The history of the Kazan icon began in the sixteenth century. Yet people find the circumstances and place of its appearance unusual and surprising even to this day.
The history of the Kazan icon – The icon’s discovery
The Kazan icon first appeared in the city of Kazan in 1579, when that city was still far from being “Russian”. Only twenty-seven years had passed since the conquest of the Kazan Khanate by the troops of Ivan the Terrible in 1552, and twenty-six years had passed since the creation of a diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church on its territory in 1553. The local population (predominantly Muslim) was not very happy about that event either. More than that, just before the miraculous apparition, in June 1579 the city had been ravaged by a devastating fire and the locals blamed Christians for that. However, it was at that city and during those turbulent times that the Most Pure Virgin deigned to send Her holy icon to Christian people.
The appearance of the Kazan icon
This is how the appearance took place. Soon after the devastating fire, the Mother of God appeared to Matrona, a nine-year-old daughter of a strelets [a member of the infantry regiments in the sixteenth and seventeenth century Russia], and told her to find Her icon amid the ashes of a burned house. After the first vision nobody believed the girl. But the apparitions of the Queen of Heaven continued and the girl kept asking the adults to find the icon. Soon Matrona’s mother turned to Orthodox priests, asking them to help her. However, the clerics didn’t believe her story and were reluctant to search for the icon. It was not until numerous appeals to the bishop of Kazan that it was decided to try and find the holy object. At last the icon (wrapped in an old cloth) was found. According to tradition, as soon as Matrona started digging she discovered it. By orders of Tsar Ivan IV a convent in honor of the Mother of God and a church were built on this site, and the first copy of the icon was sent to Moscow.
The Time of Troubles
The history of the Kazan icon during the Time of Troubles (1605-1613)1 is inseparably connected with the name of the Hieromartyr Hermogenes, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, who was the first to inspire the population to rise up in defense of Russia and Orthodoxy against the Polish invaders as well as the internal strife, which posed even a greater danger. Incidentally, Patriarch Hermogenes was the author of the “Tale” of the Kazan icon. He wrote it in 1594 as Metropolitan of Kazan. Its full name is “The Story and Miracles of the Most Pure Theotokos and the Holy and Glorious Appearance of Her Image in Kazan”. And it was he who composed the service to this icon.
By the end of 1610, the atmosphere in Russia became extremely tense. It is widely known that Polish aristocrats wanted to sieze power in the country, but we need to keep in mind why it became possible: The worst tragedy of the Russia of that time was anarchy caused by the civil war rather than a foreign invasion. Cities and influential boyar [members of old aristocracy in Russia, next in rank to a prince] clans were fighting with one another. The country was flooded with bands of Cossacks and vagrants who in pursuit of easy profit would plunder, rape and kill. Most people were only nominally Orthodox, while their habits and lifestyle were barbarous.
Patriarch Hermogenes was taken into custody. Realizing the disastrous situation, he started sending his messages to all the regions of the tsardom, calling on everybody to stop the discord, unite and organize resistance in order to liberate the country from the enemy. He urged the citizens not only to defend their motherland but also to guard the Orthodox faith and prevent violence against common people. The patriarch’s speeches had their effect: Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin organized an all-Russian volunteer army with its center in Nizhny Novgorod. They led the army from Nizhny Novgorod to Moscow. When the volunteer army entered Yaroslavl it was joined by the Kazan residents who had brought a copy of the Kazan icon with them and handed it over to Dmitry Pozharsky. This was in 1611. From that moment the Theotokos became the spiritual “Commander” of the all-Russian voluntary army and of the whole the nation.
By the autumn of 1612, the situation had become complex. On the one hand, the Poles that took cover at the Kremlin found themselves in a vicious circle, suffering from hunger, diseases and their own differences, and cargo wagons that had been sent to them from outside were intercepted by the Russian volunteer corps. On the other hand, deep dissension developed amongst the volunteer army officers as well. It finally became clear that they couldn’t hesitate any more. Before taking the Kremlin by storm, the members of the Russian volunteer army kept strict fast and prayed very hard before of the Kazan icon for three days. [The storm was successful and the Polish Catholic aristocrats were expelled finally from the Kremlin.—OC.]
The return of the Kazan icon of the Theotokos
In 2004, a copy of the Kazan icon of the Theotokos returned to Russia. Initially it was believed to be the original icon that had been found in 1579. However, the joint Russian-Vatican commission determined that it was a later seventeenth-century copy. But what became of the original icon? Historical sources mention one vision associated with the intercession of the Mother of God. Archbishop Arsenius of Elassona who was in the Kremlin during its siege had a vision of St. Sergius of Radonezh the night before the storming. According to tradition, the saint said to the archbishop: “Arsenius, our prayers have been answered. Through the intercession of the Theotokos the Lord’s judgment upon our homeland has been changed to mercy. In the morning Moscow will be in the hands of the insurgents and Russia will be saved.” On the next day, October 22, 1612, the Russian forces stormed Kitai-Gorod [a walled area near the Kremlin.—OC.] and two days later retook the Kremlin. On October 25, 1612, Russian volunteer army officers walked in a cross procession into the Kremlin, carrying the Kazan icon of the Mother of God, the Protectress of the Russian land, at the head of the procession.
According to the Nikon Chronicle, following the liberation of Moscow from the Polish invaders Prince Dmitry Pozharsky left the Kazan icon at the Church of the Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple on Lubyanka Street in the center of Moscow. In 1636, this icon was moved to the newly-built Kazan Cathedral in Red Square. This cathedral was constructed to commemorate the liberation of Moscow from the Poles. Since 1649 October 22/November 4 has been a national holiday and feast in honor of the Kazan icon that saved Russia in the Time of Troubles.
The Kazan icon in the War of 1812
In 1812 the All-Holy Theotokos again showed Her mercy to the Russian people through her holy Kazan icon. It is known that before his departure for the Russian active army General and Field Marshall Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov prayed in front of the Kazan icon. One of the most remarkable examples of the help of the wonderworking Kazan icon to the Russian soldiers during the Patriotic War of 1812 was the result of the Battle of Vyazma (October 22). On that day, the feast of the Kazan icon, the rear guard of the French Marshall Davout was defeated by Russians commanded by General Mikhail Andreyevich Miloradovich and General of Cavalry Matvei Ivanovich Platov. The French suffered heavy casualties (7,000 to 8,000). This battle was the first defeat of Napoleon’s Army after its retreat from Moscow. In 1811, the Kazan Cathedral was completed in St. Petersburg. After the War of 1812 it became a memorial church for the Russian Army. Later Prince Mikhail Kutuzov was buried there. It is no coincidence that this cathedral was chosen as the place of perpetuation of Russia’s military glory, as the Holy Theotokos became the spiritual Protectress and “Heavenly Commander” of the Russian people in 1812 (as it had been during the Time of Troubles).
The icon is stolen
From the moment of its appearance, the original icon was kept at the Convent of the Holy Theotokos in Kazan until the early twentieth century. But in those troubled years of the revolution the Lord took this wonderworking icon away from His people, perhaps for their edification or humility. Over that period many Russian people apostatized and drifted away from their faith, the faith of their forefathers. This was most likely one of the reasons for that tragedy. Today, after so many years, we can retrace those events. On the night of June 29 (according to the old calendar), 1904, the Kazan icon of the Holy Theotokos was stolen. It is believed that those who committed the theft had chosen the right moment for their crime. For four days before the theft, the convent had been visited by the Smolensk icon and long solemn services had been celebrated daily. On June 28 the Smolensk icon was carried out from the convent, and after the vigil service all the nuns went to their cells. After two in the morning a novice named Tatiana Krivosheeva went out to the yard and heard cries for help. As it turned out, the convent’s guard Fyodor Zakharov was the one shouting. He was found locked in the cathedral’s vault. The exact location of the break-in was found. The miracle-working Kazan icon, along with an icon of the Savior, were missing, so it was clear that these were thieves and not vandals. Both icons had been in the iconostasis before the theft, and the robbers most likely coveted their gold coverings. Later it was recorded that besides the icons, 365 rubles (of donations) had disappeared from the church shop.
News of the theft of the icon quickly spread not only around Kazan but all over Russia. Fortunately, the culprits were soon found thanks to the superintendent of the Alexander Trade School, Vladimir Volman, who provided invaluable information to the police. Due to the well-coordinated efforts of all those who were not indifferent to the tragedy, the police got on the tracks of the prime suspect Bartholomew (Varfolomei) Chaikin (Stoyan), a twenty-eight-year-old peasant. On July 5 he and his mistress Praskovya Kucherova were detained in Nizhny Novgorod, to which they had fled on the Niagara steamer. During the search of Chaikin’s apartment, jewelry and fragments of the ornaments from the icons of the Mother of God and the Savior were found. However, there were no icons in the apartment. According to the nine-year-old Evgenia, daughter of Chaikin’s mistress, the icons had been cut into pieces and burned in the stove. Similar evidence was provided by other individuals who were called to testify, including Praskovya’s mother, Elena Shilling. On November 25, 1904, judicial proceedings began at the district court of Kazan. Bartholomew Chaikin (Stoyan), Ananias Komov (accessories to the crime), Fyodor Zakharov, Nikolai Maximov (partners in the crime), and Praskovya Kucherova and Elena Shilling (who covered up the crime) appeared before the court as defendants.
Following protracted hearings, Bartholomew Chaikin (Stoyan) was sentenced to twelve years of penal servitude, Ananias Komov to ten years of penal servitude, Maximov was sent to correctional facilities for two years and eight months, and Proskovya Kucherova and Elena Shilling were imprisoned for five months and ten days. The guard Fyodor Zakharov, who had been suspected of complicity in the crime, was acquitted. According to the major version, these two icons were burned by the perpetrators. However, in time new versions turned up. For example, some supposed that Chaikin may have sold the icons to Old Believers as they were very valuable even without their oklads (covers). The fate of the Kazan icon remains unknown even today.
The whereabouts of the Kazan icon – Our days. The return
The story of the Kazan icon continued to our days. In 2004, negotiations were held for a possible meeting between Patriarch Alexei II and Pope John Paul II. The fact is that since 1993 the Holy See had possessed an icon of the Theotokos of unknown origin. The art historians eventually arrived at the conclusion that it was one of the copies of the Kazan icon. Although the meeting between John Paul II and Patriarch Alexei II never took place, the icon was delivered to Moscow by a Catholic delegation headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper in August 2004. On August 28 it was handed over to Patriarch Alexei II at the Moscow Kremlin’s Dormition Cathedral.
It was decided to move the icon to Kazan, and before that event it was kept at the patriarchal residence. In April 2005, during his archpastoral visit to Kazan, Patriarch Alexei II celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Annunciation Cathedral of the Kazan Kremlin. After the Liturgy he presented the Diocese of Kazan with the Kazan icon of the Mother of God that had been received from the Vatican. The relic was placed inside the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross of the former Convent of the Theotokos where it had originally been kept. Thus it can be said that this event was like “the second discovery of the holy icon of the Theotokos”.
The original of the Kazan icon
It should be noted that when it comes to icons, the term “original” is relative. Any blessed image of the “Mother of God of Kazan” is a holy object in front of which anybody can pray. The Most Holy Virgin always hears our prayers no matter what kind of an icon we are standing before, be it paper or painted. According to tradition, the icon that was revealed to the girl Matrona in 1579 and which was lost in the early twentieth century is referred to as “the original Kazan icon”.