The Russian Orthodox relic is named because it pictures the mother of Jesus, holding a scepter
By Rebecca Rosen Lum
Article Launched: 09/02/2007 03:05:58 AM PDT
A Russian Orthodox icon unearthed from a sooty hiding place in 1917 and said to possess miraculous healing powers comes to San Francisco this month with revived Sretensky Monastery Choir.
The "goodwill tour" fetes the healing of a bitter division between Russian Orthodoxy in the mother country and beyond.
The Russian Church Abroad severed ties with the Russian Orthodox Church after the Bolshevik revolution, vowing to remain independent. In 2003 President Vladimir Putin urged a reconciliation.
In May, the churches signed a canonical union and held a joint service in Butovo, a blood-soaked village where secret police executed tens of thousands over two decades, and where a shrine to the Stalin's victims now stands.
The icon and the Sretenksy Monastery provide a fitting tribute to the rapprochement. Both emerged from decades of secrecy in the early 1990s.
The "Reigning Woman" icon is so named because it pictures the mother of Jesus in a throne, wearing the earthly garb of imperial Russia and holding a scepter -- the queen of heaven and earth.
Legend has it the icon appeared to a peasant girl in her dreams. Eudocia Adrianova and her rector found it covered with soot in the basement room of a church in Kolomenskoe, outside Moscow in 1917. The same day, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated.
"People started streaming to this church, which was not known outside the village before," said tour manager Anastasia Boudanoque. "Miracles have been documented of people touching the icon, diseases cured."
Unusually large at 5 feet, 6 inches tall, "It is a very impressive piece of art on thick board," Boudanoque said. "It's quite colorful." Its inscription is in Church Slavonic.
Scholars believe the icon first decorated the Ascension Convent of the Moscow Kremlin, but was spirited to Kolomenskoe in 1812 when Napoleon invaded.
It would be moved again, and again, and again.
Bolsheviks seized the icon and other holy objects after the 1917 revolution. The "Reigning Woman" spent seven decades in the storage rooms of the State Historical Museum. In the late 1980s, it was transferred at the behest of religious hierarchy to the altar of St. Joseph of Volokalamskchurch. In 1990, Orthodox clergy and believers carried the icon back to Kolomenskoe's Kazan Church in an ebullient ceremony.
For its first journey outside Russia, it is wrapped only in tissue paper.
"And it is never placed in cargo hold," Boudanoque said. "It gets its own seat, like a cello."
It has to be accessible to those who want to look at it, touch it. High-ranking clergy have said nyet to glass or other protective coverings.
"They don't seem to be concerned with the possibility of it being stolen, if I may say," Boudanoque said. "Nothing bad can happen to it, is the faith they go on."
It is never actually left unattended, she said.
The paints used in icons are made from pulverized minerals and gemstones and mixed with egg, which symbolizes the resurrection, said iconographer Steve Georgiou, whose books include "Mystic Street" (Novalis, 2007). The wood foundation also has biblical significance -- the ark, the cross, the tree of life, he said.
An icon is as powerful as its painter is devout, said another expert.
"A painter lives a life of fasting, purity and virtue," said China Galland, a professor-in-residence at the Center of Art, Religion and Education at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and author of "Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna" (Penguin, 2007).
"Its efficacy reflects the painter's depth," she said. "It is not an inert, inanimate object. You, the viewer, are being seen as well."
Its overtones of national unity are characteristic of other icons, including The Virgin of Guadalupe and the Black Madonna of Poland, credited with holding her country together, she said.
Rectors of all Orthodox parishes in the Bay Area were directed to cancel services Sept. 15 and 16 and instead attend the service at the Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco, the center of the Western America Diocese.
There, with four of the highest-ranking priests in the Russian Orthodox Church, they will listen to the Sretensky Choir and see the storied icon.
"Icons are essentially visual sermons," Georgiou said. The alleged healing ability of some icons comes not from the image, but from the power they represent, he said.
"You could say an icon is like a window," he said. "You look through to the opposite side."
Rebecca Rosen Lum covers religion. Reach her at 925-977-8506 or email@example.com.
8 p.m., Saturday Sept. 14, the Sretensky Monastery Choir performs folk songs and sacred chants at Davies Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave. in San Francisco. Tickets $15 to $45. City box office can be reached at 415-392-4400.
5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, a pararaclis ritual at Holy Virgin Cathedral, 6210 Geary Blvd. in San Francisco, followed by 6 p.m. all-night vigil service. Services are open to the public. Men are asked not to wear shorts and women are asked to wear skirts or dresses. All stand for the entirety of the service.
9 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, divine liturgy at the cathedral.
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