August 13, 2020

Synaxis of the Minsk Icon of the Mother of God

Synaxis of the Minsk Icon of the Mother of God
(Feast Day - August 13)

According to legend,* the Minsk Icon of the Mother of God was brought from Korsun (Chersonesos, now part of Sevastopol in the Crimea) to Kiev and was kept in the Church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, or Church of the Tithes, erected at the end of the 10th century (the consecration of the church in 996 is commemorated on May 12). Archpriest Pavel Afonsky, who wrote an article about the icon for the 400th anniversary of its acquisition, suggested that the icon was transferred to Kiev by the Grand Duke of Kiev Vladimir Svyatoslavovich after his wedding to the Roman princess Anna and his baptism in Korsun in 988. Kiev was repeatedly raided by conquerors (in 1169, 1204, 1240). The icon could have been in this temple until 1240, when during the invasion of the Tatar-Mongols, Kiev was destroyed, and the existence of the Church of the Tithes was interrupted until 1635. Information about the icon is lost for more than two hundred years. Perhaps the residents of Kiev hid it, and later it could have decorated the Kiev Cathedral of Hagia Sophia.

During the next raid on Kiev in 1482, the Crimean Khan Mengli I Giray, having seized the city, “robbed it and burned it, taking many prisoners”, as the chronicle records. The legend adds to this that one of the invaders took the icon out of the temple, tore off the precious jewelry and frame, and threw the icon into the Dniepr River.

Tradition reports that two days before the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, on August 13, 1500, the icon was found floating in the River Svislocha, near Minsk. Surrounded by an extraordinary light, the icon was brought to shore and taken to the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, in the holdings of the Minsk appanage princes. There is also evidence that the people of Kiev, who fled from the Tatars on the Belarusian lands, identified their icon.

In 1505 the horde of Mengli Giray approached Minsk. The battle began after a prayer service for the defenders of the city in the castle church. The conquerors burned down the city, captured tens of thousands of townspeople and local peasants, but the castle remained unapproachable. It is believed that it and its defenders were under the invisible protection of the icon of the Mother of God. On August 6, 1506, in the battle near the town of Kletsk (now in the Minsk region), Lithuanian troops defeated the conquerors and freed the prisoners. This event was perceived as the punishment from the miraculous icon against the invaders.

In 1591 Minsk was given a coat of arms depicting the Mother of God surrounded by angels in the blue sky.

For more than a century, the icon was preserved in the Lower Castle of Minsk, in the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. The Minsk Icon was then brought to the Uniate Monastery of the Holy Spirit in 1616 by Archimandrite Athanasius (Pakosta). The Minsk Icon of the Mother of God was transferred to this church by order of the Greek Catholic Metropolitan Joseph (Rutsky). Tradition indicates that the transfer took place on the feast day of Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke (probably October 16, 1616).

In 1793 Minsk became part of the Russian Empire. The Church of the Holy Spirit was transferred to the Orthodox Church and turned into a cathedral (that is, it operated on the site where the Orthodox Church was originally located). In 1795, the cathedral was consecrated in the name of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. In 1835 it suffered from a fire, but the icon was saved. In 1852, E.P. Shklarevich, the wife of the Minsk governor, with the assistance of several benefactors from Minsk and St. Petersburg donated a new gilded silver cover adorned with various jewels to the icon. Every Friday, an Akathist was served before the holy icon, and many miracles have been recorded.

With the blessing of Bishop Mitrofan (Krasnopolsky), who held the local department in 1912-1916 (in 1919, he was martyred from the persecutors of the Church), the icon once a year, on the day of its acquisition, began to be taken out of the cathedral, put on a specially arranged lectern and prayers were served.

In the spring of 1922, during the confiscation of church valuables, the covering was removed from the icon. The parishioners of the cathedral tried to preserve the cover and paid for it an equal amount in gold and jewelry, but the authorities, having accepted this collection, seized the cover in a few days.

Until 1935, the icon remained in the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral. By that time, the temple was owned by the Renovationists (they advocated the abolition of a number of canonical rules). In the summer of 1936, the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral was blown up. The authorities took the icon of the Mother of God to the local history museum. The icon was kept in the museum's storerooms until the beginning of the Great Patriotic War.

In 1941, after the retreat of the Red Army, a resident of Minsk, Barbara Vasilievna Slabko, begged the icon from the German occupation authorities. The artist and icon painter G. Vier restored the icon and handed it over to Saint Katherine's Church on the river Nemige. After the closure of this church in 1945, the icon was transferred to the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, where it is located in our time.

Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Minsk

In the 1990s, at the request of the rector of the cathedral, Archpriest Mikhail (Bulgakov), restoration work was carried out by the artist-restorer of the highest category P. Zhurbey. Research has also shown that renovations of the icon were made at different times: for example, in 1852, the original tempera painting was completely painted with oil paints; the crown, the scepter in her hand and the orb in the hand of the infant Christ were added. This corresponded to the Western customs that came into the iconography of Belarus from the time of the Union, but was not accepted in Byzantium. The 19th century artist repainted the faces, hands and robes, introducing the techniques of realistic painting, which has nothing to do with ancient icon painting. On April 22, 1992, on Great Wednesday, after the restorer recreated paintings similar in technique to those of the 17-19 centuries, the icon was consecrated by the Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus Philaret.

In 1999, the artist-icon painter P. Zharov, after conducting X-ray studies, restored the original image of the icon. According to the conclusions of P. Zhurbey and P. Zharov, the icon was painted much earlier than in the 16th century (when it was found in Minsk).

The Minsk Icon, of the Hodēgḗtria type, is more than four and a half feet tall, and three feet wide.


* The legend about the origin of the icon and its subsequent acquisition in Minsk is set forth in a book by the historian Ignatius Stebelsky, published in Vilna in 1781. He, in turn, used the manuscript of the Greek Catholic hieromonk Jan Olshevsky, who lived at the turn of the 17th-18th centuries. For some time this Basilian hieromonk, while undergoing obedience in Minsk, was engaged in rewriting church books, in particular the lives of the saints. According to the information of the rector of the Minsk Theological Seminary, Archimandrite Nikolai (Truskovsky), who was interested in the history of White Russia, Olshevsky compiled a description of the miracles that occurred from the Minsk Icon of the Mother of God. In the 18th century this description was preserved in the Minsk Holy Spirit Basilian Monastery. Subsequently, Olshevsky's manuscript disappeared. I. Stebelsky also used the book by H. Gumpenberg "Atlante Marriano" ("Atlas of Mary", in Latin), not found in our time.