Miraculous And Holy: Famous Russian Icons

Orthodox Christianity, the most influential confession in Russia, provides the faithful with many objects of worship, especially icons: beautiful, spiritual and believed (by some) to perform miracles and protect the country from the enemy.

Our Lady of Vladimir

One of the finest examples of Byzantine iconography is the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus snuggling up to her cheek. Thisicon was sent to Rus as a gift in the early 12th century. The Patriarch of Constantinople gave it to a Russian prince; subsequently it changed owners during periods of wars and strife, finally finding a home in the city of Vladimir.

In 1395, Prince Vasily of Moscow took the icon to his city, seeking the help of God – that year Tamerlane, a powerful and ruthless conqueror from Middle Asia turned his eye on Moscow. His army would have defeated the Russians and burned the city, but Muscovites prayed to Our Lady of Vladimir. Tamerlane changed his mind and decided not to invade. Of course, believers attribute this to the Virgin Mary.

Two more times, in 1451 and 1480, the pattern repeated: Moscow was just about to be invaded, defeated and burned by the Mongols, but in the end they didn’t fight the Russians.Orthodox believers were sure that the icon saved their city. This is why the icon is believed to be miraculous.

Where to find it today: in St. Nicholas Church near the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

 

Our Lady of Kazan

Yes, Russians love the Virgin Mary, so here is another Byzantine icon of her. Lost in the 15th century, it was mysteriously found 140 years later, in 1579, after a great fire in Kazan. According to legend, the Lady of Kazan came to a little girl, Matrona, in her sleep and asked to look for her image in the ashes. The girl listened and later became a nun in the monastery where the icon was kept.

Much like her “sister” in Vladimir, the Lady of Kazan was later moved to the capital. In 1612, the Russian army carried it as a holy banner during their battle against the Poles who occupied Moscow – and won. Since then, the Virgin Mary of Kazan is also known as the Holy Protectress of Russia.

In 1904, the unspeakable happened: someone stole the icon from the monastery in Kazan. Since then, the fate of one of Russia’s most worshipped symbols is unclear. Nevertheless, there is an excellent copy of the original icon, which traveled the world and was given back to the Orthodox by Pope John Paul II.

Where to find it today: in the Bogoroditsky Monastery of Kazan (copy)

 

“The Trinity” by Andrei Rublev

This is the first (and the last) non-Virgin-Mary icon in this list and one of the few proven conclusively to be created by Andrei Rublev, the great Russian icon painter who lived in the 15th century. There are no legends or rumors around this icon; it’s not considered miraculous. Yet it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of art and one of Russia’s symbols.

“The Trinity,” also called “The Hospitality of Abraham,” portrays three angels that, according to the Bible, came to the house of Patriarch Abraham symbolizing “one God in three persons” – the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. The icon is astonishingly harmonic and tranquil. “It shines with the highest, unearthly light that we can see only in the works of geniuses,” said Russian painter Igor Grabar about “The Trinity.”

Where to find it today: in the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

 

The Theotokos of Smolensk

Like we said before, for Russians there is no such thing as too many miraculous icons of the Virgin Mary. This one, rumored to be painted by St. Luke the Evangelist, was given to Prince Vsevolod by the Byzantine emperor in 1046 when Vsevolod married his daughter, thus turning Kievan Rus’ into a powerful ally of the Orthodox Church.

Kept in the city of Smolensk (400 km west of Moscow), this icon was believed to protect Russian lands from western enemies. That’s why in 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia, the army took the icon to Moscow and the whole city prayed for salvation.

The original icon, however, didn’t survive another invasion from the West: during World War II, when Nazi Germany occupied Smolensk in 1941-1943,Theotokos was lost. Now the city owns only an exquisite copy.

Where to find it today: in the Cathedral Church of the Assumption, Smolensk (copy).

 

Our Lady of the Don

Yet another of Russia’s many ‘ladies,’ this one is believed to be painted by Theophanes the Greek, Andrei Rublev’s teacher and another great icon painter. Legend says the Cossacks gave this icon to Prince Dmitry of Moscow a day before he defeated the Mongols in the glorious battle of Kulikovo. Though it’s most likely a fake, Our Lady of the Don had its fame as Russia’s protector, like the others on this list.

Where to find it today: in the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

 

 

 

 

Oleg Yegorov writes for Russia Beyond.

Lenin: The Giant Mushroom

In 1991, just months before the collapse of the USSR, Soviet audiences witnessed a shocking scene on television program, Pyatoe Koleso (The Fifth Wheel). Two serious-looking men – Sergey Sholokhov, the host and his guest, an underground musician and writer introduced as “politician and actor,” Sergey Kurekhin were sitting in a studio discussing the October revolution of 1917.

Suddenly, Kurekhin offered a very interesting hypothesis – that Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, was not a human being but a mushroom.

Kurekhin started with a rambling discourse on the nature of revolutions and his trip to Mexico where, in ancient temples, he had seen frescoes closely resembling the events of 1917. From there, he moved on to the author Carlos Castaneda who described the practices of Central American Indians of using psychotropic drinks prepared from certain types of cacti.

“Apart from cacti, Castaneda describes mushrooms as special products with a hallucinogenic effect,” Kurekhin continued and then quoted Lenin’s letter to leading Marxist Georgi Plekhanov: “Yesterday I ate many mushrooms and felt marvelously well”. Noting that Russia’s fly-agaric mushroom has hallucinogenic effects, Kurekhin assumed that Lenin was consuming these kinds of mushrooms and had some kind of psychedelic, mind-altering experience.

It was not only Lenin who dabbled in such fungi, but other Bolsheviks as well, Kurekhin claimed. “The October revolution was made by people who had been consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms for years,” he said with a poker face. “And Lenin’s personality was replaced with that of a mushroom because fly-agaric identity is far stronger than a human one.” Therefore, he concluded, Lenin became a mushroom himself.

After that sensational statement, the program went on for another 20 minutes, with Kurekhin and Sholokhov citing endless “evidence” of Lenin’s affinity for mushrooms, starting from his passion for collecting fungi and going so far as to compare a photo of an armored vehicle Lenin once posed on to fungal mycelium.

At some point, both couldn’t help but laugh after stating that the Soviet hammer and a sickle symbol was, in fact, combination of a mushroom and a mushroom picker’s knife. But even the laughter didn’t prevent thousands of people from taking the program seriously.

“Had Kurekhin been speaking of anyone else, his words would easily have been dismissed as a joke. But Lenin! How could one joke about Lenin? Especially on Soviet television,” Russian anthropologist Alexei Yurchak said to explain the gullibility of many Soviet viewers.. He emphasized that viewers didn’t necessarily believe that Lenin was a mushroom – but they treated Kurekhin as a serious researcher, calling the television and writing letters demanding that the station confirm or refute the idea of the Bolshevik leader being a fungus.

Sergei Sholokhov, who made the program together with Kurekhin, later said: “The day after the show aired, a delegation of old Bolsheviks went to our local Communist party boss who was in charge of ideology and demanded an answer – was Lenin a mushroom or not. She answered with a fierce ‘No!’ claiming that ‘a mammal cannot be a plant’.”

Both himself and Kurekhin were quite shocked by such an answer, Sholokhov notes. On the other hand, Sholokhov may have made the story up  – just like he and Kurekhin (who died in 1996) did with the TV show.

It was Kurekhin, a humorous hoaxer who came up with the idea. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the world of Soviet media was changing, and as journalists enjoyed more freedom, some of them were talking nonsense.

As Kurekhin’s widow Anastasia recalled, “Once we saw a TV show on the death of Sergey Yesenin (the Russian poet who committed suicide in 1925). The host built his “proof” that Yesenin had actually been killed on absolutely absurd arguments. They showed photos of the poet’s funeral and said: “Look, this man is looking this way and that man is looking the other way, so it means that Yesenin was killed.” Kurekhin saw it and said to Anastasia: “You know, you can prove anything using such “evidence”. And so he did.

Alexei Yurchak explains that the hoax and people’s reactions to it was a good illustration of how people, no matter where they live, tend to trust the media without checking facts. “If there’s something in the media, there must be something to it,” Yurchak wrote. Kurekhin’s provocation was a hilarious way to prove how easy it is to feed people with the most bizarre nonsense if you sound confident enough.

 

Oleg Yegerov writes for Russia Beyond, through whose courtesy this articles is provided.