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Unveiling the Hidden Treasure: The Belarusian Krasnostok Icon

Our Lady of Krasnostok, a Wonderworker and Comforter of Belarusians

Our Lady of Krasnostok

Venerated for centuries

This icon of the Most Holy Theotokos has been passed down for centuries along the female line of the princely family of the Urusovs. The Urusovs' ancestors were Tartars who converted to Orthodoxy, took Russia as their new homeland and battled for its defence across the land, including as far as Lithuania. Eventually, one of the Urusovs married a member of another honourable Belarusian family, the Tyshkeviches, and brought the icon to her new home as a dowry and a blessed gift.

Euphrosyne Tyshkevich asked her husband to have the icon with him while he was on his army missions battling the Swedes. The Tyshkeviches had a deep veneration for the icon, so much so that Duchess Euphrosyne commissioned its copy. According to tradition, a known artist from Germany, a resident of Grodno, made the copy.

Its original, a foldable travel icon, had two more saintly images in its folds. It was miracle-working, accompanying its owner in his many battles, and keeping him under the protection of the Mother of Gods by the fervent prayers of his wife Euphrosyne. This courageous woman would travel with her husband on many of his military endeavours.

A miracle-working image, original and copy

While her husband had the original icon, Euphrosyne had its copy, which she kept in her bedroom. She placed it in a wreath of dried flowers and lighted an oil lamp before it every day. Waiting for her husband's return, she prayed fervently before it for his salvation in battle.

On 21 November 1652, the feast day of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos to the Temple, the oil lamp lighted all by itself. The miracle repeated another three times, On 29 November, 3 December and 5 December.

Awe-stricken and amazed, Euphrosyne took it as a sign of God's blessing. At the advice of the monks, she placed the icon in the sitting room. To let her servants venerate it, she removed the wreath of dried flowers and took the icon out of its kiot.

No sooner had the icon been taken off the wall than the room was filled with a fragrance, and everyone in attendance witnessed another miracle: seven buds on the wreath blossomed, and only one remained dry. It was in 1658.

Soon after, the icon was acknowledged to be miracle-working. In memory of this event, Bishop Alexander (Sapega) commissioned a wooden cathedral in Krasnostok, consecrated in 1668. Years later, the church was redesigned by the Dominicans, and a large cathedral was built from rock and mortar between 1759 and 1785, to replace the old wooden temple.

Bishop Alexander (Sapega)

Bishop Alexander (Sapega)

The icon was again clad in a riza (revetment). Traces on the icons back suggest that the kiot (wooden icon box) was regularly renewed. The inscription in Church Slavonic was evidence of Euphrosyne Tyshkevich belonging to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Lieutenant-General N.I. Voronov wrote of this inscription in his Memoirs from the Western Frontier:

“As the members of the Church Committee were inspecting the holy icon, the first thing that drew their attention was the silver plank - which could be more appropriately called a plaque - affixed along the entire length of the icon, presumably to conceal the inscriptions. The inscriptions that were still legible, although with some difficulty, and with the aid of a magnifying glass, read: The original Riza of the Tyshkeviches was replaced by ...nee Sologub. Fragments of the title Duchess and a surname could be discerned below, but the full word could not be read. We conjectured that it could be Urusova. An inscription was found in Church Slavonic that could also be read with great difficulty, as some letters had disappeared, leaving empty spaces in their places.”

Loss and miraculous finding

Meanwhile, the history of the original miracle-working icon of the Mother of God of Krasnostok continued. Duke Tyshkevich still had it, and it was travelling with him in his wagon train. During the expedition to Podlasie, the cart with the icon was captured by the Swedes.

e-book-about-St-Elisabeth

A Catholic chronicler left the following account of this incident in his book: “That same year, in 1659, when the hostile army invaded the land of Podliasie, Tyshkevich, who realised he was in danger, had no other choice but to retreat, but his departure was unfortunate. He was leaving by night, at the New Moon, when an enemy unit attacked him and captured all his supplies, where the folding image of the Most Holy Virgin Mary the Mother of God was travelling in a cart. Tyshkevich and his wife barely managed to escape. As the enemy soldiers were sacking the cart, they came across the icon of the Holy Virgin and attempted to open its folds locked together behind a shutter. Yet the first man who did so had his arms wrung out. Another madman raised his sword at the holy image to cut it in half but missed and wounded himself so badly that he fell to the ground unconscious” .

According to tradition, the Swedes threw the icon in a well, fearing its miracle-working powers. But the story does not end here. Some God-fearing person salvaged the icon from the well.

By a miracle, Duke Tyshkevich recovered it in 1660. His family took it back to Krasnostok on the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, where its copy was already being kept.

The Church of the Entry of the Theotokos to the Temple at Krasnostok Monastery in Podlasie Voivodeship, Poland. 1910.

The Church of the Entry of the Theotokos to the Temple at Krasnostok Monastery in Podlasie Voivodeship, Poland. 1910.

Both the original and the copy were deeply venerated among Christians who flocked to them from across the land with prayers and thanksgiving.

News about the miracle-working relics at Krasnostok soon reached nearby towns, villages and hamlets, attracting multiple visitors, many of whom found help and reassurance through their fervent prayers.

Under lock and key

A party of Dominican monks settled nearby. On thorough inspection of the image, they concluded the icon was Orthodox based on the painting style, origin and the inscription on its back.

To discourage people from venerating both relics, they placed the original on the altar in a mortar chapel they had built next to the church, leaving only the copy inside the Church. Thus, the original was effectively hidden from the Catholic parishioners of Stok and other nearby villages. It was kept under lock and key, out of the faithfuls' sight. Eventually, the icon was forgotten.

The miracle-working original that had seen many battles survived capture and turned dry buds into blossom was not even entered into the inventory of the relics of Krasnostok Church. Only its copy was.

Finding the accounts of the miracles associated with the icon copy to be veritable, Bishop Georgy (Belozor) of Wilno performed the rite of benediction, or blessing, on the copy in 1692. The original was still kept out of sight, but by the intercession of the Queen of Heaven, Her image was not forgotten or disrespected.

Krasnostok Church and the buildings of the Dominican order were returned to the Orthodox Church after the defeat of the Polish uprising in 1867. The once-hidden relics were again open for veneration, including the original and copy of the Icon of the Mother of God of Krasnostok.

Copy of the Icon of the Mother of God of Krasnostok
Copy of the Icon of the Mother of God of Krasnostok

Copy of the Icon of the Mother of God of Krasnostok at the Monastery of the Saviour and Euphrosyne in Belarus

As older peasants recounted, the Divine Providence once again saved the icon from being abducted: “When the Church Committee was retaking ownership of the building and icons of the former Ruzhany-Stok Catholic Cathedral in 1867, its priest hid the original image under a pile of rags. A peasant present at the handover of the property noticed and by his insistence, the holy image was retrieved and given back to the Orthodox”. By the intercession of the Queen of Heaven, the faithful finally recovered their relic.

The mystery of the original's whereabouts

The Convent of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos relocated from Grodno to Krasnostok on 6 September 1901. The icon that had accompanied its owner in battles (and still kept traces of the shutters and mesh for affixing a lampad) was kept in the altar area to prevent its abduction by overzealous Catholics. It was displayed in the middle of the church during services to let the faithful venerate and pray before it. Its exact copy was completed on 8 September 1901 on a canvas sized 124x90 centimetres and placed in the church where worshippers could access it.

Stavropegial Convent of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Grodno, Belarus

Stavropegial Convent of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Grodno, Belarus

It became the main icon copy open for veneration, and appendages were affixed to it.

The original was taken to Saint Petersburg and deposited in the church of the monastery metochion at Polustrovo. In the stormy years of the early 20th century, the church was closed. A nun secretly took the relic to Novgorod and afterwards to Pskov. The widow of the priest of Velye kept it after the nun's repose. It did not return to Belarus until 1956. By the good works of Abbess Gabriela (Risitskaya), it was placed in the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos of the Stavroprigial Convent of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Grodno (Belarus).

After the Grodno Monastery was closed in 1960, the nuns settled in the Holy Dormition Monastery in Zhirovichi (Zhirovitsy). With them, they brought a copy of the Icon of the Mother of God of Krasnostok. It remained in Zhirovichi for over three decades, until it was finally delivered in the 1990s to the newly reopened ancient Belarusian Monastery of the Saviour and Saint Euphrosyne in Polotsk and placed in its Church of the Holy Transfiguration, where it has remained to the present day.

The whereabouts of the original icon are still unknown. But hopefully, the earthly path of this miracle-working relic is still not over, and we may still expect that its location will eventually be revealed to us by the mercy of our Lord.

The Sisters of our Monastery hold you and your loved ones in their prayers, seeking the Queen of Heaven's benevolent gaze. Please feel free to share your prayer requests by following the link below.
https://obitel-minsk.org/prayer-request

October 18, 2023
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