July 8, 2020

The Sign of the Icon of the Mother of God of the Annunciation in the City of Ustiug (1290)

The history of the icon of the Mother of God of the Annunciation is known from the Second Novgorod Chronicle and other written sources of the 16th-17th centuries, which report that in the middle of the 16th century it was transferred to Moscow by Tsar Ivan the Terrible from the Saint George Cathedral of the Yuriev Monastery in Novgorod.

The date of the appearance of the icon in Moscow is not clearly determined, as sources give the years 1547, 1554, 1561. At first, the icon was in the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, and in the first quarter of the 17th century it was transferred to the Dormition Cathedral, where it was installed on the right side of the iconostasis.

The origin of the icon is said to date back to a Novgorod iconographer when the holy Prince Vsevolod-Gabriel (+ 1138) ruled in the city. It is celebrated on July 8 to commemorate a miracle that is said to have taken place during the time of Saint Procopius of Ustiug the Fool for Christ (+ 1303), who is commemorated on July 8th.

In the year 1290 Saint Procopius was spending all his time kneeling with tearful prayers on the porch of the local cathedral church. Once, announcing to his fellow citizens that for their grave sins they were about to face the righteous wrath of God, the Saint urged them towards repentance. But the calls of the holy fool were made in vain, and the townspeople only chuckled in response to Procopius' warnings that the Lord would send to the city a hail of fire for the sins of the people and destroy it. Every day and night in ceaseless prayers and inconsolable sobs the Saint spent on the church porch.

A week later, the terrible day came for the townspeople of Ustiug: at noon there was an approaching black cloud, complete darkness came, terrifying and confusing Ustiug. Lightning flashed from all sides and terrible thunder strikes were heard. The ground beneath their feet set in motion. Only now the townspeople realized how deep was the abyss of their sinfulness, which brought God's wrath, and realized the need for repentance.

Everyone flocked to the temples and prayed with tears to the Lord for mercy and aversion from misfortune. Blessed Procopius, along with all the people, having fallen before the icon of the Annunciation of the Mother of God, earnestly and fervently prayed for all those who sinned. And then in the cathedral church of Great Ustiug from the holy image of the Annunciation of the Mother of God a miraculous sign was unveiled publicly - from the icon a fragrant myrrh gushed forth in abundance, with which all the church vessels were filled.

According to his life we read that as Procopius prayed before the icon of the Annunciation "there was no more suffocating heat, lightnings and thunders died down, the clouds dispersed," by the intercessions of the Mother of God. Instead of destruction coming to Ustiug, the cloud let out its fury of red hot stones twenty miles outside the city into a forest which caused it to entirely burn, but every human life was spared.

The feast to commemorate this miracle was established in 1738. When Moscow was plundered during the Patriotic War of 1812, the icon lost its precious covering, and in 1818 the people of Ustiug donated 8,000 rubles to make a new covering. After the closing of the Kremlin's Dormition Cathedral in 1918, the miraculous icon of the Mother of God was first transferred to the State Historical Museum, and in 1930 to the Tretyakov Gallery, where it is still located.