Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iconic Icons: Theotokos of Vladimir

The original Vladimirskaya

The Theotokos of Vladimir (Our Lady of Vladimir, the Virgin of Vladimir), Владимирская (Vladimirskaya) in Russian, is an Eleusa style icon of the Theotokos.  According to Russian tradition, it was written by St. Luke the Evangelist on a board from the Holy Family's table: upon seeing it, the Virgin exclaimed, "Henceforth, all generations shall call Me blessed. The grace of both My Son and Me shall be with this icon."

The first historical mention of it is its sending by Greek Patriarch Luke Chrysoberges of Constantinople to Prince Mstislav (or Grand Duke Yury Dolgoruky) in 1131.  The icon was placed in a monastery near the city of Vyshgorod.  Andrei Bogoliubsky (son of Yury Dolgoruky and a saint among the Eastern Orthodox) built the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir and installed the icon there in 1155.  (Tradition says the location of Vladimir was chosen because donkeys carrying the icon would not move past the town, and this was interpreted as a sign that the Virgin wished to remain in Vladimir.)

During the invasion of Tamerlane in 1395, the icon was moved from Vladimir to Moscow.  When the Great Prince Basil (Vasily) I went out to meet the icon as it was traveling to Moscow, he spent a night in prayer and weeping before it, and the same night Tamerlane had a vision of a radiant woman commanding him to turn back.  When he asked his experts the meaning of the vision, they said the woman was the Mother of God, Protectress of Christians.  Upon hearing this, Tamerlane ordered his troops to retreat.

After the fleeing of Tamerlane, the icon was placed in the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Moscow Kremlin, where the intercession of the Theotokos of Vladimir was credited with saving Moscow from Tartar hordes in 1451, 1480, and 1521.  Many centuries later, 1941, Joseph Stalin allegedly ordered that the icon be flown around Moscow as the Germans advanced toward it.  A few days later, the Germans retreated.

The icon, while in the Moscow Kremlin, also was present at many other important events in Russian history.  Some of these include the elevation and election of Jonah, Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia, in 1448, Job, the first Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, in 1589, and Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and "Enlightener of North America," in 1917 (all three of these are saints among the Russian Orthodox).

There are three festal days of the Theotokos of Vladimir for the Russian Orthodox.  On August 26th is celebrated the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon upon its Transfer from Vladimir to Moscow, when Basil I prayed before the icon and the Virgin command Tamerlane to retreat.  On June 23rd is celebrated the Saving of Moscow from the Invasion of Khan Achmed, a leader of the Tartar horde that attacked Russia in 1480.  On May 21st is the Celebration of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God, which remembers her intercession that protected Russia from the Tartar invasion of 1521.

Due to its fame, many copies were made of the Vladimirskaya, some of which themselves became wonder-working.  The most famous is Our Lady of St. Theodore (Black Virgin Mary of Russia), or Федоровская (Fyodorovskaya) in Russian.  The St. Theodore of the title (Theodore is "Fyodor" in Russian, hence Fyodorovskaya) is St. Theodore Stratelates, a Greek martyr and warrior saint from the 4th century.  The icon was found in a forest on August 16, 1239, by Prince Vasily of Kostroma.  When he tried to touch it, it miraculously rose in the air.  He brought the icon back to his city, and it was venerated in the Assumption Cathedral there.  When the cathedral burned down, almost all the icons in it were destroyed, but the Fyodorovskaya was found intact three days after the fire.  A copy of the icon was given to Mikhail Romanov, the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty, by his mother Xenia upon his acceptance of the position of tsar.  Due to this, the Fyodorovskaya became the patron icon of the Romanov family, and its fame grew considerably.  Presently, the original Fyodorovskaya is in the Epiphany Cathedral of Kostroma, and Our Lady of St. Theodore has two feast days in the Russian Orthodox Church: March 27th and August 29th.

There are debates surrounding the history of the Fyodorovskaya and its name.  According to some, the icon was originally owned by the town of Gorodets-on-the-Volga but was lost after the Mongols sacked the town.  After hearing of the icon in Kostroma, the town of Gorodets demanded the icon back, and instead they were sent a copy of it.  There are two main traditions for the name.  The first is that an apparition of St. Theodore Stratelates carrying the icon into the forest was seen while Prince Vasily was there.  The second is that the icon was originally commissioned by Grand Prince Yaroslav II of Vladimir, whose Christian name was Fyodor.  Also, the main difference between the Vladimirskaya and the Fyodorovskaya in appearance is that in the latter, the Christ Child has a bare leg.  One source says this was possibly a detail of the original Vladimirskaya (which was repainted numerous times, hence the absence of this detail today).

 The original Fyodorovskaya

At the end of this post, as at the end of the last one, let us ask for the prayers of the Theotokos that the Russian Orthodox Church may be reunited with Rome.

Theotokos of Vladimir, save us!

A copy of the Vladimirskaya written by Andrei Rublev

Nota Bene: The main sources of information for this post were Wikipedia (on the Vladimirskaya and the Fyodorovskaya) and Orthodox Wiki.

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