The Mother of God is one of the most revered saints in this part of the world, and there are many feast days throughout the church year dedicated to her various icons. Yet the icon whose finding we celebrate on 15 March stands out among the rest by its solemnity and unusual history. It is called “Derzhavnaya”, or reigning, and depicts the Mother of God on a royal throne, with the Christ Child on her lap and the regalia of the Russian monarch in her hands. Her face is austere, and her eyes are filled with tears. Looking down from above, the Christ-child is giving his blessing, addressed perhaps to Tsar Nicholas and his family, the royal passion-bearers, who never cursed their fate or grumbled at his captors for their harsh and contemptuous treatment.
The icon dates back to at least 1812. The Russian armies carried it ahead of them as they fought back the Napoleonic invasion. Soon afterwards, however, the icon was forgotten and lost, until it was rediscovered in March 1917. The finding occurred on the day of the abdication from the throne of Tsar Nicholas II, one of the most difficult moments in the history of Russia.
At the time, the icon was not taken seriously by any of the parties involved – the provisional government, the people or even the Church. The Bolsheviks confiscated the original and placed it in a museum, labelling it one of Rusia’s “most counterrevolutionary depictions of the Mother of God”.
The spiritual message of the icon revealed itself with time. It promises eventual forgiveness to the Russian people and the return of the supreme power from the Holy Theotokos after a long period of suffering and repentance. Until that moment of forgiveness, the Mother of God would keep her power.
Soon the icon began to reveal its bright colours, and the robe of the Mother of God turned blood red. Services were written to this icon and many people flocked to venerate it. Healings, both physical and mental infirmities began to take place. Eventually, nearly every church in this part of the world kept a copy of the reigning icon.
The Reigning Icon of the Mother of God takes a prominent place among the relics of Saint Elisabeth Convent. Its largest church, also called “festive” is dedicated to it. Construction of the church began in 2000, and in 2008 the Patriarch of Moscow Alexis II and Metropolitan Philaret of Belarus consecrated it. All of its icons, frescoes and interior décor were completed by the brothers and sisters of our Convent.
The icon gives protection to people and countries at their most difficult moments. On the feast day of the church of the Reigning Icon, our prayers go for the sick and the destitute among whom we are conducting our ministries and for the country and people of Belarus that they find a way out of their difficult circumstances, discover God’s will and obey it.