Is there a place on earth where people live without sorrow and suffering, without grief and need? But for all who grieve there is hope and consolation – the Mother of God. To Her and to Her most pure Face, depicted on the icon, many suffering people all over the earth turn in prayer. Before Her icons, petitions and tears of those in need of help are poured out. And She listens to everyone, helps everyone, protects everyone, has mercy on everyone. A person born in sins cannot live without sorrow, for Psalmist David says: «I was brought forth in iniquity» (Ps. 51:5) and because of our sins, «the snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me» (Ps. 116:3). But the Mother of God can protect us and deliver us from evil and misfortunes, so we cry to Her:
«We do not have any other help, we do not have any other hope, except for you, O Lady.»
The Mother of God became the Mother of all Christians who believe in Salvation by Her Divine Son. Christ proclaimed His disciples Her children, when He said from the Cross: «Behold, your son!» (John 19:26), pointing to the beloved disciple, personifying in himself all the faithful followers of Christ. The Heavenly Queen, as a loving mother, always cares about us: she keeps childhood, teaches youth, has mercy on old age and establishes in our hearts the support and hope for the power and mercy of Her Divine Son – our Lord Jesus Christ. We offer our prayers to Her, “Helper of Christians with Whom we will not be put to shame, Immutable Intercessor before the Creator,” and She, in response to our hope, “with vigorous prayer and an immeasurable forgiveness will be generous to us and give Her mercy to our souls forever” (troparion).
The history of the Orthodox Church is rich in manifestations of God’s grace though the miracle-working icons of the Mother of God. It is impossible to list all the miracles performed through the prayers of Christians from these icons, through which the mercy of the Most Holy Mother of God is poured on us. Holy Russia is rightfully called the chosen place of protection of the Diligent Intercessor – the Most Holy Mother of God. From the first steps of Christianity our Motherland is indebted to the mercy of the Most Pure Virgin, and each appearance in Russia of a miracle-working icon has been accompanied by an endless series of wondrous miracles that strengthened the faith of the Russian people in the intercession of the Mother of God.
One of the greatest mercies of the Mother of God, shown by Her to the Russian land, was the finding of the miracle-working icon, called the Hodegetria of Smolensk. According to the tradition, this icon was painted by evangelist Luke. When the first-painted image with two other icons appeared before the Mother of God, She said: “May the grace of the One who was born of Me be with these icons.”
There are several different stories about the way in which that icon appeared in Russia. One of them says that in the 11th century that icon was a blessing on the way to Russia for Princess Anna, who became the wife of Prince Vladimir. Another story tells that the Greek emperor Constantine Monomachos, marrying off off his daughter Anna to the Chernigov prince Vsevolod in 1046, blessed her on her way with that icon. For this reason the icon is called Hodegetria, that is, «The One Guiding on the Way”.
By inheritance that icon passed into the possession of Vladimir Monomakh, who in 1097 transferred it to Smolensk to the Church of the Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God, built in 1108 especially for the installation of that icon. Since then, the icon was constantly in Smolensk, therefore received the name “of Smolensk”.
In 1237 the hordes of Batu Khan, devastating Russia, approached Smolensk. The inhabitants of the city knew nothing about that sudden attack and were not ready for the defence. And when they learned about that disaster, then the defenceless Christians laid all their hope on the “Invincible Wall” – the miracle-working icon of the Smolensk Hodegetria. Once at the edge of death, the inhabitants of Smolensk gathered in the church and with tears prayed to the Mother of God for help and intercession. They imposed strict fasting upon themselves and repented in their sins, asking for the forgiveness of them from the Lord and his Most Pure Mother.
At night in the Cathedral church, where the miraculous icon was installed, the church guard heard the voice from the icon, commanding: “Go, tell me to my slave Merkuriy to come to the church in military clothes.” When valiant warrior Mekuriy was called to the church, he heard the voice from the icon: “Merkuriy, the one pleasing me, the ruler of the Horde wants to suddenly attack my city this night with all his army, but I have entreated my Son and God, that he does not hand over my house into the slavery of the enemy. Go in secret from everyone to meet the enemy and with the power of Christ you will win. I myself will be with you, helping you, but along with the victory the martyr’s crown is waiting for you.” Hoping for the help of the Mother of God, Merkuriy, fulfilling her command, penetrated the enemy’s camp and killed the warrior-giant, on whom the Tatars relied very much, and then killed a lot of enemies with the help of the heavenly host. Tired after the battle, Merkuriy lay down to rest. Seeing him sleeping, one of the Tatar warriors cut off his head. In that way the courageous warrior Merkuriy sealed his feat of arms with his blood, for which he was subsequently recognized a saint.
In the 14th century, during the invasion of Tamerlan, the miracle-working icon was transferred from Smolensk to Moscow.
In the 15th century the inhabitants of Smolensk asked the Grand Prince to return the icon back. Solemnly, with a procession of the cross, with tears, the Muscovites saw off the Smolensk icon, and, having performed a farewell prayer service in front of it, let it go to Smolensk. Later on the site of the parting with the icon a convent was built, called Novodevichiy (New Virtgins’), which still exists today. An icon copied from the Smolensk Hodegetria was placed in that monastery, and in gratitude for the liberation of Smolensk from the Lithuanian invaders in 1514 a feast was established in honour of the miracle-working icon on July 28 (August 10).
During the invasion of Napoleon in 1812 the icon was sent to Moscow and was among the soldiers of the army in the field. Before the Battle of Borodino the Smolensk Icon, by order of the commander-in-chief of the Russian army, Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov, was carried around the ranks of the troops, and a prayer service was conducted before it. After the battle with the French army, after exactly three months of absence, the icon was returned again and put in its original place, in the Assumption Cathedral of the city of Smolensk.
The icon was in the cathedral until the beginning of the Great Patriotic War in 1941. The further fate of the Smolensk holy icon is unknown. The icon that is now in the Assumption Cathedral in the city of Smolensk is a copy of the famous Smolensk icon called Hodegetria from the 16th century.
Today, conducting the glorification of the miracle-working icon of Smolensk, let us turn our minds to the prototype – Blessed Virgin María. Let us remember Her moral virtues with which She pleased God. From the very birth the Most Pure Virgin was distinguished by high piety, chastity, modesty in speech and clothing. In order to please the Lord, She adorned Herself not with expensive clothes, but with prayer, fasting and good deeds, therefore women need to follow the example of the Mother of God in these virtues, dress as it is fitting for people who have dedicated themselves to piety, that is, take care not of fashionable clothes, but of the multiplication of the virtue. The Most Holy Virgin was also distinguished by her complete devotion to the will of the Heavenly Father, accepting with resignation and humility all sorrows and misfortunes, up to the contemplation of the sufferings of her Divine Son on the Cross. Standing at the Cross, she placed all her trust in the Lord, experienced unimaginable sorrows, so that «a sword pierced through her own soul» (cf. Luke 2:35), but she did not lose heart and courageously endured the test sent to Her and together with Her Son prayed to the Lord for the tormentors: «Forgive them; for they know not what they do» (Luke 23:34). The Most Holy Virgin was also distinguished by extraordinary humility. For Her humility She was honoured by becoming the vessel of incarnation of Christ of our God and giving the Saviour to the world. Having communion with God and the Angels, She was deemed worthy of the great miracle – the appearance of Archangel Gabriel, who brought her the wonderful news, that She would become a Mother without having a husband. Her humble response to that divine message: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be unto me according to your word,” – was the pledge of granting of the Pre-eternal God-Infant to the world. She herself speaks of this incomprehensible miracle: «He has regarded the low estate of His servant; surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed» (Luke 1:48). Having received the high honour – to become the Mother of the Saviour, the Virgin Mary did not require special signs of attention and praise for Herself, but always tried to be invisible, unknown, live in modesty and labour, with which she earned food for herself.
Brothers and sisters! Let us imitate the Most Pure Virgin in piety, chastity, modesty, diligence, devotion to the will of the Lord and deep humility. Let us ask the Queen of Heaven in our prayers to become for us a Guide from the perishable earthly to the eternal Heavenly Kingdom, so that She is our “Helper with Whom we will not be put to shame, Immutable Intercessor before the Creator,” so that He would hear us sinners and grant us through the prayer of His Mother the forgiveness of sins, salvation and the opportunity to eternally sing, glorify and thank the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit together with our Lady and Intercessor – the Most Holy Mother of God.
Glory to our God, now and ever and unto the ages of ages! Amen.