On May 1, we remember one of Russia's oldest icons of the Mother of God, Maximovskaya, painted presumably in 1299. Its history assures us that if we pray sincerely and with trust, the Mother of God will not refuse to intercede for us—even in our darkest moments. She will hasten to our rescue, as she saved our ancestors in the far-off 13th century when Russia was ruled by a foreign power, religion and church life were in decline, icons and books were being looted, and Christ's teachings were being lost.
No other image could be mistaken for this one. It shows Mary in full stature holding the Christ Child on her arm. She extends a bishop's omophorion to a man standing to the right, depicted as being far smaller than Mary or, in other variants, kneeling in front of Her.
The man is Metropolitan Maximus, also known as Saint Maximus of Vladimir. He led the Church of Russia from 1283 to 1305. For the Church and the people, these were trying times. He made many trips to the Golden Horde, served as a peacemaker between rival Russian rulers, worked hard to bring order back to church life, and fought against ignorance and obscurity. Metropolitan Maximus moved his cathedra from Kiev to Vladimir, mindful of his country's difficult situation. The icon was created in honour of the miraculous appearance of the Holy Theotokos that helped him see that he had made the right choice.
The Mother of God gave Maximus her omophorion as a token of Her protection and praised him for his wisdom. She said, "My servant Maximus, it is good that you visit my city. Take this omophorion, and shepherd my city's rational sheep." He discovered the omophorion in his hands when he woke up. He shared his vision with Grand Duke Andrew of Vladimir, who then gave the order to set the image in a golden coffer and install it in a new church built for the icon that become known as Maximovskaya.
The icon worked miracles and quickly became famous throughout the land. In one notable example, a rich nobleman's son was in critical condition. His parents called the doctors, but they could do nothing for the young man, who was withering away by the minute. His parents prayed to the Mother of God in desperation. They served a Moleben and brought the icon of Our Lady Maximovskaya to their lodgings. As soon as the young man placed his lips on the image, the crisis passed, his illness subsided, and he recovered fully. Their tearful plea was heard, and the Merciful Helper and Protectress of all Christians interceded on their behalf.
The icon also saw bravery and extraordinary feats. Invading Tartars in 1412 wanted the golden coffer and the omophorion, which Patricius the treasure keeper had concealed with the other treasures in a safe location. When the Tartars broke inside the church, they brutally tortured Patricius to get him to reveal the secret. The treasure keeper, however, would sooner perish than reveal. He took the secret to his grave, and the treasures have never been discovered since.
The icon is now preserved in the Vladimir-Suzdal Museum. Although it is in poor condition, it still can perform miracles. It continues to help the faithful see the wisdom of Divine Providence, elevate their hearts to face their anxieties and regain their spirit power. Believers turn to the icon for assistance in conquering their life difficulties, finding relief from their physical and mental illnesses, and bringing peace back to their country. On this day, we ask the Most Holy Theotokos to implore Her Son to strengthen the Orthodox Church and to keep our hearts at peace in the Orthodox Faith.