On Sunday, Vladimir Putin, who will become Russia’s president on Monday, together with the head of the Russian Church Patriarch Kirill, took part in a religious procession in Moscow.
The procession was held on the occasion of handling an old and very venerated icon of the Mother of God over to the Church from a museum.
The icon belonged to the Moscow Novodevichy convent until the convent was closed by the atheistic Bolshevik regime in 1922. After that, the icon was kept in the Moscow Historic Museum.
Now, a decision has been taken to return the icon to the Church.
Historian of religion Alexey Yudin believes that this is a very significant event for the Russian Church.
“This icon, known as the Iver icon of the Mother of God, is a copy of a much older icon,” he says. “This copy was made for the Russian Tsar Alexey Romanov at the Iver monastery on Mount Athos in Greece in 1648.”
“Mount Athos is a place known for centuries-old traditions of monasticism.”
“In fact, three copies from this icon were brought to Russia during the reign of Mikhail Romanov,” the historian continues, “but this particular copy was the first one brought to Russia. When it arrived, the tsar himself, surrounded by a crowd of believers, came out to meet it.”
“The Iver icon of the Mother of God has always been especially venerated in Russia.”
An old chronicle says that when the Athos monks were painting this copy, they observed a very strict fasting and performed day and night church services twice in a week.
An autograph of the copyist has remained on the icon. It says in Greek: “Iamblichus Romanov, a monk from Iver, painted this icon with great diligence in the year 7156.” (Which corresponds with the year 1648 according to the new chronology.)
Initially, the icon was placed in the Assumption cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. However, in 1654, the Russian army, which was holding a campaign against Poles, took the icon with itself to protect the army. One may believe in miracles or not, but the campaign ended with the victory of Russians.
When the icon returned to Moscow, Tsar Alexey Romanov decoded to hand it over to the Novodevichy convent. He believed that it was the Mother of God who brought the victory to the Russian army.
The Novodevichy convent is believed to be one of the most beautiful architectural ensembles of Moscow. It is situated in a picturesque place near the Moskva River.
The convent was founded in 1524. It has several times saved Moscow from enemies. When Crimean Khan Kazi-Girei attempted to besiege Moscow in 1591, Russian soldiers, who hid behind the powerful walls of the convent, opened fire on the khan’s army and prevented it from entering the city.
When French Emperor Napoleon retreated from Moscow in 1812, he attempted to blow up the Novodevichy convent. However, one of the convent’s nuns managed to put out a fired cord, which led to a cell with gunpowder, several minutes before the explosion.
In 2004, the Moscow Novodevichy convent was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a unique historic and architectural site.
In an interview with the Voice of Russia, the convent’s prioress Mother Margarita Feoktistova said:
“Since the Iver icon was handed over to our convent by Tsar Alexey Romanov, the only time that it left the convent was in 1913, when 300 years of the reign of the Romanov dynasty were celebrated.”
“In 1922, the Bolshevik regime closed the convent and made it a branch of the Moscow Historic Museum. The icon remained in the convent but was kept in a reserve depot.”
“In 2010, a decision was taken to return the convent to the Russian Orthodox Church. The museum left the territory, but it took the Iver icon with itself.”
“We were very sorry to part with the icon,” Mother Margarita says, “but we couldn’t do anything about it because, officially, the icon still belonged to the museum.”
“Now we are very glad that the old and much-venerated icon has returned to us.”
At the solemn ceremony on Sunday, Russia’s soon-to-be president Vladimir Putin handed the icon over to Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna. They carried the icon from the convent’s gates to the Smolensk cathedral, where it hung before 1922 and where it will hang now.