MOTHER OF GOD "THE SOFTENER OF EVIL HEARTS"
Sunday of All Saints / February 2
The Softener of Evil Hearts icon is also called the Prophecy of Simon (or Simons Prophecy) since St Symeon said to Mary, upon the presentation of Our Lord in the temple:
"Behold, this child is set for the falling and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sin which shall be spoken against. Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
The Theotokos is depicted in this icon with her heart pierced by seven swords; a symbolic number possibly indicating the the fullness and boundless sorrow, pain and "sickness of heart" that would have been experienced by the Mother of God at His crucifiction. Three of the swords enter her heart from the left, three swords enter from the right and one sword from underneath. This icon is very similar to the Seven Swords icon and they differ only in the arrangement of the swords. The “Softener of Evil Hearts” icon is commemorated on the Sunday of All Saints, although other references commemorate it February 2 / February 15.
According to the Evangelist Luke, the Holy Spirit told righteous Elder Symeon the God-receiver that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. And thus when, forty days after the Divine Infant's birth His parents brought Him to the Temple of Jerusalem, Symeon "was inspired" to come there as well, and took the Infant into his arms (hence the title "God-receiver"), and pronounced those famous words which ever since have been spoken at the conclusion of each Vesper service, and which are known as the Prayer of St. Symeon the God-receiver: "Now lettest Thou Thy servant to depart in peace, O Master, according to Thy word " After that, he blessed St. Joseph and the Most-pure Mother of Our Lord, and addressed Mary with that same prophecy. It was after he had blessed St. Joseph and the Most-immaculate Mother of the Savior, that he addressed Mary with that same prophecy: "Behold, this child is set for the falling and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sin which shall be spoken against. Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
This icon appears to have its origins in the southwestern Russia, however, no supporting documentation exists for its origins and where it first appeared.
During World War II, in the southern part of Voronezh Province, in a place known as Belogorye ("White Hill" a reference to the chalk cliffs on the right bank of the Don near the town of Pavlovsk), there was a detachment of Italian mountain artillery men, allies of the Nazis. During the second half of December 1942, soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Pereigo found a "Softener of Evil Hearts" Icon in a bombed-out house. They gave it to their military chaplain, Fr. Policarpo, who was from Valdania. According to the locals, the Icon had come from the Belogorye Cave Monastery of the Resurrection near Pavlovsk. The Italians called the Icon the "La Madonna del Don," the Madonna of the Don not to be confused with the Donskoy Icon of the Mother of God. After the Ostrog-Rossoshansk campaign by Soviet forces in January 1943, the remnants of the decimated Italian contingent left Russia. Chaplain Policarpo took the "Madonna of the Don" with him to Italy, where in Mestra, a part of Venice, a chapel was built to house it. It remains a center of mass pilgrimages by friends and relatives of the Italian soldiers who perished in Russia.
Finally, there is another miraculous icon of the same type in the cathedral in the town of Zhizdra, near Bryansk, in southwestern Kaluga Province. It was known as the "Strastnaya" (Passion) Icon or, as it was described in the Cathedral inventory, the "And a sword shall pierce through thy soul also" Icon. It is also commemorated on August 13, the same day as the "Seven Swords" Icon and the far better known "Passion" Icon, which is of an entirely different appearance (the original miracle-working icon is in the Monastery of the Passion in Moscow. On it, near the "Hodigitria" image are two Angels and the implements of the Lord's Passion the Cross, the sponge, and the spear. Unlike in other "Passion" icons, in the Zhizdra Icon the Immaculate One is depicted in an attitude of prayer. With one hand she supports the Infant lying at her feet; with the other hand she guards her breast against the seven swords pointed toward it. (1)
Icon That Streams Myrrh and Heals Hearts
Interview with Sergei Fomin, who travels with the icon of the Theotokos “Softener of Evil Hearts.”
The myrrh-streaming icon of the Mother of God “Softener of Evil Hearts” arrived in the U.S. from Russia. After gaining reverence in the Motherland, the icon is now traveling across America.
The icon is a plain lithography, the present-day work of Sofrino factory. It was kept in the Moscow apartment of Margarita Vorobyev. One day, the icon started streaming myrrh. This happened during the glorification of blessed Matrona of Moscow, on May 2, after the icon was placed on righteous Matrona’s holy relics. Some time later, the icon was transformed. Those who see it now cannot distinguish the lithography from an ancient icon.
Sergei Leonidovich Fomin, Margarita’s husband, told us that he came to the U.S. on the invitation of Archimandrite Luke, Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. Fr. Luke saw the icon during the session of the Church Council of January 2009, when the new Patriarch of Russia was elected. At that time, the icon streamed myrrh profusely. After serving a liturgy and offering collective prayer, Fr. Luke gave his blessing for the icon to be taken to churches and monasteries in the United States.
A military man by profession, Sergei Fomin told us that he’s been traveling with the icon for eight years, both in Russia and abroad.
At first - Sergei says - the holy image stayed in our home, where we read akathists and prayed … But, as the time went, the icon became well-known, and we started taking it to Moscow churches. Also, for us it was difficult to have visitors at home. After praying before the icon, many received help – some gave birth, some were cured of illness. People donated money, thus giving us the opportunity to build a chapel in honor of the icon Softener of Evil Hearts.
Now the chapel has become a church, although small, with an iconostasis and belfry. Our church is in the village of Bachurino, five kilometers from Moscow. Liturgies and molebens are served there.
This is not the only church built in honor of the icon. Churches are being built in places that we visited with it. One of them, not far from Larnaka in Cyprus, will be blessed soon.
In honor of the icon, churches were established in two prisons. One is in a prison for juvenile delinquents in Ryazan Region, where girls serve their terms for especially cruel crimes, including murder. Our benefactors took upon themselves the responsibility of building a church there. The girls helped them a lot; they even dug a foundation pit and wrote a song about the icon.
In Yaroslavl, a chapel in honor of the icon was built in a men’s prison. In the city of Barnaul, Altay, there is a chapel in an orphanage.
Mother of God travels to jails, nursing homes and hospitals. Even in Germany we visited several jails and detention wards. We try to take Her to every place where there are Russian, Serbian and Romanian Orthodox. Everywhere people pray to Her and receive comfort.
Which cities and countries, apart from those you’ve already named, did the icon visit?
Several times it was in Saint Petersburg, Saransk, Tcheboksary, Bryansk and Tula; Yaroslavl and Nizhni Novgorod Regions; Sevastopol, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Kostroma and many other cities and villages. It is impossible to name all. With the icon we were in Georgia, and a year ago – in Greece, on Mount Athos. We always have a very warm welcome in the Czech Republic, where we frequently go in May. There, not only Orthodox, but Catholics as well, come to pray before the Mother of God. There are also examples of healing. People receive holy baptism; Catholics convert to Orthodoxy. We, of course, travel to our former republics – the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Moldavia. Everywhere the icon is received with joy and hope.
Where has the icon been in the U.S., and where else will it go?
We went to the Bishops’ Synod Cathedral of the Theotokos of the Sign in New York, its neighboring St. Nicholas Cathedral of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Church of New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in Brooklyn, St. Seraphim Church in Sea Cliff, Protection Church in Nyack, St. Seraphim Church of Novo-Diveevo Monastery and its nursing home, and St. Nicholas Cathedral in Stratford, Connecticut. In every place akathists and molebens were served. Great numbers of faithful came to venerate the holy image. People asked for healing of their physical ailments; comfort in sorrow, grief and disharmony; softening of their own and the loved ones’ hearts; spiritual and emotion support.
Next we will travel to Boston, Washington, Jordanville, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Please, tell us about the most memorable instances of divine help you witnessed.
There are many couples now that, for medical reasons, cannot have children. Often, after such couples pray before the icon, they are able to have a baby.
Usually people tell us their stories of healing when we come to a city or church for the second time. I remember how in Yalta a paralyzed teen was brought to the icon. By the evening he was walking. He could not speak, though. When we came there for the second time, his grandmother asked for a drop of myrrh. She said she would put it on the boy’s tongue, and, maybe, he will be able to talk.
A similar case took place in Barnaul. On the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, a four-year-old girl was brought to the icon. She was paralyzed from birth. Next day, for the first time in her life, the child tried to walk. When we came to Barnaul the following year, the girl’s mother, in gratitude, gave the Mother of God her golden chain and cross.
Just before our departure to the United States, we were told the following story. An eighteen- month-old girl developed herpes of the mouth. The doctor, whom the baby’s mother asked for help, misdiagnosed her. Subsequently, the treatment given to the girl was wrong, and the baby started suffocating. Then, the mother asked for myrrh, and, on her friend’s advice, put the myrrh in the girl’s mouth. That same day, for the first time in many months, the baby went to sleep peacefully. By morning, her mouth was clean, and the remaining few tiny wounds healed quickly.
We cannot read all these stories, described in detail by different people, without tears of gratitude for the Holy Virgin’s gracious help.
We were told about the icon’s assistance in ordinary life as well. In Yaroslavl, a young woman was a member of the “New Generation” sect and did not accept Orthodoxy. At that time, we brought the icon to the Tolga Convent. The woman’s mother came to the icon and prayed that her daughter would come to the icon, too. In the evening they came together to kiss the icon, and the next morning the daughter said she wanted to be baptized. She left the sect and became a churchgoer. Relations between mother and daughter improved.
A moleben was served before the icon in the administrative building of the Chelyabinsk regional government. The mayor of Chelyabinsk received holy baptism at the time of our visit.
Did the Theotokos help you personally when you prayed before Her icon?
The most obvious case of assistance was in Sakhalin, when I prayed to Her very hard. We go to Sakhalin every January. It takes 10 hours by plane to get there. Once, when we got up early upon arrival, there was a blizzard, and all the drivers refused to take us across the hills. To make the things worse, while leaving the house, I fell, twisted my ankle and was in no condition to walk. We were supposed to go to the church of the neighboring city of Aleksandrovsk.
My companions picked me up and placed me on the seat of an all-terrain vehicle that was to take us to the church. The priest, who was with us, remarked that, if we were city government officials, we would have gotten the best transportation. But, he said, the Mother of God does not mind traveling in a truck.
As we were driving, I worried a lot that I would not be able to go with the icon any further. I prayed that my ankle would heal soon. In the city my friends took me to the hospital. My ankle swelled and looked like one big bruise. The doctor bandaged it, and by evening I was able to walk; by next morning I even ran. When I returned to Moscow, it hurt only a little and soon healed completely.
I will say more. A good friend of mine, a former commander of “Alpha,” the special forces of the Federal Security Service, always anointed his soldiers with oil from the icon before they went on a mission to “hot spots” – for hostage rescue and other special operations. No bullet ever touched any of them.
Sergei, where will the icon go in the near future?
First of all, we have our own church now. People come there for services so they can pray to the icon. They don’t want it to leave the church for long periods of time.
But so many people know about the icon; they love it and wait for it. The icon comes not only to large cathedrals, but also to distant villages, country priests and their small parishes – where no sacred thing was ever brought before.
Our upcoming trip is to France and Belgium. We will also try to bring the icon to the church blessing festivities in Cyprus.
… As Sergei and I talked, more and more people were coming, and the akathist was being served in an already overfilled church.
In comparison with churchgoers in Russia, Russians living abroad are more reserved, collected, and, in my opinion, less emotional. In silence, people approached the holy image, prayed for awhile, and carefully pressed their small copies of the icon on the original. And then, they stayed a little longer, taking in the heavenly aroma that flowed from the sacred image. (2)
Interview by Tatiana Vesyolkina
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