The Fascinating Story of the Most Legendary Icon of Ukraine

This miraculous religious painting of the Virgin, venerated by both the Orthodox and Catholics, scared off an army of jihadists and deflected bullets

The Pochaev Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos is one of the Orthodox Church’s most venerated images. It is of the Eleusia/Umilenie (tenderness) style of icons.

In 1597 it was given to Pochaev Lavra by a wealthy widow, Anna Hoyska. She herself had been given the icon by Metropolitan Neophyte of the Constantinople Patriarchate.

The Pochaev Icon Today.

The Icon had miraculously healed her brother’s blindness, and since then became a treasure of Pochaev Lavra, even as her decedents constantly sued and fought to reclaim it.

During the Polish-Turkish War of 1672–76, a 50,000 strong army of Turks and Tatars laid siege to Pochaev in Western Ukraine, which was then under Polish rule.

In August of 1675, the main Turkish army was deployed to Lvov to combat the forces of the newly elected King of Poland, Jan Sobieski, who would later lift the siege of Vienna, one of the most decisive battles between Christians and Muslims in Europe.

Jan Sobieski and his winged hussars defeated the Ottoman army at Viena.

The second detachment of 50,000 broke off from the main army and went south towards Pochaev. This force was primarily comprised of their Crimean Tatar subjects. The Crimean Khan, Selim Giray, a descendant of Genghis Khan, placed them under the commander Narudan.

When the Turkish army arrived, they surrounded was every last monk and nun. The multitude of the Tatar arrows blotted out the sun, and the darkest hour of the Lavra had begun.

The reality of medieval warfare is quite different than what you see in movies and TV.

Large pitched battles in open almost never happened, the ones that did were so famous for that reason, and most "battles" were actually sieges. That is exactly the type of warfare that was employed against the Lavra.

A conventional assault against a fortress on as high an elevation as Pochaev was suicide.

Its towers and walls are built into the hill itself. The Tatar's had very little chance of breaching them, even with cannon fire; it would require long sustained bombardment.

Besides, the Lavra's garrison of Cossacks was more than capable of resisting the Tatars from storming the walls, just as Corfe Castle withstood a siege of hundreds of attackers with only five defenders.

But the Tatars had something different in mind - starvation. They didn't need to break the walls, just wait until its guardians ran out of food.

The Lavra's last hope was a literal Hail Mary.

The abbot ordered that an Akathist (song of praise) to the Mother of God be served. With the opening words "To Thee the Champion General," the sun was eclipsed, and the Virgin Mary appeared over Lavra Hill, her face was incandescent, radiating light that was as painful and blinding to look at as the sun.

Her white robes gleamed like shooting stars, and beside her were Angels with drawn swords. St. Job stood beside her, bowing, and beseeching Her to defend his monastery.

Terrified at the sight of the holy hosts, the Tatars opened fire. Their shot and arrows, however, fell backwards and wounded the shooters themselves. As they fled, they trampled one another.

The Cossacks pursued, taking multiple prisoners. Many of them converted to Christianity, and some joined the Brotherhood of the Lavra.

When the main Turkish army fled Lvov under Polish pursuit, they found their Pochaev army had been scattered, which gave them no choice but to flee to Zbarazh for a final stand.

This was recorded as part of the War of Zbarazh. Ironically, Bogdan Khmelnitsky had laid siege to that same city not 26 years before, after reportedly taking a blessing from Saint Job of Pochaev.

Another famous miracle occurred during the period of Uniate rule. Polish Magnate Mikołaj Potocki was riding by the Lavra when his carriage capsized. Furious, he blamed his driver and drew his pistol to shoot him.

The driver fell to his knees towards Pochaev Hill and said: "Mother of God, whose image is shown forth in the Pochaev Icon, Save Me!" Potocki pulled the trigger, and his pistol misfired.

Potocki on the top right was a nobleman of Piława coat of arms

Misfire after misfire, yet the pistol showed no signs of mechanical failure, it became evident this event was miraculous.

Potocki ran to the Lavra and devoted himself to the Mother of God, lending all his considerable wealth to the Lavra where he is today buried in the magnificent Dormition Cathedral built with his support.

In 1773 Potocki petitioned Pope Clement XIV to recognize both Saint Job as a Saint and the Icon as miraculous.

While the Pope refused the former request, he accepted the latter, and sent the icon gold adornments to be added onto its Riza, gold or silver plating covering the majority of the icon preventing smoke from services to damage it.

The Icon remains in Pochaev to this day, having survived the many storms of its days, and it receives pilgrims from all around the world.

His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus' holds the Pochaev Icon for general veneration. The gold decoration and crowns were a gift from Pope Clement XIV at the request of Potocki .

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