Sermon for the Feast of the Appearance of the Theódorovskaya Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God | Russian Oldbeliever Church

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Sermon for the Feast of the Appearance of the Theódorovskaya Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God

For more than ten centuries the Russian land has been enlightened by Orthodox baptism and the light of the Gospel truth. During this time, Russia has witnessed  innumerable miraculous events and appearances associated with the Mother of God – the Heavenly Intercessor for the Russian land and all Christians. Gratitude, faith and love of the Orthodox people for the Most Holy Virgin are reflected in Her veneration through a multitude of canons, services and prayers.

Sermon for the Feast of the Appearance of the Theódorovskaya Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God

During her earthly life, the Most Holy Mother of God experienced many hardships and calamities, she knows very well the scarcity of human strength and the depth of human weakness, which allows us to hope for Her all-merciful intercession. Prayers and requests coming from the earth to heaven are close and understandable to the Mother of God. She prays for us to Her Divine Son, so that He sends us His light and His truth, so that we, Christians, with the help of God, attain the salvation of our souls, ascend to heaven – to the Kingdom of God, for it is said: «They led me and She instructed me and brought me into Your holy mountain» (Psalm 43:3, as translated from the Septuagint). The Most Holy Intercessor – the Mother of God – day and night cares for all the disciples and followers of Her Divine Son in order to grant them the grace and joy of true faith, deep repentance and the correction of life from the darkness of sinfulness to the eternal bliss of the Heavenly Kingdom. She rejoices in our repentance and protects us from the condemnation we deserve for our sins. She is a living source of inexhaustible grace, which is given to the Christian family through the appearance of the miracle-working icon of the image of the Queen of Heaven, about which She pronounced: “The grace of the One Who was born of Me and My mercy will be with my icons.” One of the greatest sacred objects of the Russian land is the miracle-working image of the Theódorovskaya Icon of the Mother of God. Here is the short story about this icon.

Beautiful ancient city of Kostroma stands on the banks of the Volga River. Here, in the Cathedral of the Baptism of the Lord, there is a miracle-working icon of the Mother of God called Theódorovskaya, which, according to the tradition, was painted by Evangelist Luke. How it ended up in Russia is unknown. The appearance of this icon in Kostroma happened as follows.

In 1239 the Kostroma prince Vasiliy, nicknamed Kvashnya (“dough-trough”), went hunting. Having moved off into the forest, the prince saw an icon of the Mother of God on a pine tree. Vasily wanted to take the icon, but it rose into the air and stopped. Struck by the miracle, the prince began to pray to the Most Holy Mother of God in awe and with tears, and then the icon descended to its original place, but as soon as the prince stretched out his hands to it again, the icon rose back into the air. Then the prince hastily returned to the city, gathered the clergy and the people, and all together went with a procession of the cross to the place where the icon of the Mother of God appeared. Having conducted a prayer singing here, the priests took from the tree the holy icon depicting the Mother of God with the image of the holy martyr Paraskovíya Friday on the back and solemnly carried it to the city. It was placed in the cathedral church in the name of the great martyr Theodore Stratelates. Then from all sides many residents of the city and of the surrounding area began to flock to worship the holy icon. Some pious citizens told the prince how they had seen that very icon on the feast of the Assumption of the Mother of God, carried around the city by a soldier in rich clothes. The soldier was very similar to the image of Holy Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates on the icon in the cathedral church. That miraculous circumstance – the carrying of the icon by st. Theodore, as well as the fact that upon its finding the icon was placed in a church in the name of that saint was  to the reason why the newly appeared icon was called Theodore’s –  Theódorovskaya.

Together with other pilgrims residents of the town of Gorodets, located in the Nizhny Novgorod region, not far from the famous Lake Svetloyar, came to venerate the miracle-working icon. Seeing the icon, they announced that it had previously been in their city and had guarded it for many years, performing many miracles. They said that during the invasion of Khan Batu, in the 12th century, when the Tatars devastated the Russian land, the inhabitants of Gorodets fled the city in fear, leaving the icon of the Mother of God in the cathedral church. The town was burned by barbarians, and everyone thought that the icon perished in the flames. The prince and all the inhabitants of the city glorified the miracle-working icon, and on the site of its appearance a monastery was built in honour of the Image of the Savior Not Made by Hands. A few years later, the cathedral church burned down, and everyone thought that the miracle-working icon perished in the flames. The prince and all the inhabitants of Kostroma considered that to be God’s punishment for their sins and were very sad.

On the third day after the fire, digging the ashes, to the great joy of the Kostroma people, the miracle-working image was found, not in the least damaged. Soon, on the site of the burnt church, a new one was built in the name of the holy Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates, and the miracle-working icon was placed in it in the sanctuary behind the altar. That miracle was followed by another – the deliverance of the Kostroma region from the invasion of hordes of Tatars, who, destroying and devastating everything in their path, moved along the Volga to Kostroma. Having approached the city, the invaders settled at its walls. The people, together with the prince, prayed fervently in front of the miracle-working icon for the deliverance from the enemies. In a strong hope for the help of the Heavenly Intercessor and Her miracle-working image, the army of Kostroma went out to meet the Tatars, and the miracle-working Theódorovskaya icon was carried in front of the Russian militia. And when the troops came together, then bright, like fiery, rays shone from the icon. The Tatars, seeing this, were so horrified that they ran away, and the Russian soldiers, inspired by this miraculous sign, rushed upon the Tatars and crushed them. After the battle a thanksgiving prayer service was performed to the Mother of God-Saviour of the city and a cross was erected at the place where the miracle-working icon was located during the battle.

Soon the cathedral church caught fire again, and the flame spread through the church so fast that no one could enter there to save the icon. Suddenly the people saw that the holy icon was standing in the air above the flames of the fire. Seeing this miracle, everyone began to pray with tears to the Mother of God not to leave the city without Her protection and intercession. The holy icon, heeding the prayer of the people, descended to the ground and stood in the middle of the square. At the order of the prince, a small wooden church was immediately built for the temporary stay of the holy icon. Soon a new stone church was built in honour of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God with a side-altar in honour of the Holy Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates. In that church the honourable icon was placed, and many who resorted to the miracle-working image with prayer and faith received miraculous healing and intercession of the Mother of God in troubles and misfortunes.

Then came the Time of Troubles of the beginning of the 17th century. The Polish and Lithuanians ravaged the Russian land, which did not have a legitimate Tsar, since the Impostor had ascended the throne. In that terrible and sad time a noblewoman and nun Martha Romanova, with her young son Mikhail, left Moscow for Kostroma. After the liberation of the Russian land from the impostors, elected representatives from all of the Russian land gathered in Moscow to elect the Tsar, and their choice unanimously fell on young Mikhail Romanov. To announce that decision a delegation ​​consisting of noble people arrived at Kostroma. The ambassadors accompanied by crowds of people, together with the clergy, carrying the miracle-working Theódorovskaya icon, went to the Ipatiev Monastery of the city of Kostroma, where Mikhail was staying with his mother. Mikhail and noblewoman Martha went out of the monastery to meet the ambassadors, venerated the holy icon, but since the mother feared for her young son at that terrible time, she did not give her son her blessing to accept the kingdom.

Then Archbishop Theodorite took the Theódorovskaya icon of the Mother of God in his hands and approached noblewoman Martha and her son with the words: “Do not resist, Sire, the will of God, the Mother of God herself loves you. Do not anger the Lord and God of all.” At the sight of the face of the Mother of God, noblewoman nun Martha prostrated herself and prayed for a long time, then brought her son to the icon, blessed him and said: “To you, Lady, I entrust my son! Let Your holy will be done over him.” Seeing the consent of his mother, Mikhail fell before the miracle-working Theódorovskaya icon and cried out with tears: “If this is Your will, I am Your slave, save and preserve me!” Mikhail Theodorovich was proclaimed the Russian Tsar and enthroned. It happened on March 14 (March 27), 1613, and therefore on this day it was established to celebrate and glorify the Theódorovskaya image of the Mother of God.

According to the Book of Orders of the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin the feast for this icon is established in the second Sunday of the Great Lent; and on August 16 (August 29), the local, Kostroma veneration of the Theódorovskaya icon is conducted.

Many wondrous miracles have manifested and are still being performed, through the prayers of believers, from the many-healing icon of Theódorovskaya Mother of God, who has the special grace of relief during childbirth and is the Intercessor, exuding endless mercies, delivering “all Christian cities and countries unharmed from all attacks of the enemy, preserving all people from all troubles according to the greatness of your mercy.”

Glory to our God, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, amen!