Return of the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Tikhvin

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Return of the Wonder-working Icon
of the Theotokos of Tikhvin
15-28 June, 2004

The Wonder-working Icon of the Mother of God of Tikhvin has been deeply interwoven with the history and self-understanding of Russia herself. This icon is like that of the Wonder-working Icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir in that respect. Both icons have been associated with the protection of Russia from invasions. Both icons have brought the Mother of God, the Theotokos, deeply into the hearts of the Russian Orthodox faithful people. Thus, from the beginning of his patriarchal service, it was a priority for His Holiness Aleksy II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’, to try to bring about the return of this holy icon to the monastery from which it had been taken in order to protect it. However, it took many years to bring about the return of this icon to Russia, and to the Monastery of the Mother of God in Tikhvin (about 200 km east of Saint Petersburg). Because of the great importance of this Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos to the Russian Orthodox Church and to Russia, it required many painstakingly detailed and careful preparations through conversations between the Holy Synods of the Moscow Patriarchate and of The Orthodox Church in America. It also involved many careful conversations between the Garklavs family in the USA and clergy in Russia.

This icon of the Mother of God was written long ago by the holy Evangelist Luke, as was the icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir in Moscow. In the 5th century, the icon arrived in Constantinople from Jerusalem, where it was venerated in the cathedral in Blachernae which had been built especially because of the presence of this icon. However, in 1383 the icon disappeared from this cathedral (this was about 70 years before the fall of the city to the Ottomans). During the following century, the holy icon appeared before some fishermen who saw it hovering above Lake Ladoga. It was as if the Holy Theotokos herself had moved from Byzantium to Russia. It was during the time of the Great Prince of Moscow Dmitry Donskoy that this wonder-working icon first appeared above the waters of Lake Ladoga, invisibly borne through the air by angels, and shining with a radiant light. The holy icon moved from place to place, healing the infirm and comforting those in sorrow. In those places where the icon stopped, pious Orthodox Christians built chapels and churches.

Ultimately, it seems that the Holy Theotokos chose the place now known as Tikhvin as the permanent or long-term place for her icon. There, a Temple was soon built for the icon, and in time a monastery grew up around this Temple. Its official foundation was in 1560, by order of Tsar Ivan IV. The veneration of the icon was so great, and pilgrims so numerous, that a special window was built into the wall of the Temple, through which pilgrims could see the wonder-working icon and pray before it even when the Temple was locked. An unusual warmth issued from the hands of the Theotokos on the icon that could be felt by the lips of those who venerated it. This monastery itself became known as the Great Tikhvin Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos, and around it there grew up a town as well. A very substantial wall was constructed by the tsar, to surround the monastery in the manner of a fortress, since at the time it was located quite close to the Swedish border, and the walls could protect the monastery and the trade-route. In 1610, during the Time of Troubles and the reign of Tsar Ivan IV, the town was looted by Polish troops, and subsequently it was occupied by Swedish forces until 1613. Those who had taken refuge in the monastery resisted a very long siege, until the occupying forces were driven out. There were times also when the monastery was protected by this holy icon. At those times, the invading Swedish armies retreated without explanation or fighting after the Icon of the Mother of God was taken in procession around the walls of the monastery.

In the 1920s, after the Bolshevik Revolution, the monastery was closed by the communists, but the icon remained in the Temple of the monastery as before. The Icon of the Theotokos was transferred to Riga by a complicated series of events. In 1941, during World War II, Tikhvin was occupied for a month by German troops, who looted and damaged the monastery. In particular, these troops took the Tikhvin Icon of the Theotokos to Pskov, which they had also occupied. It was during these years (when the war-front was moving farther east and north) that there was a very active missionary work undertaken in these territories by Latvian Orthodox clergy and others. One of these hard workers for the sake of Christ was the Russian Orthodox Archbishop of Riga, Janis (Garklavs). (Janis is Latvian for John.) He had been ordained to the Holy Episcopate in 1943, and taken therefore from the Kolka parish, where he had been the pastor. Kolka is a village by the sea, on Cape Kolka. It was in 1944 that the retreating German soldiers brought the invaluable image of the Mother of God to Riga, where it was eventually saved by Archbishop Janis. It was at the end of the war, when the Soviets were about to take over Latvia, that Archbishop John took the icon and fled from Riga, along with 12 other clergy (and his adopted son Sergei). As they were leaving, they all noticed that the Soviet war-planes were dropping bombs on all sides of those departing. However, their ship was undamaged. It was his son Sergei who carried the icon on each leg of the journey. The icon with its metal covering weighs about 30 kg. The flight from Riga took them first to Germany, then to Poland and Czechoslovakia, and then in 1949 to the USA. Meanwhile, after World War II, the Tikhvin Town Museum was organised in the monastery precincts.

Once in the USA, the Garklavs family arrived in Chicago with the icon. Covered by a riza (a hammered gold outline of the image it covers, which is encrusted with jewels), the icon for years occupied a prominent place in Chicago’s Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity (which is in what is called the “Ukrainian Village”). Archbishop John (Garklavs) became the Archbishop of the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest in 1956. When he reposed in the Lord in 1982, he bequeathed the icon to his adopted son Sergei (now a married archpriest with children), with the stipulation that it return to Russia when the Soviet State would collapse, and on the condition that the monastery where it belonged initially be restored. After 1982, the icon was kept for safety reasons mostly in the home of the Archpriest Sergei Garklavs. He would bring the holy icon to the cathedral for holy days. Therefore, during the period between 1949 and 2004, the icon was kept safely in Chicago (in the cathedral or in the nearby rectory), awaiting the time for the fulfilment of these stipulations.

Even after the “Iron Curtain” disappeared with the fall of communism, it still took many years before the predicted restoration of the monastery could come true. In 1991, the Archpriest Sergei Garklavs began visiting the Dormition Monastery regularly, searching for signs of a religious renewal. At first, the monastery was in such disrepair that he could not imagine the possibility of safely returning the icon. It was in 1995 that the Tikhvin Monastery was transferred by the state back to the Russian Orthodox Church. It was then that the abbot of the monastery, Efimii, began searching for Father Sergei, and this took some time. Eventually, he managed to make a contact. The result was that, after many negotiations, which involved many meetings between the Holy Synods of the Russian Orthodox Church, the OCA and the Russian Government, arrangements were finally made in 2003 for the return of the Wonder-working Icon of the Mother of God of Tikhvin to the Dormition Monastery in Tikhvin, Russia. Its return home would take place 55 years after what may be called “a forced emigration”. However, the total absence from the monastery in Tikhvin added up to about 63 years. One of the benefits of the meetings and negotiations between the Holy Synods was (for me) the opportunity to meet and to get to know many clergy from the Metropolia of Saint Petersburg. These meetings helped me all the more to appreciate properly the meeting with their Metropolitan, Vladyka Vladimir, during the services and flights involved in the final transfer of the icon back to Russia.

In 2003, there began a period of almost a year of farewells to the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God in some parishes in the eastern United States, beginning with the Monastery of Saint Tikhon in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. The last of these stops was in Cleveland, Ohio, and this is where I joined the delegation that was assembling to accompany this holy icon on the return to Russia and Tikhvin. His Eminence, Metropolitan Vladimir of Saint Petersburg and Ladoga was present by this time. He was the official representative of the Patriarch of Moscow for this important occasion. He is a senior member of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, and he is the bishop of the diocese in which the Monastery of Tikhvin is situated. He also speaks many languages. After the services in Cleveland and Parma (on 17 June), the Tikhvin Icon of the Theotokos travelled by air with the delegation to Chicago. There, in Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral at 1121 North Leavitt Street, the final services were offered to the Lord before the final departure.

A large number of people had been organised to form the delegation that would accompany the holy icon on the various steps of the return. Not everyone (including me) was able to be present at every event, but all participated in some. The whole delegation included the following : His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman ; His Eminence, Archbishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest ; His Grace, Bishop Nikolai of Sitka, Anchorage and Alaska ; me ; Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick (OCA Chancellor) ; the Archpriest David Brum, Secretary ; Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood) (OCA Representative to the Moscow Patriarchate) ; the Archdeacons Alexei Klimitchev and Isidore (Brittain) ; Mr. John Mindala (OCA photographer) ; and Messrs. Peter Ilchuk, Alexis Liberovsky, Jason Vansuch, and Joel Wilson. There was also a group of three dozen pilgrims on a trip especially arranged by F.O.S. Tours for The Orthodox Church in America, led by Mr. David Lucs.

After departing from Chicago on Sunday, 20 June, the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God left North America, and began the Progress of her journey homewards. The Tikhvin Icon was flown to Riga, Latvia on a private jet provided by a Russian donor. His Eminence, Metropolitan Vladimir of Saint Petersburg and Ladoga, Bishop Seraphim, and members of the Garklavs family were on this flight. As the flight passed over Canadian air-space, Metropolitan Vladimir (a gracious and well-educated man) reminded me that it was high time that I bless the Canadian diocese from the air before we would go out over the Atlantic. I did. The flight paused for refuelling in Reykjavik, Iceland in the middle of the night, but the light was as if it were just at the time of sunset. The flight continued on to Riga in Latvia without incident.

On Monday, 21 June, the flight was met by His Eminence, Metropolitan Alexander of Riga and All Latvia, and other dignitaries. This was the first pause in the Progress homewards of the holy icon. Then Metropolitan Vladimir, members of the Garklavs family (including the Archpriest Sergei Garklavs and his son, the Archpriest Alexander Garklavs) and I accompanied the icon to the city’s Nativity of Christ Cathedral at 23, Brivibas Street. The delegation and the holy icon were met at the Cathedral at 1130 hrs. Despite heavy rains, over a thousand residents of Riga welcomed the Tikhvin icon. They joined a Cross-procession and a festive Hierarchical Divine Liturgy that welcomed the return from the USA of the famous Icon of the Mother of God of Tikhvin. Very tight security measures strictly controlled the access to the icon. Traffic restrictions were imposed on the streets around the cathedral, and public transport stops nearby were moved to other streets. Those who entered the cathedral had to pass a security check. Such was the concern for the safety of this holy icon as it rested in the Nativity Cathedral. Nevertheless, during the next 2 days, the cathedral was opened around the clock for veneration, and about 300,000 people managed to venerate the icon before the time came for the transfer to Moscow.

During this time, there were many services offered. This was also the opportune time for me to find the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Women’s Monastery in Riga, and to present to the community the photographic portrait of the Abbess Evgenia that had been sent to them from Mother Dorofea (Mirochnitchenko) in Ottawa. Mother Dorofea had been an orphan in this monastery’s school and orphanage during World War II, and she had later learnt that the monastery had no photograph of this intrepid and significant abbess because of the ravages of the war and of communism. The nuns were very hospitable, and for me it was good to see where several of our Canadians had lived (Mother Dorofea, Alexander Alexandrovitch Kaminsky, and his sister Tatiana Eckholm in particular).

On the same day, 21 June, Metropolitan Herman, Archbishop Job, Bishop Nikolai, and the OCA delegation arrived in Moscow in anticipation of the icon’s arrival there. Meanwhile, in Riga, the veneration of the Icon of the Theotokos of Tikhvin continued until 23 June. Services were offered frequently in the presence of the icon while people were venerating.

On Wednesday, 23 June, the group in Riga which was accompanying the icon returned along with the Icon of the Theotokos to the waiting plane, and the last leg of the journey to Moscow began. Moscow was the 2nd pause on the homeward Progress of the holy icon. The trip was rapid and uneventful. Upon arrival in Moscow, at the Sheremetev Aeroport (after completing the necessary arrival formalities), the entourage of the Tikhvin Icon boarded several waiting vans and drove straight to Christ the Saviour Cathedral, where His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II and His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman ; His Eminence, Archbishop Job ; His Grace, Bishop Nikolai, and very many other bishops, clergy and others were waiting to receive the holy icon, the Tikhvin Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos. All the members of the entourage immediately joined in with the others for the procession into the cathedral and for the first service of thanksgiving in Russia before the Wonder-working Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God. For the next four days, about 50,000 people per day queued up in a kilometre-long line in order to venerate this holy icon. It was most moving to see the joy on the faces of the believers while they were merely near this holy icon. They approached the icon very seriously and with great reverence, even though they may have each had 2 seconds before the icon itself. With such throngs of people all eager to participate in the veneration, the actual veneration of this icon or any other holy object by each person must be rapid. Preparation for the veneration must be done in the heart, and prostrations made while one is waiting, and after the fact of the veneration. Every day, services were offered in the presence of this holy icon.

On Sunday, 27 June, Patriarch Aleksy II and Metropolitan Herman, together with a multitude of bishops, priests and deacons served the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy before the Wonder-working Tikhvin Icon of the Theotokos in Christ the Saviour Cathedral. A multitude of faithful believers were pressed into the cathedral, and there was a greater multitude surrounding the cathedral. After the end fo the Divine Liturgy, Patriarch Aleksy II and Metropolitan Herman led a Cross-procession with the Wonder-working Tikhvin Icon of the Theotokos. The procession left the cathedral’s main west entrance, circled round the cathedral, and then proceeded away from Christ the Saviour Cathedral, along the street beside the bank of the Moscow River. It then moved up into the square, where it stopped on the stairs leading into the Iveron Chapel of the Theotokos. Reports described the presence of a “sea of people” all along the route, and then in the square. There, a Moleben was served by the patriarch and all the other bishops, clergy and faithful present. The whole of Red Square was, indeed, a sea of people (estimates numbering the assembly at probably more than 200,000 persons). The whole assembly was blessed by the icon as Patriarch Aleksy and Metropolitan Herman (assisted by others, because the icon in its protecting container was very heavy) raised the icon and made the Sign of the Holy Cross with it three times over all the people, and with them over the whole city. After that, the holy icon was taken to a waiting van, and a procession formed to take to the railway station all those who would accompany the Wonder-working Tikhvin Icon on the remainder of the journey, first to Saint Petersburg, and then finally to Tikhvin.

For me, this was the conclusion of my responsibility, and I had the blessing to return to Canada immediately (on Monday, 28 June), where other responsibilities awaited me. It is not possible to describe in words what sort of blessing this whole experience had been for me. It was, in its own way, a pilgrimage, but a pilgrimage of a different sort than usual. Blessings abounded, to be sure. The protection of the Mother of God was evident. The Grace of God was being poured out.

Regarding the Garklavs family, I wish to make a few final comments. The Archpriest Alexander Garklavs had been a classmate of mine while attending Saint Vladimir’s Seminary in New York many years previously. I had met his parents in Chicago in 1979, when the Saint Vladimir’s Octet stopped in that city during its continental tour, and we all had had an opportunity to venerate the Wonder-working Tikhvin Icon during that visit. It is true that (as is always the case) there have been many opinions expressed about the Garklavs family and what they should have, could have, or might have done differently or better. Regardless of this, I believe that it is important that we all give thanks to God that Archbishop John and his adopted son, the Archpriest Sergei Garklavs, cared about this holy icon so much that they endured considerable personal difficulties and inconveniences in order to ensure both the icon’s safety during its North American exile, and to ensure the safe and secure return of the icon to its rightful home. Surely the Mother of God was with this family as it lived out its responsibility.

As it was said repeatedly in various media, this particular icon is intimately connected in inexplicable ways with the heart and soul of the Russian people as a nation. One Chicago newspaper reported that “the homecoming is not simply a matter of returning a missing masterpiece to its rightful owner. It is also a symbol of the Russian Church’s new freedom from communist rule and the revival of religion in a nation once called Holy Russia. ‘Russia was not inherently an atheistic country,’ said Nadieszda Kizenko, a professor of Russian history at the State University of New York in Albany. ‘The presence of this icon was very clear and tangible evidence that it wasn’t just the fantasy or nostalgia of people saying this. The spirit of Russia was embodied in these artifacts that remained part of a living church tradition.’”

Reports about the remainder of the journey to Tikhvin (and other information) may be found at :