The small icon shows the greatest sacred object of Russia, the most beloved and worshipped by believers – the Kazan icon of the Mother of God. The wonder-working image is set into an O-shaped frame ornamented with lilies. In Christian symbolism lily is a symbol of purity, sanctity and intimacy with God. Therefore it was lily that the Archangel Gabriel brought to the Most Holy Mother of God when annunciating of the Savior being born by Her.
The Kazan icon appeared miraculously in Kazan in 1579, 26 years after Tatar khanate being annexed to Russia by Ivan IV the Terrible. That year conflagration roared in Kazan that destroyed the city Christian part. As a chronicle wrote: “Belief in Christ became parable and desecration” for Moslem inhabitants. And then the Mother of God came to the dream of a girl Matrona by name, and ordered her to go to the scorched ruins of the house of merchant Onuchin wherefrom the fire started, and to take a wonder-working icon that She bestowed for the benefit of Orthodox believers.
The vision repeated thrice, and at last Matrona and her mother set out to the scorched ruins in search of the icon. Townsfolk joined to them. When Matrona spaded out the icon wrapped in the sleeve of an old crimson shirt, it became straight away known by all the citizens. The Archbishop came to the finding place; and the icon was carried to the nearest church. It was taken by the senior priest Germogen, the Patriarch of all Russia and the priest-martyr to be. It is from his pen that the icon finding story came from as well as the words of celebration troparion and service.
On the icon way to the church several blind men were healed. It was taken as a sign of the icon to become the enlightener of Russian country. The copy of the icon together with the wonders description were sent to the Tsar, and Ivan the Terrible enjoined to build a nunnery on the place of the icon apparition. Matrona and her mother took the veils there, and afterwards Matrona became Mother Superior of the new nunnery.
The Kazan icon of the Mother of God became the protecting veil for Russian volunteer corps and military shield of Russia in dreadful Time of Distemper (1604—1613) when Moscow and the south of the country were in claws of Polish invaders, the north including Novgorod was occupied by Swedes, robbery gangs roaming around the country, murdering and plundering. At that time there came to light the core of the icon having been bestowed, its unconventional iconography came clear. On Kazan icon the Mother of God and Divine Baby are standing “nip and tuck” facing not to each other but outside. Only the blessing right hand of the Savior is seen. Such a highly laconic composition brings to one’s memory Holy Fathers works where the Mother of God is glorified as “Indestructible Wall”. By Her Kazan image She disclosed to Russia Her being “Shield and Protect”.
When in the summer 1612 people’s volunteer corps of Kozma Minin and the Prince Demetrius Pozharsky liberated Moscow after a public prayer service. After the victory the Prince Demetrius Pozharsky had a church in honor of the icon built on the Red Square; and when Michael Romanov came to the crown he ordered the wonder-making icon to be celebrated twice a year – on July 21, the day of miraculous appearance, and on November 4, the day of Moscow liberation. These days November 4 is also celebrated as a national holiday.
Now the Kazan icon is hallowed in copies only since the old object of worship that appeared miraculously does not exist anymore. On the night of July 12, 1904 a sacrilege was committed by a few persons: they got into Kazan cathedral of the Mother of God and stole the found Kazan icon. On July 21 thieves were caught but the icon was irretrievable.
But there remained its copies, still possessing inexhaustible beneficial wonder-making power. Until now the Kazan icon is the shield and the guard not only for Russian country as a whole, but for every person specifically. It is particularly venerated both as a helper in family troubles, and as a healer in diseases. It assists mothers in child-rearing, and helps wives in husband getting rid of infatuation with drunkenness; it is also invoked against eye trouble and other ailments. The reverse of the small icon shows the words of a short pleading prayer: “Oh, Mother of God, save me” – these are words of confidence in Her help and of belief in the graceful force of the icon of Her.
The Kazan icon is observed on July 21/8 and November 4/October 22.