VATICAN RESTORES ICON TO MOSCOW, PATRIARCH TO MEET PROCESSION

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MOSCOW, August 24 (RIA Novosti's Olga Lipich) - The Vatican is restoring to Russia an excellent copy of the miracle-working icon of Our Lady of Kazan. The holy image will arrive to Moscow, August 28, on the Feast of the Dormition (Assumption) of Our Lady. The Dormition Cathedral of the Kremlin will host a festive liturgy. His Beatitude Alexis II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia-Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, will lead the celebrations.

The information reached Novosti from the Moscow Patriarchate Department of External Church Relations.

A Roman Catholic delegation is bringing the icon with a special flight, August 27. A final decision has not been made yet on where the icon will be preserved before it is officially passed to the Russian Orthodox Church. Leading the Vatican delegates is His Eminence Walter Casper, president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum", which promotes Christian unity.

Many foreign princes of the Church and other VIPs are expected to the Kremlin liturgy of Saturday, August 28-suffice it to name Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Primate of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia; Archbishop Antonio Mennini, legate of the Holy See to Russia; and Gunnar Stolsett, Bishop of Oslo and Primate of the Church of Norway.

The Church tradition has a sublime and eventful story for the icon. Even in Her earthly life, the Mother of God shared the selfless toil of witnessing the Lord with the Apostles. She saw the zeal of mediaeval Russian missionaries in the Kazan Khanate, and offered them precious help, sending Her miracle-working image to Kazan, capital of the khanate.

A horrible conflagration devoured a greater part of the city, with its citadel, in 1579. As Kazan was rising from ruins, Daniil Onuchin, a soldier of the Royal Fusiliers, was one of the many to build his family a new house. His nine-year-old daughter Matryona, a child of rare piety, had a prophetic dream one night. She saw the Mother of God in glory. Mary told the little girl to unearth Her icon, which secret Christians had hidden when Kazan was in Muslim power.

The overawed girl told all her near and dear about her dream, but the preoccupied adults shrugged her off. The Holy Virgin revealed Herself to the child on several more occasions, and indicated the spot where Her miracle-working icon was hidden. At last, Matryona coaxed her mother into a search, and the two of them dug up the icon on the burnt-out site the Ever-Virgin had pointed. As a procession was carrying the precious find to a church, two blind men-Joseph and Nicetas-miraculously recovered their eyesight.

The small icon, of the iconographic type of Hodegitria, or Lodestar, soon became a national shrine. As Church tradition has it, Russian soldiers owed many victories to the icon.

A copy was with the militia under Minin and Pozharsky as it ousted Polish invaders from Moscow in 1612. A majestic cathedral consecrated to Our Lady of Kazan soon rose in Red Square to commemorate the miracle of martial glory.

Russians placed tiny icons of Our Lady of Kazan above babies' cribs, and put them into the hands of the dead before funeral.

The original icon was lost early in the 20th century. On one version, it was never recovered after a blasphemous theft from the Kazan Convent of Our Lady in 1904. According to another, the Bolshevik government sold it abroad in a huge stock of Church treasures in the 1920s.

Several years ago, Pope John Paul II announced his desire to restore to Russia an icon of Our Lady of Kazan, which His Holiness assumed to be the original. Top-notch experts of the Holy See and Russia gathered to examine the prospective gift. As they found, the icon dates to the late 18th century and is a superb copy of the miracle-working original. Judging by the opulent icon-case, a wealthy household used to own it. The family has not been identified for today.

The icon was preserved in the private pontifical chambers for eleven years.

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