Reflecting on how our spiritual and earthly needs are connected

"Multiplier of Wheat" icon — nourishment of the body and spirit

October 26, 2021

field with wheat

The icon of the Holy Theotokos "Multiplier of Wheat" - commemorated on 28 October - stands out among all the other images of Her present in the liturgical calendar of our Church. It brings together in a remarkable way the heaven and the earth, the sublime and the mundane. The icon is a realistic depiction of the Holy Virgin. Below is the reaped wheat of the new crop, a reminder of our daily bread. Above the field, we see the Theotokos on a cloud. Raising her hands in fervent prayer to God, she asks Him to take care of the urgent needs of His people.

Saint Ambrose of Optina, a prominent Optina elder, inspired the creation of this icon in many ways. It was painted in 1890 by the sisters of Shamordino Convent that he had established and was a part of the elder's spiritual ministry and pastoral care for the people in great need. At this time, a devastating famine was raging throughout Russia. Many thousands of people were at risk of dying from hunger. In his prayer, Elder Ambrose petitioned the Mother of God for her assistance. She came to him in a dream and promised to intercede before God for the needs of the hungry. The elder described the image of the Theotokos to the nuns and asked them to depict it in the icon. He sent copies of the icon to his disciples, instructing them to pray for the suffering and give generously to them.

The elder's spiritual concern for the needy yielded tangible fruit. In the year when the icon was painted, the peasants in the environs of Shamordino Convent had a good crop. Two years later, a copy was sent to Voronezh, and a Moleben was served. A few days later, it rained, the fields got water, and the famine subsided.

The icon "Multiplier of Wheat" has a special significance to our brothers and sisters at the farmsteads of our Convent. Our ministry among them has a deep spiritual meaning. We seek to show to every resident of our farmsteads the way of their salvation. We want all of them to inherit everlasting life with God in His Kingdom of Heaven. Yet the way of salvation is full of worldly labours. Everyone needs to see the fruit of their works to keep them from despair. And so we pray before the icon for a good crop and the success of our good works.

Believers invoke the icon praying for the help of the Holy Theotokos in meeting their basic needs, avoiding droughts, gathering a good crop, and daily sustenance. Saint Ambrose of Optina left us his short prayer before this icon: "Please give us, your unworthy children, O Lord, but a drop of Your grace." In it, we hear a poignant reminder. Despite the importance of our worldly comforts, dedicating our whole lives to their pursuit would be a sad mistake. No one can learn generosity without giving. Likewise, one cannot find love without passing it on lavishly to others. On the feast day of the icon "Multiplier of Wheat", we pray that none of us will neglect the nourishment of our spirits as we work hard to earn our daily bread.

Alexander Piskounov

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