August 24, 2009

Miraculous Kazan Icon Taken by Nazi to Germany in World War 2 is Returned to Russia

German Catholics Return to the Russian Church the Icon Taken Away During World War II

Moscow, Russia
August 17, 2009

The Kazan Icon of the Mother of God taken from Russia during the World War II was ceremonially returned to the Russian Orthodox Church last Sunday.

The revered icon was transferred after the Liturgy in the Church of Our Lady the Joy of All Who Sorrow in Bolshaya Ordynka Street. The honourable abbot of Munsterschwarzach Abbey, Germany, handed the icon to the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk.
This is a copy of the famous Kazan Icon of the Mother of God gained in the 16th century which helped to free Moscow from Polish intervention.

The transferred icon was found by a German soldier Joseph Bertram in the ruins of Mtsenk, a town in the Oryol region. Bertram took the icon to Germany and eventually gave it over for safekeeping to a Benedictine abbey near Munster (Bavaria) and asked them to return the icon to Russia in the future.

While transferring the icon today, Abbot Fidelis Ruppert referred to it as "a symbol of repentance and reconciliation."

"Joseph Bertram came to this land as an enemy soldier. But he was a believer, and this icon became a binding thread between his belief in God and his belief in the Russian people," Abbot Ruppert said.

He asked forgiveness for the grief and suffering "inflicted by Germans on Russian people," and expressed hope that "the future of our nations will be peaceful and blessed" and that the spirit of "reconciliation, consent and love" will increasingly arise between Russians and Germans.

A Miracle of our Lady of Kazan During World War 2, Otherwise Known by Russians as the Great Patriotic War

In 1941, during World War II against Nazi Germany, the Virgin appeared to Metropolitan Ilya of the Antiochian Church, who prayed wholeheartedly for Russia. She instructed him to tell the Russians that they should carry the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan in a religious procession around the besieged city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Then, the Virgin said, they should serve a prayer service before the icon in Moscow. The Virgin said that the icon should stay with the Russian troops in Stalingrad, and later move with them to the Russian border. Leningrad did not surrender. Miraculously, Moscow was also saved.

During the Battle of Stalingrad, the icon was with the Russian army on the right bank of the Volga, and the Nazi troops could not cross the river. The Battle of Stalingrad began with a prayer service before the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan. Only when it was finished did the troops receive the order to attack. The Icon of the Virgin of Kazan was at the most important sectors of the front, and in the places where the troops were preparing for an offensive. It was like in the old times, when in response to earnest prayers, the Virgin instilled fear in enemies and drove them away. Even atheists told stories of the Virgin’s help to the Russian troops.

During the assault on K√∂nigsberg in 1944, the Soviet troops were in a critical situation. Suddenly, the soldiers saw their commander arrive with priests and an icon. Many made jokes, “Just wait, they will help us”! The commander silenced the jokers. He ordered everybody to line up and to take off their uniform caps. When the priests finished the prayer service, they moved to the frontline carrying the icon. The amazed soldiers watched them going straight forward, under intense Nazi fire. Suddenly, the Nazis stopped shooting. Then, the Russian troops received orders to attack on the ground and from the sea. Nazis died in the thousands. Nazi prisoners told the Russians that they saw the Virgin in the sky before the Russians began to attack, the whole of the Nazi army saw Her, and their weapons would not fire.

True, the ideas of socialism brought many people together in the war against Nazi Germany. But in the case of Russia the Nazis’ obsession with the plan to wipe out this country as a nation turned the world war into a patriotic one. So it was natural that in a bid to overpower the enemy the nation turned to their imperial tradition and to Russian history. Orthodoxy was the Russian man’s main spiritual basis. Stalin just couldn’t fail to realize this, so it is a small wonder that he sought assistance from the Church during that dangerous period of time in this country’s history.

20,000 churches were opened during the war years. In spring 1942 the Soviet Government allowed Easter celebrations for the first time in many years. On September 4th, 1943 Stalin invited the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Kremlin to discuss the need for reviving religious life in the USSR and the speedy election of a Patriarch.