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March 3, 2020

Synaxis of the Volokolamsk Icon of the Mother of God

Synaxis of the Volokolamsk Icon of the Mother of God (Feast Day - March 3)

The Volokolamsk Icon of the Mother of God is a copy of the Vladimir Icon of the Moscow Dormition Cathedral. The icon was brought from Zvenigorod to the Dormition Monastery of Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk on March 2, 1572, during the second week of Great Lent and was solemnly met by Abbot Leonid (1563-1566; 1568-1573) and all the monastic brethren.

Art historians unequivocally agree that the image was painted in the early seventies of the sixteenth century by an artist from the circle of tsarist masters and is one of the best works of Moscow church art of that time. In terms of artistic quality, the copy was not inferior to the original and was richly decorated with precious stones, gold, silver and beads.

It is distinguished by its particular depiction on the margins of Saint Cyprian (right) and Saint Gerontius (left), Metropolitans of Moscow. The name of Metropolitan Cyprian is associated with the first arrival of the ancient Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God from Constantinople to Moscow in the year 1395, and under Metropolitan Gerontius in 1480 the Vladimir Icon came finally to Moscow.

In the year 1588 the Volokolamsk Icon was dedicated atop the gate in the church erected "by a certain nobleman" at the south gates of the Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk Monastery in honor of the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos (August 26). "A certain nobleman from the royal chambers" placed a crown of extraordinary beauty over the head of the Mother of God, "so that they wondered at the radiance of that wonderful image."

Malyuta Skuratov

Who was this “certain nobleman” who commissioned such a precious icon especially for the Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk Monastery? Legend tells us his name: “Before the nobleman named Grigory, who adorned the icon so wonderfully....” Researchers have identified this Gregory with Grigory Lukyanovich Skuratov-Belsky, better known as Malyuta Skuratov, one of the most odious leaders of the Oprichnina during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. His atrocities are unthinkable, and is even credited with the assassination of the Primate of the Russian Church, Saint Philip II. However, it is said Malyuta sincerely repented, and he is even buried with his father at the Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk Monastery.

Grigory Belsky (Malyuta Skuratov) vowed to build a church and took the blessing of Moscow Metropolitan Cyril in 1571, when Moscow was burned by Khan Divlet-Girey. Thus, the future temple of the Volokolamsk Monastery was to serve as a prayer fortress of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her visible petition for the security of the northwestern borders of Muscovy during the Livonian War, to which Malyuta went, accompanying Ivan the Terrible. And the temple icon was intended to become the center of expression of the faith of Muscovites in the intercession of the Virgin and the Moscow saints Peter and Jonah.

Not much is known about the repentance of Malyuta Skuratov shortly before his death, as well as about his real name. The legend says that when sending the icon to the monastery (the horrors of the oprichnina had sunk by 1572), Grigory Belsky diligently prayed "with a lot of faith and with tears for the remission of his sins, he asked for an end to his life in a Christian way, which he received." He died on January 1, 1573, as a warrior on a battlefield - during the capture of the Paidu fortress (seventy kilometers from present-day Tallinn).

Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk Monastery

At the end of the seventeenth century, when a church of the same name was built in Moscow at Staraya Basmanna, the church atop the gate of Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk was rededicated in honor of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul. The Volokolamsk Icon was transferred to its proper place on the iconostasis of the new Dormition Church of the monastery of Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk.

In 1578, the icon was recognized as wonderworking. The icon sent by Malyuta to the monastery with tears of repentance, became famous for miracles. One of the servants of Malyuta, a certain clerk Peter, was healed by her. Another accompanying the icon, the sexton Fyodor, seeing this miracle, remained in the monastery and took monastic tonsure.

The original icon of the sixteenth century was taken out of the monastery in 1954. In 1959, the icon was restored by V.E. Since that time, it has been in the collection of the Central Museum of Old Russian Culture and Art named after Andrei Rublev in Moscow. On March 16, 2007, an icon was painted in the monastery, painted “to the best of the likeness” of the ancient image by the Moscow icon painter S. I. Fomin. The new icon can be said to have received a kind of blessing from the ancient one: before it took its place in the cathedral church of the monastery, it was consecrated in the museum of Andrei Rublev and applied to the miraculous image of the sixteenth century.