A HOMILY ON THE FEAST OF
THE KAZAN ICON
OF THE MOST HOLY
THEOTOKOS
(Oct. 22/ Nov. 4)

 

          Brothers and sisters!

 

          Today our Orthodox Church commemorates the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Abercius, Wonderworker of Hierapolis, and the Holy Seven Youths of Ephesus; and it also honors the miraculous Kazan icon of the immaculate Mother of God.  Great is the historical significance of this holy image, which is perhaps the most revered of all Russian icons of the Queen of heaven.  It is usually with copies of this icon that young couples are blessed in marriage, so over the centuries the Kazan Theotokos has found its way into countless Orthodox homes. 

          It has also found its way into our parish, for one of our families owns a very old, very beautiful image of the Mother of God of Kazan, which has been passed down to it through many generations from its ancestors.  Whenever we have a special service to the Queen of heaven, such as the Salutations during Great Lent, or the Paraclesis during the Dormition Fast, they kindly bring this icon to church.  Thus, we have all become accustomed to praying before it.

          Kazan is a city located on the Volga River about 450 miles east of Moscow, and was founded by the Mongols, or Tatars, of the Golden Horde in the thirteenth century.  In the fifteenth century the Golden Horde began to break up, and Kazan became the capital of an independent Muslim khanate.  At that time the Russians were throwing off the Tatar yoke, and in 1469 they succeeded in capturing Kazan.  Later, the Khan, now a Russian vassal, revolted and massacred most of the Russians in the city.  In 1552 Tsar Ivan the Terrible retook Kazan.  He immediately began building churches and made Kazan the center of a diocese, with Saint Gurias as its first bishop.  Initially, the faith of Christ was propagated with much success, but after the death of Saint Gurias and his successor, Saint Germanus, Islam began showing considerable powers of resistance.  Then, in 1579, a terrible fire broke out that destroyed half of Kazan’s kremlin and much of the surrounding area, where many Russians were living.  The Muslims boasted that God was ill-disposed to the Russians and by the fire had shown His anger at them.  It was then that the Lord revealed His mercy.  Several times an icon of the Ever-virgin Mary appeared to a nine-year old girl named Matrona.  A voice from the icon commanded her to tell the Archbishop and the military authorities to dig at the site of her parent’s house, which had burned in the recent conflagration.  At first the girl said nothing to her mother, but since the visions persisted, she finally mentioned them.  Her mother ignored her.  Then the icon appeared emitting rays of fire, so that Matrona thought she was about to be burned alive.  “If you continue disobedient, I shall appear to someone else and you will perish miserably!” thundered the voice.  The maiden collapsed and lay like a corpse for hours.  When she regained her senses, she pleaded with her mother to relate everything to the Archbishop and the military commanders.  Neither the Archbishop nor the commanders paid the least attention to Matrona’s mother.  The mother and neighbors dug at the indicated spot, excavating almost the entire area; but they found nothing.  Finally Matrona, helped by the others, dug where the stove had been, and about three feet down in the earth, she discovered the icon she had seen in the visions.  The Archbishop and officers of the garrison hurried to ask forgiveness of the Theotokos, and the holy image was borne triumphantly to the nearby Church of Saint Nicholas.  There the Archbishop served a Moleben (that is, the Paraclesis or Supplicatory Canon to the Theotokos), and the people, in their eagerness to venerate the icon, trampled one another underfoot.  Afterwards, the procession continued to the Cathedral of the Annunciation, where the icon was enshrined until a special church and a convent were built to house it.

          Two blind men received sight on the day of the discovery of the Kazan icon; therefore, to this day the faithful pray before this image for the curing of every disease of the eye.

          There are two feasts of the Kazan Theotokos on the church calendar, and the finding of the icon is actually celebrated on July 8 according to the ecclesiastical reckoning.  The present feast commemorates the deliverance of Moscow from the Poles in 1611 through the Kazan icon.  At that time Russia was in a pitiable situation.  The last scion of the ancient dynasty of Rurik – the house of Saint Vladimir – had been deposed.  An interregnum ensued, accompanied by every sort of disorder, tumult, violence, and looting.  The Poles, who had already occupied many Russian cities, seized Moscow as well, while the Swedes took Novgorod.  Both heretical powers wished to set up their own puppets on the Russian throne.  Half of Russia already recognized the Polish Prince Wladislaw as Tsar.

          True and faithful sons of Russia, however, could never be reconciled to the enthronement of a Tsar who was not only a foreigner, but a heretic.  Three men – a citizen of Moscow, Minin; the monk Palitsin; and the boyar Pozharski – organized the resistance.  Militia from throughout Russia descended upon Moscow.  The troops raised in Kazan brought the wonder-working icon for which their city was famous.  With the holy image leading them into battle, the Russians repeatedly defeated the Poles.

          Despite this, ultimate success eluded the Russian forces.  Disputes arose between the commanders, and the undisciplined militiamen and Cossacks gave themselves over to drunkenness and plundered the local population.  Winter came, and the icon was sent back to Kazan.  On the way, the icon was met by troops from Nizhni Novgorod, commanded by Prince Pozharski.  Hearing of its miracles, they returned it to Moscow.

          The situation at the capital was now grim.  The Poles had been strongly reinforced, the Russian army was in disarray, and weapons were in short supply.  The surrounding countryside had been stripped of provisions.  Spring came, and in May the Russians forced the Poles to abandon the outlying areas of the city, but the enemy remained in firm control of the Kremlin and Kitai Gorod, the heavily fortified center.  As summer turned to autumn the morale of the Russians plummeted, and it became apparent that only help from on high could secure victory before winter set in.  The army put its hope in God and the Theotokos, kept a three-day fast, and prepared for a final assault.

          In one of their dungeons, the Poles had imprisoned a devout Greek archbishop named Arsenius.  They were starving the holy hierarch, and he lay upon his bed near death.  On the night before the Russians’ attack, a brilliant light filled Arsenius’ gloomy cell.  The Archbishop saw before him the great wonder-worker of the land of Russia, Saint Sergius of Radonezh.  “Arsenius,” said the venerable one, “your prayers and ours have been heard!  The Theotokos has inclined God to show mercy.  Tomorrow the Orthodox Christians will prevail and the foe will be expelled.”  To confirm his words, Saint Sergius healed Arsenius.

          The good news circulated quickly and soon reached the besiegers.  filled with hope and courage, and trusting in the “Champion Leader,” the Russians threw themselves against the walls of Kitai Gorod on this day, October 22.  They drove back the Poles into the Kremlin; and the enemy, seeing there was no escape, quickly surrendered.  The next Sunday an enormous procession was held, and the Kazan icon was borne through the city.  Archbishop Arsenius and the other clergy imprisoned by the Poles came out of the Kremlin to meet the Kazan icon, bearing another renowned wonder-working icon, the Vladimir Mother of God.  Later that year the newly enthroned Michael Feodorovich, first of the Romanov tsars, and his father Metropolitan Philaret, decreed that the twenty-second of October be observed as a feast every year, to commemorate the deliverance of Moscow and the entire land of Russia by the Kazan icon.

          Throughout the centuries, the Orthodox Russian people have continued to turn to the Queen of heaven through her wonder-working Kazan icon, begging her to deliver them from sorrows and misfortunes, as she once delivered Moscow and all Russia from bondage to the foreigners and the yoke of the accursed Unia – false union with the Papacy.  Through this holy icon and the many others which have been glorified with miracles, the Theotokos constantly assures all that she ever remains with us.  If we turn to her with a pure heart, simple faith, and unfeigned hope, she will never reject us.  She is a fiery pillar, guiding those in darkness; she is a protecting cloud, wider than the heavens.  She is our defense against enemies visible and invisible, our deliverance in adversities, sorrows, and misfortunes.  Although we are sinners, we remain her dear children.  Her favors to us cannot be numbered.  Let us never forget her care; let us honor her feasts with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with compunction of heart and almsgiving.  Most important of all, let us learn to conduct ourselves in our daily lives in a manner befitting Christians, that she may rejoice over us as good sons and daughters and ever continue to shower her mercy upon us.  Amen.