Most soldiers who have survived the furious and bloody battles of the war will say, “among soldiers on the front line, there are no atheists”. Many soldiers who fought against the Nazis later became priests or monks. Many more have remained forever faithful to God, attributing their survival to His providence and the prayers of the Theotokos.
The mother of God had herself suffered pain from the torments and death of her Son on the cross. She always hears the prayers of the soldiers’ mothers and helps their sons at their worst moments. In this piece, we present several accounts of the Holy Theotokos’ intercession for the soldiers on the battlefield that saved their lives.
A vision of the Theotokos during the battle of Kursk (1943)
In the book titled “20th-century Orthodox miracles”, one of our contemporaries wrote: “My uncle had a vision of the Holy Theotokos, and it was during the battle of Kursk”. She appeared in the sky and waved her arm towards the Nazis. It was as if she was showing the direction for our assault. Our whole company saw it, all fell to their knees. All had their faith in their victory strengthened, and everyone prayed to the Holy Theotokos. From that point onwards, the war took a completely different course for us, the Russians began to advance. On that day, my uncle, a front line soldier, found God.
“You are going to serve me and thank me all your life.”
Archimandrite Alipyus of the Pskov-Pechery Lavra shared this account of an event that changed his whole life.
As a young man, he was an unbeliever. When World War II started, he was called up to the army and sent to the front line. As he was leaving, his mother gave him an icon of the Theotokos and said, “Son, when your situation becomes desperate, take out the icon, pray to the Theotokos, and she will help. His mother’s words warmed his heart and inspired hope. He kept them in his memory.
One day, he was surrounded by the Nazis in the middle of a forest. He was wounded. The Nazis were pressing from the front, left and right, and behind them was an impassable marsh. Remembering what his mother had said to him, he took out the icon and prayed as best he could, “O Holy Theotokos, help us if you are there!” He prayed and rejoined the other soldiers. Suddenly, he saw an old woman standing next to them. The woman said to them, “Have you lost your way, sons? Come, let me show you the trail. She led them all out of the trap.
Father Alipyus said to the old woman, “How can I thank you, mother?” The old woman replied, “You are going to serve me and thank me all your life.” With these words, she disappeared like a vision. Again, he remembered his mother’s parting words and realised who the old woman was. Her words were prophetic. Father Alipyus dedicated the rest of his life to the service of the Mother of God.
Lamentation of the Theotokos
Peter, a front line soldier, shared this account.
“We were hiding in the trenches, and the location seemed quite unusual. It was as if someone was helping us. The Nazis were attacking us with overwhelming force, but we always pushed them back, and our losses were surprisingly small.
On that day, the battle was especially harsh. There were many casualties on both sides lying all over no man’s land. The battle did not end until the evening.
Each was doing their own thing, waiting for dinner to arrive. I took my tobacco bag to have a smoke, and my friend Ivan Bozhkov went to a distant section of the trench.
Suddenly, I saw him stick his head up above the bulwark.
“Ivan, what are you doing,” I cried. “Are putting yourself up for a sniper’s bullet?”
Ivan slipped back to the trench, shocked and confused. He said to me quietly,
“Look, there is a woman there, and she is crying.”
“You must be dreaming. Why would she be there?”
But when the Nazis stopped shooting, we heard the cries of a woman. Ivan put on his helmet and climbed on the bulwark.
“I see some mist, and behind it, a woman in the no man’s land is walking towards us. She is bending over the dead and crying. “She looks so much like the Theotokos! Look! God had chosen us to witness His miracle, a vision of the Theotokos.”
Cautiously, we looked out of the trench. A woman in long and dark clothing was walking along the no man’s strip in a cloud of mist. She was bending over and crying.
“The Nazis are also looking. See their helmets above the ground? There is something unusual here. Look how tall she is – two times the height of an ordinary woman.
And her crying was heart-wrecking! While we were looking at the vision, the mist had covered most of the no man’s strip.
I thought to myself, “It is as if she is covering the dead with a shroud.
Suddenly, the woman stopped crying, turned towards us and bowed.
“The Theotokos bowed to us! We are going to win,” said Ivan, confidently.
A woman with two medieval warriors
It happened to a soldier who was shell shocked in a battle and was buried under a pile of his comrades’ dead bodies. He came round and saw an incredible scene – a woman was walking on the field flanked by two medieval warriors.
Each warrior had a cup. The woman was taking something from the cup and putting it into the mouths of some of the soldiers. She approached the soldier, but he could not rise or say anything.
“He is a coward,” commented the woman and walked on. He does not know where he got the strength, but he sat up and cried,
“I am not a coward. Help me!”
“Prove it. Find the Gospel in Church Slavonic and always have it with you. Then you will come back home alive.
By this time, the army had retreated quite far, and the soldier had to find his way to rejoin it. He found the gospel in an abandoned village and put it in a pocket on his breast.
When he rejoined his troops, he was sent to a penal company and remained there almost until the end of the war. He always had the gospel on him. He had been in some of the bloodiest battles and some of the most hopeless places. There were some in which only half of his unit survived, and some in which he was the only survivor. Still, he lived to see victory and return home.
Father Oleg found God during the war. After fighting many battles, he found himself in 1944 in the environs of Leningrad. The Nazis were retreating with heavy battles and large losses, and they were fighting back hard.
After a long artillery preparation, the German tanks rolled towards us. We were hitting them with artillery weapons, and I was shooting at them from an anti-tank gun, together with my partner.
We had hit two tanks, but the Nazis broke through and began to iron out our trenches, destroying them and burying the soldiers under the ground.
We shot at a tank, but it rolled on to the trench. Its walls were crashing, to the deafening roar of its motor. I was right under the tank, its caterpillars were right above my head, the trench was sinking under the weight of the tank. I was already buried under the ground, but the tank continued to iron the ground above me. I felt as if death was approaching. An incredible horror took me over. Suddenly, a prayer went through my mind, “‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, Most Holy Theotokos, Have mercy and save me!” I prayed with all my heart and soul. During this split second, my whole life rushed past me. However, the most striking through was one about God and my culpability before Him.
A moment later, the tank rolled onwards and was shot. My comrades dug me out, dragged me out of the pit, and brought me to my senses. A lieutenant who came to us exclaimed in surprise, “Look! Kiselev has turned grey!” He was right, my hair was all grey after a few minutes under the belly of a tank.
Right there at the battlefield, I promised to God and the Holy Theotokos to become a priest after the war. I kept my promise.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds