The miracle-working icon “The Sign” is depicted in icon painting above the bush that is burning and not scorched by fire, which was seen by prophet Moses on Mount Sinai. On the icon “The Sign” we see the half-length image of the Most Pure Virgin María with her hands raised to the heaven and with the Eternal Child depicted in a circle. The infant Jesus blesses the world as an eternal High Priest, holding the scroll as the sign of the saving teaching with which He enlightens the human race. The Mother of God herself, as it were, brings and dedicates the Fruit of Her most immaculate womb to the Lord God and with upraised hands prays to the Creator to accept this Fruit as the Sacrifice for the salvation of the whole world. It is remarkable that on this Novgorod icon the faces of the Mother of God and the Savior, despite their antiquity, are distinguished by their extraordinary clarity of contours and vividness of the representation. Among the many miracle-working icons glorified in Holy Russia, the Icon of the Sign of the Mother of God gained great fame after the miraculous intercession, or sign, that happened in Novgorod in 1170.
The history of the glorification of the Novgorod icon “The Sign” is the following: in the 12th century the Suzdal prince Andrey of Bogoliubovo decided to expand his possessions in the north of the Russian land and to forcibly crush the Novgorod principality, which refused to pay levy to him. “Woe to the defeated,” – uttered the mighty prince. He and his allies, seventy-two princes, already divided the rich Novgorod lands among themselves in advance. But, by the providence of God, Prince Andrey fell ill and sent his son to wage the campaign instead of himself.
Novgorod was surrounded by troops and the bloody assault began. The Novgorodians, seeing the strength of the enemy, placed all their hope in the Lord, the Most Holy Mother of God and the prayers of their Archbishop John in that unequal struggle. Saint John spiritually strengthened the people of Novgorod, who decided to defend their city to death. For three days and three nights he prayed in the sanctuary of the cathedral church. On the night, when everyone understood that the next day would decide the fate of Novgorod, the saint heard a voice commanding him to go to the Church of the Savior on Ilyinskaya Street, take the icon of the Lady from there, put it on the city wall, and the voice predicted: “You will see the salvation of the city.”
Holy Hierarch John, filled with fear and joy, fulfilled the command: with devout prayer, accompanied by the people, he lifted the icon of the Mother of God to the city wall, where the battle was in full swing. The besieging warriors attacked more and more fiercely, clouds of arrows flew towards the defenders of the city. Then one arrow, fired by the enemy, pierced the icon – and immediately the Mother of God turned her holy face away from the attackers and turned it towards the city. Tears rolled from the eyes of the Mother of God, and Saint John exclaimed in emotion: “O wondrous miracle! How do tears flow from a dry tree? Queen! You give us a sign that in this way you are praying before Your Son and our God for the deliverance of the city.” The hope for the intercession of the Mother of God strengthened the Novgorodians; they opened the city gates and rushed towards the enemy. A sudden terror fell upon the adversaries, they were covered with darkness; God’s wrath confused them, and they fled, not thinking about defending themselves. Everyone recognized the salvation of Novgorod as a miracle from the Icon of the Mother of God, which has since been called the image of «The Sign of the Most Holy Mother of God».
In memory of this event, Saint John established the Feast of the Sign from the Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God and called it the day of the deliverance of Novgorod and the day of punishment for Christians who are at war against their brothers of the same faith. After that miraculous intercession, the icon was transferred to a special church built by the Novgorodians for that purpose and called the Cathedral of the Sign of the Mother of God.
Great and incalculable are the miracles of God’s mercy performed by this icon of the Most Holy Mother of God. Here are some of them. In the 16th century a great fire broke out in Novgorod, which in a short time spread to many streets and threatened to destroy the entire city. All efforts of the city-dwellers to stop the fire were in vain. Then the people, together with all the clergy, came to the Church of the Sign of the Mother of God and fell before Her miracle-working icon, praying with tears for the forgiveness of human iniquities and for the mercy to the city in which the holy image is located. After praying and sprinkling the raging fire element with holy water, the flame began to subside, and the fire soon stopped.
During the Time of Troubles in the beginning of the 17th century, the Swedes occupied Novgorod, carrying out robberies and bloodshed there. They did not spare God’s churches either, trampling on and plundering the holy things. Some of the soldiers came to the Church of the Sign, where the Divine service was being conducted at that time. The invaders wanted to go inside, but as soon as they stepped on the threshold, they were suddenly thrown back by an invisible force. Those committing sacrilege rushed into the church again, but the same supernatural force threw them out. This miracle frightened the Swedes so much that they left the church in horror, and the Novgorodians once again thanked the merciful Lady for her miraculous salvation.
Brothers and sisters! The lessons of the intercession of the Most Holy Mother of God teach us to call on her mercy for help with faith and hope, to live in love and humility, meekness and mutual forgiveness of each other, in which may the Lord, Who is the God of peace and love, help us, to Him be glory, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, amen!