The Secret of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God

On July 9th (June 26th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God.

This icon of the Holy Virgin, holding the Infant Christ on Her left hand, appeared in Russia in 1382 under the following circumstances. In the region of Great Novgorod, a group of fishermen were fishing on Lake Ladoga. Suddenly a glittering ray of light illuminated them from above… Gazing up into the sky, they saw a wondrous miracle: an icon of the Mother of God, shining like the sun, glided in the air above the waters. The fishermen were terrified at first, but subsequently were overcome with great joy. Abandoning their nets, they ran after the icon, wishing to see where it was going and where it would rest. But the holy icon soon disappeared from view and became invisible.

Afterwards this wondrous icon of the Mother of God made a miraculous appearance in various other places in the Novgorod region, coming down to earth and staying with people for a while, healing the sick and performing many other miracles. In all the places blessed by the visitation of the miraculous icon, the faithful at first built chapels and later replaced them with churches. Thus the holy icon went from place to place, carried on air as a light cloud, until it finally rested on the Tikhvinka River near the city of Tikhvin, where the faithful immediately gathered and built a chapel for the icon. Later, with the blessing of Archbishop Alexis of Novgorod, they began to build a church, which was finished for the feast of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin. Intending to consecrate the church on the day of the feast, the clergy sent their sexton into the neighboring villages, to inform the faithful of the impending celebration and encourage them to prepare themselves for it by means of prayer and fasting.

The sexton, whose name was George, was a pious man. As he was returning to the church after having fulfilled his mission, and was passing near the site where the holy icon had originally descended, he suddenly sensed an extraordinary fragrance. George was surprised and began wondering where such a fragrance could be coming from in this wilderness. Suddenly he saw the Holy Virgin, sitting on a fallen pine tree, and standing before Her a shining man, similar in appearance to St. Nicholas. Seeing this miraculous vision, the sexton became frightened and fell on the ground as dead. Then St. Nicholas came up to him and said: “Arise and do not be afraid.” George arose and stood on his knees. The Mother of God, still sitting on the pine, said to him: “George! Go to My church and tell the clergymen and all the people not to place an iron cross on the top, as is their intention, but to place a wooden cross instead: such is My will.” The sexton cried out: “My Lady! They will not believe me!” But St. Nicholas said to him: “If you are not believed, a sign shall be given to reassure them.” After that the Holy Virgin and St. Nicholas became invisible.

Arriving at the church, the sexton recounted to the clergy and the people all that he had seen and heard, but they did not believe him and ordered the workers to place an iron cross on top of the church. However, when the workers climbed onto the roof, a great storm suddenly came up, together with high winds. The worker who held the cross was suddenly swept up by a strong gust of wind and carefully placed on the ground without suffering any harm. Seeing this miracle, the clergy and all the people were awed and began to exalt the Theotokos and St. Nicholas. Afterwards, constructing a wooden cross straightaway, they placed it atop the church and with great joy proceeded to consecrate the church and celebrate the feast of Dormition. The icon of the Mother of God began to work many miracles, particularly healing those whose eyes ailed them and returning sight to the blind.

Like other well-known icons of the Theotokos, the Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God many times played a direct role in Russian history, defending the Novgorodian lands from Swedish invasions. Thus, during one such enemy attack on the Tikhvin monastery, when the Swedes surrounded it and began tunneling under the walls, the Holy Virgin appeared in a dream to two pious monks and commanded them to chase the enemy away from Her house. That same night the Lord sent the enemy an awesome vision: they saw a great multitude of armed warriors coming from the direction of Moscow, carrying shining banners. Thinking that these were the Tsar’s regiments coming to the aid of the besieged monks, the Swedes became frightened and decided to flee. However, hoping to bring some measure of destruction to the monastery through their wall tunnels, they delayed slightly. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the monastery, fortified by the vision seen by the two monks, and after earnestly praying to the miraculous Tikhvin icon, came out of the monastery and fell upon the enemy. They were supported by invisible aid from above: helping the Orthodox, the Lord caused complete disarray among the enemy host. In great fear they began to run and jostle each other, pursued not so much by the small number of visible warriors, as by the great multitude of invisible warriors. Then the Orthodox pursued their fleeing enemy with renewed force and gained a resounding victory. Captured Swedes afterwards told the monks how the night before they had seen a mighty host arrive to aid the besieged monastery, and how that same host had later come out of the gates and pursued them with great force. Listening to the enemies’ description of events, the Orthodox tearfully thanked God and His Most-pure Mother. This glorious victory took place on the feast day of the Elevation of the Cross in 1614.

Concerning the provenance of the wondrous Tikhvin icon, the ancient chronicles tell us that this icon miraculously came to Russia from Constantinople. At the time that the icon began to gain renown in Tikhvin through its many and great miracles, it so happened that several merchants from Novgorod traveled to Constantinople. In talking to them, the Patriarch of Constantinople mentioned a certain miraculous icon which had previously been in the capital of the Empire, but had then departed from the city and disappeared. The Patriarch asked the merchants whether they had heard anything about such an icon. Then the merchants told him of how a miraculous icon of the Theotokos had come to Russia by air, appearing in various parts of the territory of Great Novgorod until it came to rest with great glory on the Tikhvinka River. Realizing from the description of the icon that it was identical to the one about which he had been inquiring, the Patriarch deeply sighed and sorrowed over the fact that the miraculous icon had left Greece because of the pride and other sins that had proliferated among the people. The merchants from Novgorod were greatly amazed by everything they had heard from the Patriarch and, returning to their native land, they joyously spread the news of the miraculous icon throughout all of Russia.

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