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February 15, 2021

Synaxis of the Vilna Icon of the Mother of God

According to legend, the Vilna Icon, being of the Hodegetria type, was painted by the Holy Evangelist Luke, and was brought from Palestine to Constantinople, and for many years it belonged to the family of the Roman emperors. Later, they sent the Icon as a gift to the rulers of Galicia and Chervona Rus'.

According to the most common version, in 1472 the Icon was brought to Moscow by Princess Sophia Palaiologos, who became the wife of the Grand Duke of Moscow Ivan III (1462-1505). There is also a version that does not find wide support that the Icon passed to the Grand Duke of Moscow from the Galician princes after the fall of the Galician principality. Both legends converge in all other details. It did not stay in Moscow very long, however. In 1495, Grand Duke Ivan III, blessed his daughter Elena with the Icon before giving her in marriage to the Lithuanian Grand Duke Alexander. Thus, the Icon came with her to the Lithuanian capital of Vilna (Vilnius).

When Princess Elena died, the Vilna Icon of the Mother of God was placed above her tomb in the Cathedral of the Most Holy Theotokos.

After the relationship between the courts of Moscow and Lithuania came to an end, Tsar Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) tried to bring the wonderworking Icon back to Moscow, offering Grand Duke Sigismund II of Lithuania (1520-1572) fifty noble Lithuanian prisoners in exchange, but Sigismund strongly opposed this, because all the clergy, both the Orthodox and the Uniates, did not want to lose this treasure.

The Icon remained in the Cathedral of the Mother of God until the 18th century, Later, it was moved to the Church of Saint John the Forerunner. Afterward, the Icon was transferred to Vilna's Holy Trinity Monastery, which was then in possession of the Uniates, and the Cathedral of the Mother if God was also given to them.

Only in 1839 were Holy Trinity Monastery and the Icon returned to the Orthodox. It replaced her lost Ostro Bram (the Dawn Gates) Icon (which is commemorated on December 26 and April 14).

The Vilna Icon is painted on four boards which have been joined together. Some are made of cypress wood, and the others of birch. It was restored in 1864.

During the World War I, the Vilna Icon was evacuated. It, along with the relics of the Vilna martyrs, was brought to the Donskoy Monastery in 1915, and after that Its further fate is unknown.

In a monastery on the outskirts of Vilna, there is another Vilna Icon, which appeared in 1341. It is a full length depiction of the Mother of God, who stands on a crescent moon, and Holy Angels hold a crown over her pure head. In some variations of this Icon she stands on clouds, surrounded by Angels, and is wearing a crown.

The Vilna Icon is commemorated on April 14, when it was brought to Moscow, and on February 15, when it was brought from Moscow to Vilna.