MOTHER OF GOD OF KAZAN
July 8 / October 22
The image of Our Lady of Kazan is said to have come to Russia from Constantinople in the 13th century. After the Tatars besieged Kazan and made it the capital of their khanate in 1438, the icon disappeared, and it is not mentioned again until the 16th century, some years after the liberation of Kazan by Ivan the Terrible in 1552.
After a fire destroyed Kazan in 1579, the Virgin appeared in a prophetic dream to a 10-year-old girl named Matrona and told her where to find the precious image again. As instructed, Matrona told the archbishop about her dream, but he would not take her seriously. After two more such dreams, on July 8, 1579, the girl and her mother themselves dug up the image, buried under the ashes of a house, where it had been hidden long before to save it from the Tatars. The unearthed icon looked as bright and beautiful as if it were new. The archbishop repented of his unbelief and took the icon to the Church of St. Nicholas, where a blind man was cured that very day. Hermogen, the priest at this church, later became Metropolitan of Kazan. He brought the icon to Kazan's Cathedral of the Annunciation and established July 8 as a feast in honor of the Theotokos of Kazan. It is from Hermogen's chronicle, written at the request of the tsar in 1595, that we know of these events.
By 1612, when Moscow was occupied by Polish invaders, Hermogen had become Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. From prison, he called for a three-day fast and ordered the icon of Our Lady of Kazan to be brought to Princes Minin and Pozharsky, who were leading the resistance to the occupation. This icon — possibly the original, but more likely a copy — was carried before their regiments as they fought to regain the capital from the Poles. When the Polish army was finally driven from Moscow on October 22, 1612, the victory was attributed to the intercession of the Mother of God, and the Kazan icon became a focal point for Russian national sentiments. Later that year, when Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich came to the throne, he appointed both July 8 and October 22 as feasts in honor of Our Lady of Kazan.
The victorious Prince Dmitry Pozharsky financed the construction of a small wooden church dedicated to the Virgin of Kazan in the Moscow Kremlin. The icon was kept there until the small church burnt down in 1632. The tsar ordered the construction of a larger brick cathedral to replace it. After its completion in 1638, the icon remained there in Moscow's Kazan Cathedral for nearly two centuries. It was regularly borne in solemn liturgical processions along the city walls as the protectress of Moscow. The intercession of Our Lady of Kazan was successfully invoked against a Swedish invasion in 1709, and again when Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. To commemorate this latter victory, Peter the Great had the Kazan icon moved to the new Kazan Cathedral in his new capital, St. Petersburg, in 1821.
By this time, the Kazan icon had achieved immense popularity, and there were nine or ten separate miracle-working copies of the icon around the country. There is considerable disagreement about which of these, if any, was the original. Some claim the original remained housed in Kazan, while others hold that the one moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg was the original. Many experts, however, believe the original was lost and both of the venerated Kazan icons were early copies. In any case, both icons disappeared in the early 20th century. The one in Kazan was stolen in 1904 and probably destroyed by the thieves, who were more interested in its jeweled gold covering. The one in St. Petersburg disappeared after the October Revolution of 1917. Some say it was smuggled out of the country to protect it from the Bolsheviks, while others suggest the Communists themselves hid it and later sold it abroad. But during World War II, an icon of the Virgin of Kazan surfaced in Leningrad to lead a procession around the fortifications of the Nazi-besieged city. (1)
A reputed original (one of several in existence) was acquired by the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima and enshrined in Fátima, Portugal in the 1970s. The image proved to be a copy, dated by experts to ca. 1730.
In 1993, the icon from Fátima was given to Pope John Paul II, who took it to the Vatican and had it installed in his study, where he venerated it for eleven years. In his own words, "...it has found a home with me and has accompanied my daily service to the Church with its motherly gaze." John Paul II wished to visit Moscow or Kazan to personally return the icon to the Russian Orthodox Church. When these efforts were blocked by the Moscow Patriarchate, the icon was presented to the Russian Church unconditionally in August 2004. On August 26, 2004 it was exhibited for veneration on the altar of St. Peter's Basilica and then delivered to Moscow. On the next feast day of the holy icon, July 21, 2005, Patriarch Alexius II and Mintimer Shaymiev, the President of Tatarstan, placed it in the Annunciation Cathedral of the Kazan Kremlin.
The icon is enshrined in the Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, the site where the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan was found. (2)
O fervent intercessor, Mother of the Lord Most High, thou dost pray to thy Son Christ our God and savest all who seek thy protection. O Sovereign Lady and Queen, help and defend all of us who in trouble and trials, in pain and burdened with sins, stand in thy presence before thine icon, and who pray with compunction, contrition, and tears and with unflagging hope in thee. Grant what is good for us, deliverance from evil, and save us all, O Virgin Mother of God, for thou art a divine protection to thy servants.
O peoples, let us run to that quiet good haven, to the speedy helper, the warm salvation, to the Virgin's protection. Let us speed to prayer and hasten to repentance. For the Mother of God pours out her mercy, anticipates needs, and averts disasters for her patient and God-fearing servants.
LETTER OF PATRIARCH ALEXI II TO THE HOLY FATHER JOHN PAUL II ON THE OCCASION OF THE RETURN TO RUSSIA OF THE KAZAN ICON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
August 28, 2004
I wholeheartedly thank you for having handed the Kazan Icon of our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary over to the Russian Orthodox Church. On August 28, 2004, the Feast of the most glorious Dormition of the Theotokos, the representative delegation of the Roman Catholic Church led by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, presented us with this icon after a solemn divine service at the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Moscow Kremlin, which was overcrowded with the faithful who came on this sacred day to lift up their prayers to the Most Holy Theotokos.
The transfer of this holy icon brought over by your envoys is seen by the Plenitude of the Russian Orthodox Church as both an act of the restoration of justice and an act of good will on the part of Your Holiness. I believe that your decision to hand over the icon points to the sincere desire to overcome the difficulties existing in relations between our two Churches. May this event become our common contribution to the overcoming of negative consequences of the 20th century history marked with persecution against the faith of Christ unprecedented in scale.
The veneration of the Mother of God as "the zealous intercessor for the Christian race" (Akathistos to the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God) - the veneration common to the Orthodox and Catholic Churches - brings us back to the times of the Early Church when there were no divisions between East and West so visible, regretfully, in our days. The Russian Orthodox Church, always, even in the most difficult moments in her relations with the Roman Catholic Church, has invariably stated her willingness to develop these relations in the spirit of sincere cooperation. We see in the transfer of the Kazan Icon a step in the right direction in the belief that in the future everything that is possible will be done to settle certain problems standing between our Churches.
Good relations between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches, which "the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace" (Is. 9:6) calls us to realize not in words but in deeds, are extremely important for the future of Europe and the whole world. The preaching of Christian values to the secularized society will be successful only if all Christians fulfil the Saviour's commandment of love: "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn. 13:34). Openness in relations among Christians of various confessions presupposes respect for one another, knowledge of their common history and sensitivity in carrying out any actions in territories where other Christian tradition has existed for centuries.
Once again, I would like to thank Your Holiness from my heart for the gift and to express hope that the Most Holy Theotokos as "a swift and selfless healer of infirmities and divisions" (Akathistos to the Kazan Icon of the Theotokos) will send Her grace and mercy upon the faithful of our two Churches. (3)
With love in the Lord,
| NEXT | HOME |