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Sermon for the Feast of the Vladimir Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God

How much joy for us Christians is brought by the remembrance of the greatness of the Mother of God, our Intercessor and Advocate before God! How great is the dignity of human nature, submitting to the will of God and humbling itself before the Lord! This is why the apostle exclaimed: «Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you!» (James 4:10) How great is the love of God for us, which opens the way for the return of our lost dignity equal to the angels’ and the acquisition of the heavenly bliss lost by our forefathers! Our Saviour, having exalted His Most Immaculate Mother, wants to exalt every soul and bring it into union with Himself. The path of this spiritual growth and union with the Lord is His words about the fulfillment of God’s will and commandments: «Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother» (Matt. 12:50). And if our soul becomes like the Mother of God, in humility, obedience, love for God, then by God’s grace the Lord will be with her – and our soul will be blessed and glorified forever. We can be honoured by this great joy by relying on the intercession and help of the Most Blessed Mother of God, Who is called the Mother of all believers in Her Son and God. With motherly love and care She looks down from Heaven on the mourning and humble, delivering them from evil and making them unharmed from all the enemy’s attacks.

Sermon for the Feast of the Vladimir Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God

One of the greatest sacred objects of the Russian land is the miracle-working Vladimir icon, which is an image of infinite Maternal love and Divine mercy. This miracle-working icon is connected with so many grateful memories of the benefactions of the Mother of God to our Fatherland, that She is justly called the Commander Fighting in our Protection of the Orthodox Russian land. This icon of the Mother of God, filled with the miraculous grace of the prototype, like a brave and wise commander, has always led the Russian people to defend themselves from foreign invaders, giving strength, courage and firmness of faith in the victory and overcoming of all enemies and adversaries. In gratitude for the deliverance of the Russian land from troubles, the Orthodox Church celebrates the feasts of the Vladimir Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God three times a year: May 21 (June 3, civil style), June 23 (July 6) and August 26 (September 8). Here is a summary of the story of the Vladimir Icon and the miracles which were shown from it.

According to the description of our pious ancestors, that icon was painted by holy apostle and evangelist Luke and given by him as a gift to the Most Holy Virgin during Her earthly life. The Mother of God, seeing the image of Her face on the icon, prophetically pronounced: “from now on all generations will call me blessed  !” (Luke 1:48) – and added that the grace of the Lord Born of Her will remain with that icon.

In the 5th century that icon was brought from Ierosalim to Constantinople, and from there, in the 12th century, it was sent by the Patriarch of Tsargrad (Constantinople) to Kiew, to the great prince Yuriy Dogorukiy (“With Long Arms”). His son, Andrey of Bogoliubovo, transferred that holy icon to the city of Vladimir on Klyazma. Since then has been was called “of Vladimir”. Prince Andrey, as the chronicler writes, “had great faith and love to the Most Holy Mother of God”, built in Vladimir the famous Cathedral of Dormition and transferred the icon into it, having decorated it richly.

There were many miracles and signs from the holy icon, so Prince Andrey had a special faith in it, and when he went on military campaigns, he always took it with him. During the campaign of 1164 against the Volga Bulgars, Prince Andrey fervently prayed before the icon – and the enemies were utterly defeated. After the battle, during prayer, an unusual light shone from the icon and the life-giving Cross, which illuminated the Russian regiments. The memory of this miracle is preserved in the celebration of the Origin of the Honourable and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord on August 1 (14), established by holy Prince of good faith Andrey of Bogolyubovo.

Prince Dimitry Donskoy, turning to the intercession of the Mother of God through Her Vladimir Icon, defeated Mamai on September 8 (21), 1380 at the Kulikovo field. In 1395, the terrible conqueror Tamerlan, with his incalculable army, entered the Russian land. Spreading terror everywhere, he reached the Don River, heading for Moscow. Moscow prince Vasiliy with the army went out towards Tamerlan and stopped near Kolomna on the banks of the Oka. Trusting in God’s protection, the prince prayed fervently with all his army for the deliverance of his Fatherland. He commanded that the Dormition Fast which had begun should be marked by fervent prayer and the feat of repentance, and that the miracle-working icon of the Mother of God be brought from Vladimir to Moscow. All Moscow came out to meet Her, the people cried out with tears: “Mother of God, save the Russian land!”

The tearful prayer of the Orthodox was not in vain. At the hour when the inhabitants of Moscow met the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God, Tamerlan in a dream vision saw a large mountain, from the top of which the Holy Hierarchs rushed at him with golden rods in their hands, and above them in the radiance he saw the Woman, surrounded by an incalculable army with fiery swords in hands. Menacingly turning her eyes to Tamerlan, the Woman ordered him to leave the borders of the Russian land. Tamerlan woke up in horror from that vision. Summoning his elders, he demanded to explain that vision to him. The sages answered that the Woman he saw was the Mother of the Christian God – the Protector of Russians. “So we will not defeat them,” Tamerlane said and ordered his hordes to go back, to the great surprise of Russians and Tatars themselves.

In great joy and gratitude all the Orthodox cried out to the Mother of God: “It was not our troops who drove away the enemies, it was not our leaders who defeated them, but Your strength, Mother of God.” In memory of this miraculous intercession and mercy of God, the Monastery of the Meeting was built at the meeting place of the miracle-working icon in Moscow, and at the same time the feast was established in honour of this event on August 26 (September 8, civil style).

Half a century later, in 1451, Moscow was threatened by Tatar prince Mazovsha. Moscow residents again prayed to the Most Holy Mother of God for her intercession before the Vladimir icon. And the Mother of God saved the Russian land again. Mazovsha fled in fear, hearing an extraordinary noise and imagining that the Russian prince was marching towards them with a large army.

Several more years passed and in 1480 Khan Akhmat of the Great Horde with a huge army moved into the Russian land in order to rob and ruin Moscow. He reached the Ugra River – the border of the Moscow possessions. Grand Prince Ioann was preparing to rebuff him, defending the faith and the Fatherland. Both armies met on the Ugra River, which separated them. By the intercession of the Mother of God, before the image of which the Russian soldiers prayed fervently, a miraculous event took place. The Grand Prince ordered his troops to retreat from the Ugra, and the Tatars explained that retreat by the fact that the Russians were luring them into an ambush, so they also began to retreat. At first they retreated slowly, but at night the Tatar soldiers were suddenly attacked by such fear that they ran without looking back. Thus, Moscow and all of Russia were saved, for after that event the painful and dishounorable Tatar yoke, which lasted for about two hundred years, finally fell. And that happened, as the chronicle says, “not from human strength and wisdom, but from the help of the Lord and His Most Pure Mother for the Russian land.” In gratitude for the miraculous liberation of Moscow and all Russia from the Tatars the feast was established in honour of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God on June 23 (July 6).

In 1521, the Crimean and Kazan Tatars, led by Makhmet-Girey, invaded Russia and, devastating everything in their path, quickly reached the Moscow borders. Grand Prince Vasiliy Ivanovich led his troops to the banks of the Oka River in order to hold off the enemies. The countless hordes of Makhmet-Girey threatened Moscow with inevitable destruction. The capital was in confusion, but tearful prayers before the image of the Vladimir miracle-working icon did not stop. At night, the blessed elder named Vasiliy prayed with tears at the entrance to the Kremlin’s Assumption Cathedral. Suddenly he heard a noise in the church … The doors of the cathedral opened – and the miracle-working icon of the Mother of God left its place! A voice was heard from the icon: “I will leave this city together with the Holy Hierarchs!” With those words the whole Church was filled with flames, which immediately disappeared. On the same night, a blind elderly nun of the Ascension Convent, sitting in her cell, suddenly saw in a vision that a procession of the cross of the assembly of Holy Hierarchs and other saints of God was going to the Kremlin’s Gate of the Saviour, and among them the miracle-working icon of Vladimir. But as soon as they left the gate, they were met by the Monks Sergius of Radonezh and Varlaam of Khutyn. Falling at the feet of the Holy Hierarchs, they started to ask them why they were leaving Moscow and to whom they were leaving the city at such a mournful time. The Holy Hierarchs answered with tears: “We prayed much to the All-Merciful God and to the Most Pure Mother of God for the deliverance from this great tribulation, but God commanded us to leave the city and take with us the miracle-working image of His Most Pure Mother, for the people despise the fear of God, and do not care about His commandments.

Through the prayer of the Mother of God, Moscow was saved again. The chroniclers tell about this event as follows: the Tatars wanted to burn the Moscow quarters, but suddenly they saw an incalculable Russian army around the city and with horror announced that to the Khan. He did not believe it and sent other servants to check what was said. They confirmed the vision to him and said with fear: “O King! Why are you lingering? An immeasurable multitude of troops is coming to us from Moscow, let us flee fast! ” And the Tatars fled.

In memory of the miracle of the deliverance of Moscow from the devastation by the adversaries, a third holiday in honour of the Vladimir icon was established – May 21 (June 3). On this day, remembering the intercession of Moscow by the Mother of God, the Holy Church joyfully sings: “Today the glorious city of Moscow is adorned with light, receiving your miracle-working icon like the dawn of the sun. Coming to it and praying to You we call out in this way: O Most Miraculous Lady Mother of God, pray to Christ our God, who incarnated from You, that He delivers this city, and all Christian cities and countries unharmed from all attacks of the enemy and save our souls for He is Merciful!”

When Crimean Khan Girey raided Russia in 1541, Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich, setting off on a campaign against the enemies, prayed with tears and prostrations before the Vladimir icon for help, and the enemies were repelled.

In 1552, setting off to conquer Kazan, Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich, as reported in the chronicle, “falls tearfully before the miracle-working image of the Mother of God with crying, extending prayers for a long time.” The Tsar’s prayer was heard – Kazan was captured.

The beginning of the 17th century was marked by the difficult years of the Times of Trouble. The Poles and Swedes devastated Russia, and on the throne of the Orthodox Tsars reigned the Impostor, who wanted to subdue the Orthodox Russian people to the Pope. The Russian militia, who gathered to liberate the Orthodox Fatherland from the invaders of other faiths, prayed before the icon of the Vladimir Mother of God, asking for Heavenly help to protect the Orthodox people. Before the expulsion of the Polish from Moscow, the leaders of the militia, Minin and Pozharskiy, said to the Russian people: “It is better for us to die than to give the Vladimir image of the Most Holy Mother of God for desecration.” With the help of the Mother of God the victory over evil was won – the Impostor was overthrown.

During the invasion of the French to Russia in 1812, the Vladimir Icon was sent to Vladimir, where it was carried daily with a procession of the cross through the city, offering prayers for the liberation of Moscow and the entire Fatherland from the conquerors. By the intercession of the heavenly Protector, the enemies left Moscow and fled Russia in disgrace.

And, of course, the Russian people prayed to the Most Holy Mother of God and Her miracle-working icon of Vladimir during the hard trials of the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945. And, although reliable information about God’s help and miracles has not been preserved, since it was a time of persecution of the Church and Christians, nevertheless, undoubtedly, the victory in the Patriotic War was a new miracle of the intercession of the Mother of God for the Russian Orthodox people.

What a Divine and highly joyous treasure has the Lord given to the Orthodox people – the miracle-working Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God! With what a wondrous and saving power are those great miracles filled that, due to the prayers of our pious ancestors, during times of trials this wondrous image has  shown to the Christian people and the entire Russian land! Apparently, people then were worthy of Heavenly protection and great miracles, for their prayer to the Mother of God was common, unanimous, ardent, with the participation of the rulers and military leaders.

Brothers and sisters! Let us with humility, repentance, obedience and love raise our prayers to the Most Holy Mother of God, singing: “Rejoice, O Gladdened One, the Lord is with You!”

Grant us, O Lady, to worthily call You a merciful Mother, so that here on earth and in eternal life we may be with You in the endless joy in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, to Him be the glory, with His Beginningless Father and with the Most Holy and Good and the Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages! Amen.