The Russian Orthodox have a long history of venerating the Most Holy Theotokos, and on 21 June we commemorate the Yaroslavl Icon of the Mother of God. At the most perilous and difficult junctures in their lives and the history of their country, the faithful stand before this image and make known to the Mother of God their most sincere pleas as well as their profound confidence and faith in Her aid and intercession. Invariably, they have received the courage to face their trials, sorrows, and anguish and found consolation and reassurances of Her love and kindness.
The icon is of the Eleusa type and shows Jesus and His mother in a warm embrace. Mary puts her arm around him as a symbol of Her unending love, as the Infant Jesus rests his hand on her cheek. The image is deeply revered by all the faithful, confident that She would extend the same kindness to them.
The icon was initially discovered during the Tartar-Mongol conquest of Russia. The Holy Venerable princes Basil and Constantine brought this icon to Yaroslavl in the thirteenth century soon after the tragic defeat of the Russian armies from the hordes of the Mongol Khan Batu. This image of the Mother of God has given comfort and reassurance to many Russians during the most trying moments of this invasion. Many people saw its finding as a prediction of future victories and better times ahead.
Over ages and through many dramatic occurrences, the holy image of the Mother of God of Yaroslavl has been a part of people's lives. People prayed before it for the liberation of their nation from Polish oppression. Prince Pozharsky, who led the Russian people's resistance to the invaders, was blessed with this icon for his mission to recapture the Russian capital. The icon saw the beginning and end of the Romanov dynasty's reign. Mikhail, the first of the Romanovs, venerated it at his enthronement. Likewise, the last of the Romanovs, Saint Nicholas II, prayed before it in 1913.
The icon's original was kept until the 1930s at Yaroslavl's Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos, but it was lost shortly after the church was shut down. Still, the icon survived in its multiple copies. In 1998, an iconographer and restorer from Murmansk delivered an antique icon, which turned out to be one of the oldest copies of the Icon of the Mother of God of Yaroslavl. Its owners had little idea how it had got to them.
The artisan worked on restoring it for more than two years. He presented it to his Godmother after he was finished, and she eventually gave it to a church in Saint Petersburg. The Yaroslavl Archbishop and Rostov Kirill heard about the icon. His prayers were answered in 2003 when the icon was returned to Yaroslavl and placed in the St. Theodore Metropolitan Church.
As they venerate the relic, the faithful pray to the Mother of God for help in their spiritual advancement, and protection from illness, acrimonious disputes and enemy invasion. Invariably, the Mother of God has granted the pleas of those who turned to Her in faith. In the words of the Holy Venerable Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, "When you see an image of the Most Holy Theotokos, turn to her with all your heart, and thank her wholeheartedly for Her unfailing protection and mercy as we continue to wage our invisible struggle."
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