ARCHPASTORAL CATECHESIS ON THE OCCASION OF THE COMMEMORATION OF THE APPEARANCE OF THE ICON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD OF TIKHVIN
June 26, 2023
Today thy most precious Icon appears in the sky like the ever-radiant sun, O Sovereign Lady, enlightening the world with rays of mercy; and this land, devoutly receiving the divine gift from above, honors thee as the Mistress of all, O Mother of God, magnifying Christ our God, Who was born of thee. Entreat Him, O Sovereign Lady, Queen and Mother of God, to guard all Christian cities and lands unharmed by the assaults of the enemy, and to save those who kneel in faith before His divine, and thy holy image, O unwedded Virgin! (Troparion Tone 4)
Beloved in the Lord,
On June 26, the Church commemorates the finding of the Icon of the Mother of God of Tikhvin. For the clergy and faithful of the God-protected Diocese of the Midwest, this is a particularly significant commemoration. As most are aware, the Tikhvin Icon sojourned within this Diocese for almost fifty years, finding its temporary home in Chicago before being returned to the Holy Dormition Monastery in Tikhvin in 2004.
The origins of the icon are not recorded in history, although it is traditionally ascribed to the hand of Saint Luke the Apostle and Evangelist, like several other ancient icons of the Hodigitria type. It is believed that the icon was brought from Jerusalem to Constantinople in the fifth century. During the period of the iconoclastic controversy, it was taken to the Monastery of the Pantocrator for safekeeping, and afterwards it became one of the most widely venerated icons in the Imperial City. Eventually it disappeared from the church where it had been kept, reappearing over the lands of Rus’ in 1383. Fishermen at work near Lake Ladoga saw how the icon appeared to traverse the skies; it was seen in over seven different locations in all until it finally settled by the banks of the Tikhvinka river, near the small village of Tikhvin in the region of Great Novgorod. Soon a wooden church dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God was built in that place. In just over a century, this church burned to the ground three separate times, with the icon surviving unharmed each time. A stone church was finally built in 1507, around which grew the monastery and city walls that stand to this day. The holy and wonderworking Icon of the Mother of God of Tikhvin was placed on the right pillar of the beautiful and impressive church, where it remained for over four hundred years, becoming as widely venerated in the lands of Rus’ as it had once been in the great City of Constantine.
Though the monastery was occasionally occupied by foreign powers over the centuries and was ultimately closed by the Soviets in the mid 1920s, the icon itself was not disturbed, and its presence remained a source of consolation for the Christian faithful in times of need and distress. During the Second World War, however, the city of Tikhvin was briefly seized by the Nazis, and with their departure the miraculous icon seemingly went lost. Some say the icon was then seen in 1944 in one of the antiques shops occupied by the Germans in Riga, Latvia. The icon eventually came into the possession of Bishop John (Garklavs) of Riga. Forced to leave Latvia that same year by way of the former Czechoslovakia and West Germany, Bishop John frequently brought the holy icon to displaced persons camps as a blessing and sign of hope for those whose lives had been upended by the war. When Bishop John made his way to the United States in 1949, he again brought the icon with him, ultimately making the Chicagoland its home in the New World. For over half a century thereafter, the icon traveled throughout the Midwest and elsewhere in the United States.
By God’s will, with the restoration of Church life in the former Soviet Union, the original wonderworking icon was returned to its historic place in Tikhvin’s newly reopened Holy Dormition Monastery in July 2004. Archbishop Paul, of blessed memory, went on pilgrimage to Tikhvin in 2016. Later, during a return visit to Chicago from Bishop Mstislav of Tikhvin, our Diocese was presented with an exact replica of the original icon. The replica, including its masterfully crafted metal cover, had been touched to and blessed upon the original icon before it was brought to Chicago, where it is enshrined at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Mother Church of our Diocese.
As we reflect upon the amazing history of the icon and of its miraculous preservation throughout the centuries, we cannot help but acknowledge that, even from the time of its origins, the Tikhvin Icon has been on pilgrimage, traveling to where the intercession and prayers and comfort of the Holy Theotokos were most needed. Latvia, Central and Western Europe, North America: all of these are now included among the traditional places visited by this highly revered image of the Mother of God.
The traveling nature of the icon should be of no surprise to us. Indeed, the Most Holy Theotokos is revealed as a traveler and sojourner, even in the Gospels. We recall Saint Luke’s account of the Annunciation. As soon as the angel brought the glad tidings that she was chosen to be the mother of the Son of God and that her kinswoman Elizabeth was expecting a child in her old age, “… Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth” (St Luke1:39-40). She went where she was needed.
Jerusalem, Constantinople, Tikhvin, Riga, New York, Chicago, Summit Argo, and many other places known and unknown are included among the many locations graced by the visitation of this wonderworking icon of the Mother of God. It has resided in monasteries, churches, and family homes. It has called upon displaced persons in deportation camps, youth gatherings, and church gatherings of all types. In this we see the Mother of God traveling to places where her presence and intercession is most needed, just as she did when she visited her cousin Elizabeth.
As we commemorate the appearance of this wonderworking icon, let us, each and all, invite Mary of Nazareth, our Sovereign Lady who is also our Mother, into our homes and families, into our parish communities, and into our hearts. It is my prayer that the Most Pure Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, venerated in all her holy icons and invoked in all her titles, will bless and protect our Diocese, its clergy and faithful, and all your families and loved ones.
O people, let us hasten to the Virgin Theotokos and Queen,
giving thanks to Christ our God,
And looking upon her miraculous image with contrition,
let us fall down and cry out to her:
O Mary, our Sovereign Lady, who visit this land
in the miraculous appearance of thy precious image,
save all the Christians in peace and prosperity,
showing us as heirs of the heavenly life.
For to thee do we cry out with faith:
Rejoice, O Virgin, the salvation of the world!
(Kontakion Tone 8)
Invoking God’s blessing upon you all, I remain
Your Servant in Christ,
Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest