26 May 2018

Theotokos of Tikhvin

In the Eastern Churches, there are icons, often of Our Lady, that are referred to as 'miraculous' or 'wonder working' icons. One of these is the Icon of the Theotokos of Tikhvin. There are two traditions regarding its origins. One is that it was written by St Luke the Evangelist, taken to Constantinople, and eventually to Russia. The other is that the icon miraculously appeared, hovering over a lake, in Russia near Tikhvin in 1383.

Be that as it may, since the 14th century, the icon has been held in Tikhvin, where eventually the Tikhvin Assumption Monastery was founded to host the icon. In 1941, during World War II, for a month, Tikhvin was occupied by German troops, who looted the monastery and, in particular, took the icon to Pskov, and in 1944 transferred it to Riga. The icon eventually was taken out of Russia for safety by a Russian Orthodox bishop from Kolka parish and later Bishop of Riga - John (Garklavs), who became Archbishopof of Chicago. In the period between 1949 and 2004 the icon remained at Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, IL United States. It was returned to Tikhvin, Russia in 2004 by his spiritual son, Fr. Sergei Garklavs of Chicago. The icon is kept at the Tikhvin Assumption Monastery, where it was kept prior to 1917.

I once asked Vladika, who was a small man, not much bigger than the icon, how he had managed to smuggle the icon out of Russia to safety. In his broken English, he told me that he wouldn't tell me, but that if someone needed advice on how to smuggle an icon to safety he would tell them!

In 1973, whilst the Icon was under the guardianship of Vladika John, I was attending Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Kansas City, KS, in the Archeparchy of Chicago. We were expecting our first child, a daughter.  She arrived, quite unexpectedly, about six weeks before her 'due date'. Whilst her mother was released from hospital after two or three days, the little one remained in the neonatal ICU for a few more days in order to fully develop. 

At the same time her great grandmother was dying. She was in another hospital and the day we were preparing to retrieve our new baby from hospital, we received a phone call that grandma was on her deathbed, with just hours, if that, to live. We were told that if we wanted the newborn to meet her great grandmother, we had better hurry.

I recalled that Vladika had brought the Wonderworking Icon of Tikhvin to Holy Trinity for the veneration of the Faithful. So, whilst the new mother went to pick up the newborn, I rushed to the Church to throw myself on my knees in front of our Blessed Mother. I asked only that grandma live long enough that Evgenya could 'meet' her.

The outcome? God granted my prayers through the intercession of the Theotokos of Tikhvin. Not only did grandma live to meet her new (and only, at that time) great grandchild, but she lived over a week longer, conscious and able to hold Evgenya and cuddle her and coo over her.

As the old saying goes, 'God is great, and He has a Good Mother'!

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