The Orthodox world knows many different images of the Mother of God. Each of them has certain distinctive features and history of origin. Despite its small territory, Belarus knows more than a hundred miraculous icons of the Holy Virgin. Let us recall some of their most interesting and little-known appearances.
The Most Ancient Images
The ancient (988) Byzantine Izyaslavskaya icon of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos is considered the oldest icon of the Mother of God in the Belarusian lands. It is assumed that this icon dates back to the time of Grand Duke Vladimir placing his son Izyaslav in charge of the city, known today as Zaslavl. This image of the Mother of God was kept for a long time in the church of the same name in the city of Zaslavl. However, it has not survived.
The oldest surviving image of the Mother of God is a copy of the Kupyatitskaya icon. It has the shape of a cross, with a relief image of the Virgin and Child on one side, and the Crucifixion on the other. It was revealed at the end of the 12th century to a peasant girl Anna from the village of Kupyatichi. Anna was herding cattle when she saw a shining copper cross between the trees. Several times Anna tried to take the shrine home, but the image returned to the place where it had originally appeared. Later, a church was built there, and after a couple of centuries a monastery, where the future martyrs Athanasius of Brest (+1648) and Macarius of Kanev (+1678) prayed. This image of the Mother of God became famous for many miracles until it disappeared in the 1920s. Today, an exact copy of the 17th century cross is kept in the Kupyatitskaya church.
Appearances of the Icons
Most often, the Mother of God revealed Her images to ordinary Belarusian peasants and shepherds in trees. The Zhirovitskaya icon (15th century) was found by young shepherds in a pear tree. Similarly, the shepherd Ivan Didko found the Vaskovskaya icon (18th century) also in a tree, as he was looking for his oxen. The unique Chernyakovskaya icon with images of the Mother of God, St Nicholas and five unknown saints was found cut in a pine tree. The original is in the National Art Museum.
The Gorbatsevichi image of the Mother of God (17th century), famous for the resurrection of a dead person, was found in a linden tree by the villager Koltun. The Parchimovitskaya icon was discovered in a birch tree by the pious elder Partheny, who then built a hut on the site of this appearance and lived piously there as a hermit. There are many similar examples. Interestingly, the images appeared in trees, traditionally used to make icons and icon cases.
Icons were also often found in rivers. One of such famous Belarusian shrines is the Minskaya icon of the Mother of God. It was found in the Svisloch River in the 15th century. During a big fire in the town of Disna on the Western Dvina River, the Disna image (16-17 centuries) appeared in heavenly radiance. The Krupetskaya Icon of the Theotokos was found in the 17th century in a spring near the settlement of Kruptsy.
In some legends, images of the Mother of God appeared to the blind after healings in miraculous springs. In the 17th century, two blind men accompanied by a guide were walking through a forest and decided to take a nap under a tree. When they woke up, they heard the bicker of water and went in the direction of the sound. Arriving at the stream, they quenched their thirst, washed themselves and immediately recovered their sight, seeing an icon of the Mother of God in a tree. Now this image is known as the “Life-Giving Source” in the town of Proscha. A similar incident happened to a blind man from Rakov who washed himself in a forest spring, regained his sight and found the Rakovskaya icon.
In the 14th century, Prince Simeon Lingwen of Mstislav fell ill with an eye disease and became blind. The doctors were helpless, and the prince turned to the Mother of God with fervent prayer. In his dream, the Most Pure Lady ordered him to go to a certain desert and wash himself with water from a spring. Simeon followed the instructions and regained his sight. Turning his grateful gaze to the sky, he saw in a linden tree a radiant icon of the Mother of God, later called the Sovereign or “Pustynskaya”. By his order the prince built a chapel in that location, which later became the founding place of the Most Pure Theotokos Monastery in Pustynki. It functions in our time, and many are healed in its miraculous spring.
There are other cases when the Mother of God appeared to faithful Christians in dreams. An interesting story is associated with the appearance of the Zabelskaya icon of the Mother of God. During an inexplicable loss of livestock in the village of Zabela, the villagers turned to the Queen of Heaven for help. Soon the Most Pure Lady appeared to one of the peasants in a dream. She ordered him to find an artist in Slutsk who would paint an icon according to Her instructions. When the villager approached the city, the artist was already waiting for him at the gate to hear a description of the image. It turned out that the Mother of God had appeared to him as well. As soon as the icon was painted, the loss of livestock stopped.
Sometimes the Mother of God revealed Her images during battles. One such miracle happened in 1433 with Prince Andrey Sakovich, wounded on a battlefield near Krasnaya Voloka. Losing consciousness, he saw an icon of the Mother of God nearby and held it close to him with faith. When the peasants went looking for survivors on the field, the warrior Andrei showed signs of life and they were able to nurse him to health. In gratitude for his salvation, the prince built a chapel and a church, where he placed the revealed icon, which later acquired the name Gruzdovskaya.
The Mother of God blessed the Belarusian lands with Her many appearances at different times. Our icon painters have created several copies of the well-known icons mentioned in this article, using different techniques.