The Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God, named "Hodegetria"
Commemorated on July 28
The Smolensk Icon
of the Mother of God, named "Hodegetria", which in Russian means
"Putevoditel'nitsa" or "Way-Guide", was according to Church
tradition written by the holy Evangelist Luke within the earthly lifetime of
the MostHoly Mother of God. Sainted-hierarch Dimitrii of Rostov suggests
that this image was written at the request of Theophilos, the governor of
Antioch. From Antioch the holy image was transferred to Jerusalem. From there
the empress Eudokia, the spouse of Arcadius, gave it at Constantinople to
Pulcheria the sister of the emperor, who put the holy icon in the Blakhernai
The Greek emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1054), – in 1046 having given his daughter Anna in marriage to prince Vsevolod Yaroslavich, the son of Yaroslav the Wise, – blessed her on her way with this icon. After the death of prince Vsevolod the icon went to his son Vladimir Monomakh, who transferred it at the beginning of the XII Century into the Smolensk cathedral church in honour of the Dormition (Uspenie) of the MostHoly Mother of God. From that time the icon received the title of Smolensk Hodegetria.
In the year 1238 at the bespeaking of the icon, the self-sacrificing Orthodox warrior Merkurii by night penetrated into the camp of Batu and killed many of the enemy, in which number was also their most powerful warrior. Having accepted in the fight a martyr's end, he was enumerated by the Church to the ranks of the Saints (Comm. 24 November).
In the XIV Century Smolensk came into the possession of the Lithuanian princes. The daughter of prince Vitovt, Sophia, was given for marriage to the Moscow GreatPrince Vasilii Dimitrievich (1398-1425). In 1398 she brought with herself to Moscow the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God. They set the holy image in the Annunciation cathedral of the Kremlin, on the right side of the royal-doors. In 1456, at the request of the inhabitants of Smolensk with Bishop Misail at the head, the icon was solemnly in church procession returned to Smolensk, and at Moscow there remained two copies of it. One was put in the Annunciation cathedral, and the other – "a measure for measure" – was put in the Novodevichei monastery, founded in memory of the return of Smolensk to Russia. The monastery was built on Devichei Pole (Virgin's Field), where "with many tears" the Muscovites handed over the holy icon to Smolensk. In 1602 an exact copy was written from the wonderworking icon (in 1666 together with the ancient icon they conveyed a new copy to Moscow for restoration), which they situated in the tower of the Smolensk fortress wall over the Dneprovsk Gates, under a specially constructed mantle-cover. Afterwards, in 1727, was built there a wooden church, and in 1802 – a stone church.
The new copy took on the power of grave of the old image, and when the Russian armies left Smolensk on 5 August 1812, they took the icon with them for defense from the enemy forces. On the eve of the Battle of Borodino they carried this image through the camp, to encourage and inspire the soldiers to the great deed. The ancient image of the Smolensk Hodegetria, taken for the while to the Uspensk cathedral, on the day of the Borodino battle was in procession around with the Iversk and Vladimir Icons of the Mother of God through the Belo and Kitai quarters and the Kremlin walls, and then they sent it to the sick and wounded at the Lefortovo palace. After the leaving of Moscow the icon was taken to Yaroslavl'.
Thus of old were these sister-icons preserved, and the Mother of God through Her images defended the Native-land. After the victory over the enemy forces the Hodegetria Icon together with its glorified copy was returned to Smolensk.
The celebration in honour of this wonderworking image on 28 July was establsihed in the year 1525 in memory of the return of Smolensk to Russia.
There exist many venerated copies of the Smolensk Hodegetria, for which the celebration is set on this day. There is also a day of celebration for the Smolensk Icon, glorified in the XIX Century, – 5 November, when this image on the orders of the commander-in-chief of the Russian army M. I. Kutuzov was returned to Smolensk. In memory of the expelling of the enemy from the Fatherland, at Smolensk it was established to celebrate this day annually.
The holy icon of the Hodegetria Mother of God – is one of the chief holy things of the Russian Church. Believers have received and do receive from it an abundant help of grace. The Mother of God through Her holy image intercedes for and strengthens us, guiding on the way to salvation, and we call out to Her: "Thou for faithful peoples – art the All-Blessed Hodegetria, Thou art the affirmation – the Praiseworthy of Smolensk and all the Russian land. Rejoice, Hodegetrix, salvation to Christians!"
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.