluded himself from their ranks. To guard against potential demonic deception, Philip crossed himself and recited prayers aloud, yet the vision persisted. Golden letters appeared in the sky, forming the words he had just spoken: “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered!” Those who had intended to kill him stood nearby, blinded by the intense light, unable to see the Holy Virgin. Their hearts, ensnared by evil forces, could not receive such sublime grace.

The vision continued, lingering in a celestial display that was anything but fleeting. The Holy Virgin, preceded by maidens — many of whom knelt in reverence — moved slowly from West to East. Even when the miraculous apparition faded from the sky, a radiant glow remained, and Philip gazed upon it, praying fervently to the Queen of Heaven.

The apparition of the Mother of God to Elder Philip

The apparition of the Mother of God to Elder Philip

In a divine twist, the Mother of God appeared once more, now garbed differently and in another location. This time, Philip knew she was sixty years old. She walked upon the clouds from South to North, her arms crossed in a manner that evoked deep reverence. Following her were monks who sang hymns. To Philip’s astonishment, he recognised a familiar face — leading the procession with a lit lantern was Marochka, a holy fool known throughout Luhansk. Marochka, small, thin, and barefoot, always sat by the cathedral’s entrance, pleading with passers-by for a kopeck. He accepted no other coin.

Marochka bore the ascetic feat of foolishness for Christ and lived in Luhansk until the 1950s. On that heavenly day, monks carrying banners followed Marochka two by two. After some time, Philip beheld the Mother of God once again, this time in white garments, walking towards him. Now, she appeared as an eighteen-year-old maiden.

Just before reaching Philip, the Queen of Heaven stamped her foot, causing a burst of sparks to form a small mound beneath her. Standing upon this mound, she lifted the veil that had fallen onto her shoulders and spoke to Philip: “By the will of My Son, you find yourself here in Luhansk. Divine Providence has guided you here for service to God and His people. From this day forth, the grace of My Son and my assistance will be with you. You will aid people by driving out demons through prayer, enlightening them, and healing them. Through my intercession, no harm shall befall you. Remember this day of my appearance in Luhansk and teach everyone to honour it. As for this city, know that at the end of times, it shall be called Holy City Luhansk. Many will flock here in those dreadful days, not knowing why. My help and blessing will be with them on Judgement Day. I will be an intercessor for this place and an advocate before God.”

After blessing Philip, the Queen of Heaven departed. He stood in a daze for some time and, upon regaining his senses, saw his would-be assailants lying on the ground, blinded by the heavenly light. They later recounted that alongside the celestial radiance, a brick wall had risen, shielding Philip from their murderous intent and even obscuring the sky. News of this divine intervention quickly spread throughout the city. From that day forward, Philip not only experienced spiritual joy but also received divine gifts. For the rest of his life, he lived in the light of this event.

Philip Eliseevich later became a deacon and lived for nearly a century. Throughout his life, he steadfastly proclaimed that the Most Holy Theotokos had appeared not solely for his salvation but had extended her maternal protection over all the inhabitants of Luhansk. Her path across the sky had formed a cross; she had blessed Luhansk with her holy cross. “Honour this day as you would Easter,” Elder Philip instructed.

From humble painting to sacred relic

Just as he had directed, the apparition of the Mother of God in Luhansk is celebrated over three days: the 13th, 14th, and 15th of June, corresponding to the number of her appearances. To commemorate this event — the cross-shaped procession of the Theotokos over the city — an unknown artist painted an icon based on Elder Philip’s account.

It was completed on a canvas approximately 60x80 cm, and housed in a slender frame without glass.

In the 1950s, this image resided in the elder’s cell. It was photographed, and several copies were made and painted with acrylics. The original image, however, was hidden away “for better times.”

On 22 November 1956, Deacon Philip reposed. Over his grave, a tomb was constructed, designed by the elder himself. He had thoughtfully included a niche in one of the walls for the icon of the Mother of God of Luhansk, capturing the most significant event of his life and the history of his beloved city.

After the elder’s death, the icon was lost, leaving the niche empty. There seemed to be no hope that it had survived to our times. But recently, it emerged that the icon had not vanished after all. It was discovered by employees of Luhansk Regional Television, who had travelled to the town of Alexandrovsk to film a documentary about Elder Philip for their series “Gubernia.”

orthodox music

In his twilight years, Father Philip served as a deacon in the church of Alexandrovsk. As the film crew arrived at the church’s threshold, they encountered an elderly parishioner who had known and conversed with the elder.

Before long, despite some challenges, the journalists managed to locate the icon that had been presumed lost. It turned out that it had been carefully preserved, hidden from public view and passed down through generations. The crew, numbering fifteen, witnessed the icon in the hands of the third generation of custodians. After this brief revelation, the icon was wrapped in lace fabric and taken away to be safeguarded once again.

Journalist Elena Rooney described the encounter as follows:

“I’m not sure if it could be called an icon. It was more like a painting depicting an event. It was a thin, fragile fabric, rather unimposing and modest. Quite unlike the one painted in 1992. The new icon, adorned in silver and gold, now resides in the church.”

The true value of the rediscovered icon lies not in its artistic craftsmanship or embellishment but in its connection to Elder Philip’s prophecies. He foretold that during difficult times, it would serve as a beacon of salvation for the city and influence its history.

However, the time to reveal the icon to the public has not yet arrived. The custodians have stated that they await a sign from the elder indicating when it is time to bring the icon forth.

According to tradition, Elder Philip had predicted its loss. He also warned that there would be much falsehood and idle talk surrounding this image. Indeed, today it is challenging to discern truth from fiction in both the history of the Luhansk Mother of God icon and the life of Elder Philip. Legends, rumours, and incredible stories accompany every mention of them.

Some believe that the icon which stood in the elder’s cell no longer exists. Others hold that it does exist but cannot reside in a church because it is not canonical. Moreover, Elder Philip has not been canonised. Nevertheless, there is undeniable popular veneration: priests regularly conduct memorial services in the chapel where he is buried; people constantly come to pray and seek help; and next to the chapel — now too small to accommodate all who wish to enter — a church has been built in honour of All Saints.

The Church of All Saints in Luhansk

The Church of All Saints in Luhansk

Undying flame: Elder Philip’s legacy of healing

The elder was buried in the old cemetery of Luhansk, near the bus station, adjacent to the trolleybus depot and not far from the Annunciation Church. As mentioned earlier, a second church has now emerged there — the All Saints Church.

From one person to another, the prophecies of Elder Philip are passed down. Everyone in Luhansk and its surroundings is familiar with the event that, according to the elder’s words, will bring renown to the city: “Luhansk will sink in the centre, go underground, and there will be a lake. People will come to this lake to pray.”

Will this come to pass literally, or is it an allegory? There is no definitive answer. Whether a part of the city will indeed sink, as has happened before in history, remains a mystery. However, what is clear is that after visiting Elder Philip’s grave and praying there, people genuinely find relief, experience healing, and see their complex situations resolved.

Father Philip had no surviving relatives, yet since his passing, his grave has been well-tended, with a vigil lamp burning perpetually. Today, it still flickers before an image of the elderly deacon holding a loaf of white bread. This image recalls the elder’s words: “Whoever remembers me and prays to the Most Holy Mother of God of Luhansk will be fed with bread both on earth and in heaven.” People venerate Elder Philip, visiting his grave as a holy site, attending memorial services, reading the Akathist to the Quick-to-Hear Virgin, and asking the Luhansk elder to intercede for their needs. Like many saints, he promised to help those who come to his grave.

Image of Elder Philip with a loaf of bread

Image of Elder Philip with a loaf of bread

“Foreigners will come and bow…”

Under Soviet rule, the city of Luhansk was renamed Voroshilovgrad. People quickly adapt to new names. Some asked the elder about the icon, wondering how it would be called now — Voroshilovgrad Icon? To which he replied: “The city was and will remain Luhansk. The name of that bandit will be erased from history’s pages and forgotten by people.” And so it happened. The elder foresaw this.

He also foresaw that the icon would disappear. He predicted that future generations would glorify the Luhansk icon of the Mother of God. But it would be a different icon, not his — another would be painted, capturing his vision of the Mother of God. “They will carry the icon crosswise through the entire city. Foreigners will come and bow. And you will follow, singing and rejoicing,” said the elder.

And so it came to pass. With the blessing of Archbishop Ioannikiy of Luhansk and Starobelsk, during Great Lent in 1992, the finest iconographer at that time, Archimandrite Zinon from Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery, painted the image of the Luhansk Icon of the Mother of God. Executed in Byzantine tradition yet unparalleled in its uniqueness, Archimandrite Zinon miraculously captured on the icon the apparition of the Most Holy Mother of God to Philip, all milestones of Her earthly life, and Her significance in the spiritual realm. It is a harmonious and complete image, created with simplicity and fullness.

Archimandrite Zinon (Theodore) at work on a fresco

Archimandrite Zinon (Theodore) at work on a fresco

On 21 December 2017, the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church bestowed its blessing for the veneration of the Luhansk Icon of the Mother of God, designating 13 June as its feast day. This sacred icon now resides in the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Luhansk.

The icon explained

The background of the icon is a celestial lapis lazuli, reminiscent of the heavens. The Mother of God appeared to Philip at night, surrounded by twelve stars, symbolising the apostles. She is depicted standing alone, embodying the Oranta iconographic type, also known as the Unbreakable Wall.

Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Luhansk

Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Luhansk

At the base of the icon are seven precious stones, representing the seven Sacraments of the Church. The upper part of this base, symbolising the Church, gleams with gold, evoking the immaterial light revealed in Luhansk. The icon masterfully blends a specific historical event from 1905 with profound spiritual and theological significance. Fifteen golden rays signify the number of Local Orthodox Churches united in a single Church.

In the lower part of the background, the azure transitions to green, symbolising the earth. This fusion of colours reminds us that we are beholding the Queen of Heaven and Earth.

Luhansk Icon of the Mother of God

Luhansk Icon of the Mother of God

The attire of the Mother of God is rich with symbolism. Her blue chiton signifies virginal purity, while her red belt and shoes denote royal authority.

Her maphorion — a wide outer garment — drapes gracefully from her left shoulder, adorned with seven golden pendants representing the archangels. We honour her as more honourable than the Cherubim, acknowledging through her the Incarnation of the Son of God.

On her head covering are always three stars — one on each shoulder and one on her forehead — symbolising her perpetual virginity.

The embellishments on her veil include 72 pearls, indicating the years of the Blessed Virgin’s earthly life.

This exquisite image draws those who come to pray and remember the miracle that occurred in Luhansk in 1905. Each person brings their petitions and hopes — some plead for assistance, others offer thanks. Let us also give thanks to our Heavenly Lady, who never ceases to bestow her miracles upon us, fortifying our faith and touching our hearts with her boundless love for us, sinners though we may be.

June 12, 2024
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