Stories of the great miracles narrated by the rector of St. Elijah’s Church in Chernobyl, Archpriest Nikolay Yakushin

(Received from the Ukraine)

A chapter from the book “Teraturgima, or Miracles of the New Century”

The first great omen of the Chernobyl disaster, which shook the entire planet in 1986, was revealed at a time of the rapid development of nuclear energy, long before the explosion of the 4th reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Witnesses recall it happened exactly ten years before the accident, on April 26, 1976. It is interpreted as a sign sent by the Lord and Our Lady 40 years ago. A local newspaper “Prapor Peremohy” (“The Banner of Victory) published an article at the time, titled “Fairytales of Clergymen.” An author referred to a cloud of an unusual shape appearing in the sky that day, which the clergymen interpreted as an apparition of the Virgin Mary. However, it was not merely an atmospheric oddity.

That evening many locals witnessed an unusually shaped cloud floating above the ground. The figure of the Virgin Mary could be discerned in it, with her face and brightly coloured raiment clearly visible. She was holding a tuft of dried wormwood, which the locals also call “chernobylnik.” Holy Mary dropped the wormwood over the town. Then the bright radiant cloud moved towards the forest and stopped over the church of the Holy Prophet Elijah. Blessed Virgin Mary faced the church and blessed it twice with both hands. As she appeared in the sky, it stopped raining and the weather became warm and mild. This phenomenon was interpreted by the local priest, Father Alexander Prokopenko. He explained that only Mother of God may give her blessing with two hands. Bishops also have the privilege of blessing with two hands; however the vision in the sky was not that of a male.

The Church of the Holy Prophet Elijah. The Church of the Holy Prophet Elijah.
    

The locals interpreted this phenomenon as a forecast of a dry summer and a poor harvest. Some people have found and picked up pieces of wormwood that fell from the sky. Many years later it became clear that this was a prediction: exactly ten years later the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded. But when the disaster struck, nobody made a connection between the events ten years apart. People recalled the story much later and came to recognize it as a sign from God.

In 2002 His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and All Ukraine blessed the creation of an icon which captured the apparition of Blessed Virgin Mary over Chernobyl. It was painted by a servant of God, an artist from Kiev named Ioan, who also created the rest of the artwork in our church. Ioan, who is an orphan, is very religious, pious and earnest. He had been fasting and took communion before starting the work. The icon portrays the church of St. Elijah with the Queen of Heaven and Archangels Michael and Gabriel on both sides, rising in the sky above it. She holds chernobylnik (wormwood) in her hands. Two capsules with wormwood picked in the Chernobyl area are affixed on both sides of the icon. His Beatitude Vladimir blessed the image as one of Chernobyl’s locally revered icons.

A vision of the Chernobyl Saviour icon is revealed to the leader of the Chernobyl Power Plant Communist party section on his deathbed

Chernobyl Savior. Chernobyl Savior.
Another famous icon of St. Elijah’s church is the Chernobyl Saviour, which has a special history. This icon is said to have originated directly from the local people. They have survived one of the greatest tragedies of modern history. After the initial panic subsided, people were looking for support and sympathy. Many of them became very ill.

Yuri Andreev, who is now deceased, was the leader of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant Communist party section at the time. A Communist with a strong attachment to his party’s ideas, he became very ill after receiving huge doses of radiation. He was suffering greatly; the doctors did not expect him to live much longer. Yuri kept seeing a recurring dream: an image of an icon. He described it to the artist and gave instructions on how it had to be painted. He also told of his dream to me, and I passed his message to His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr. Being seriously ill, the Communist leader kept asking for the icon to be painted. He saw the image with his inner spiritual vision and felt a strong need for it to be created. His Beatitude gave his blessing.

The icon was painted at the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra in 2003 and sanctified at Kiev-Pechersk Lavra on the feast day of the Dormition of the Mother of God. When His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir blessed the image of the Chernobyl Saviour, three signs appeared in the sky. A dove flew above the icon before hundreds of witnesses, then a rainbow appeared in the sky, and finally the sign of the cross became visible, with the sun shining at its centre. Curiously, Yuri Andreev, the terminally ill leader of the Communist party section of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, greatly recovered after this event. The Lord healed him. It is surprising that a staunch Communist, later the president of the “Chernobyl – Ukraine” Union, was chosen for this mission. Thanks to him the icon of the Chernobyl Saviour came into the world, and the Lord has continued to heal the sick and afflicted people who come to venerate this image.

The Church of the Holy Prophet Elias. The Church of the Holy Prophet Elias.
    

Vladislav Goretsky, a well-known iconographer, was chosen to create this icon. The image is truly sublime, expressive and spiritual. It is also exceptional in that it depicts ordinary people alongside the image of God for the first time in the history of iconography. The souls of the survivors of the Chernobyl tragedy are portrayed on the right, while the souls of the deceased victims are on the left. His Beatitude Vladimir requested the permission of Patriarch Alexiy II to paint the images of the people in the icon. Permission was granted.

A pine tree that grew in the form of a cross. A pine tree that grew in the form of a cross.
    

The subject of the icon is deeply symbolic. It is a visual rendition of a theme from the Book of Revelation. At the centre of the image is a “star of wormwood” falling from the sky against the backdrop of the ominous glow of the explosion. Another focal point is a crucifix-shaped pine tree. This extraordinary sign of the upcoming tragedy grew on Polissya’s land decades before the accident. This large, old tree was fully grown before the Second World War. Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant was built just two kilometres away from this huge living cross, growing at the forest edge.

After the tragedy, when the so-called “red forest” poisoned by radiation was cut down, an opening revealed a stunning spiritual vision: two symbols of the universal disaster – the exploded fourth nuclear reactor and the giant tree-cross – became connected in one.

The “Red forest”. The “Red forest”.
    

This vision is reminiscent of the Old Testament cruciform tree watered by Lot, which was to become Christ’s cross two thousand years later. The tree is believed to have grown from the three staffs given to Abraham by the Holy Trinity, Who was revealed to the forefather in the form of three angels. Four thousand years later the Chernobyl Cross arose as a symbol of the nuclear crucifixion that would come in 1986. To the left and right of the cross are the living and the deceased liquidators of the nuclear catastrophe. Above them is the Lord Jesus Christ with a scroll of the Apocalypse, open on the page that holds the prophecy, as well as the Holy Virgin and the Archangel Michael. This is the exact vision that came in a dream to the Communist leader of the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

The Chernobyl Saviour icon mystically communicates that the One holding the scroll holds the keys to the grand design and to every detail in the lives of those born into the world, as well as the events and defining moments of history, including the tragedy of Chernobyl.

The Saviour looked at the priest every night, leading him to where His image was hidden

There is another extraordinary icon, which I have never mentioned before. It is the image of the Saviour from St Michael the Archangel’s church in the village of Krasno, located in the exclusion zone.

St. Michael the Archangel Church in the village of Krasno. St. Michael the Archangel Church in the village of Krasno.
    

This wonderful icon has an unusual history. After the accident all the villagers from Krasno were evacuated due to very high levels of radiation brought on by the radioactive cloud moving towards Belarus. One of Krasno’s inhabitants ended up in St. Petersburg, where he became a priest at one of the local churches.

Eleven years ago he found my phone number and called. “Father Nikolay, I’d like to ask you for a favour,” he told me. “I have a recurring dream, in which I see the eyes of the Saviour from an icon left in the exclusion zone in Krasno. I would like you to find it – it is a large icon of Christ painted on wooden board.” “How will I find it?” I asked. “I’ll tell you where to go,” he responded.

He described the location with great precision. He named the house and the place in the house where the icon was hidden. One had to be a local to give such exact instructions for navigating the village that by now had become contaminated and abandoned.

The priest’s grandfather used to serve in St Michael the Archangel’s church for many years. The extraordinary old icon of the Saviour had been stolen from the church once, but was later miraculously restored by the Lord. The remarkable wooden church itself, built in 1800, was plundered after the Chernobyl disaster. But the grandfather, now deceased, had an opportunity to hide the antique icon, although the location remained unknown. The Lord Himself gave a sign and taught how to find the sacred icon that was dear to Him.

Thousands of kilometres away, in St. Petersburg, a priest and a native of the Chernobyl zone began to dream of this icon, the Saviour looking at him every night. I drove to the village and found the abandoned house as it had been described over the phone. Everything turned out to be true. I pulled the icon from the attic and brought it to our local church. When the icon was restored, the priest from St. Petersburg came to our church to worship and to witness his dream, which became reality.

The image of Jesus Christ in this icon is truly alive and unforgettable, his gaze forever vivid in your memory.

Angels lead a church service in the exclusion zone

St Michael the Archangel Church. St Michael the Archangel Church.
    

The old church in the village of Krasno has long been abandoned. However, we have had multiple witness accounts of church services being held there by the angels and the heavenly host. Staff members of the Chernobyl police force have come to me on multiple occasions between 2005 and 2009, asking to explain the meaning of what they had witnessed.

Police officers have recounted the following events. On one occasion a police unit that patrols the exclusion zone approached the village church and heard voices. They thought it was an illusion, since settlers had long left the village. There is also an abandoned checkpoint at the entrance to the village. The surrounding forest has grown thick and dangerous, making it impossible to get into the village by any other route.

The patrol vehicle moved forward towards the church. Officers could hear beautiful singing coming from the church and saw a mild glow of the lights inside the building. The men came out of the car and froze, overcome with religious fear. The Chernobyl police unit is a well-trained professional force, prepared to respond to a variety of emergency situations. Yet, these hardened men felt so overwhelmed with fear that they left the scene immediately. They went back to the same location again, but this time the church looked quiet. They did not dare enter the church and sent a report to their chief.

The police officers later came to my church and asked me to explain the nature of the event they had witnessed. I told them that the history of the church has multiple accounts of such events. Angels do not leave the holy altar until the end of time. When people have to abandon a church for any reason, angels come to worship there instead. The church in Krasno has special significance to them, since it is dedicated to the Archangel Michael, the head of the heavenly host. The place, although burned by lethal doses of radiation, still remains a sacred site, where God’s grace abides. The Lord’s will was to bring responsible witnesses to recount this miracle to the wider world. All subsequent witness accounts of the liturgy in the empty church were identical to the first description.

I have been going to the church in Krasno to lead services on feast days ever since. During one of my visits I found an icon of the Archangel Michael. I went into the loft between the church’s cupolas. It is a difficult spot to reach and quite dangerous to walk through, because of the rotting old floor boards. I prayed and walked as far as I could go, when I suddenly felt as though someone was looking at me closely. I raised my head and saw the icon of the Archangel Michael with a fiery sword in his hand, placed on a decrepit old shelf. The church had been previously plundered by looters, but this icon had remained mysteriously concealed from their sight. The icon was placed there to protect the church. It is unknown who hid the image; perhaps, the angels themselves.

The Apparition of St Seraphim of Sarov and the blessing of the annual liturgy in Chernobyl on April 26th

This event happened in 2001 and shook me deeply. I have seen many things in my lifetime; however, this story was important unlike anything else. It helped me understand the place of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the history of the Church and the life of the universe as a whole. There is a deep spiritual interconnectedness between this explosion, the history of the Church and the history of the world at large.

The 4th reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The 4th reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
    

The fishermen who were in their boats on the Pripyat River at night on April 26th saw a bright explosion of light above the church of St. Elijah the Prophet, followed by another explosion above the nuclear power plant. This was a sign described in the book of Revelation as “a great star, blazing like a torch” (Rev. 8:10-11).

When I came to serve in this church after the tragedy, the building and grounds required a lot of restoration. We worked hard to rebuild the church, and I conducted regular liturgies, even though there were very few parishioners. On April 26th, my first anniversary of the tragedy at this church, I prayed and went to bed. There were people keeping vigil in town and remembering the victims through secular rituals, concerts and feasts. I fell asleep.

My window overlooks a cliff above the Pripyat River. I remember suddenly waking up at night and looking out of the window. I saw an old man in white robes with a white beard and a staff walking towards my house. I recognized St Seraphim of Sarov, his face, gait and bearing looking exactly as depicted in the icons. St Seraphim approached my house, stopped in front of my window and looked at me closely. He hit the ground three times with his staff, then turned towards the river and walked off through the church gates towards the power plant. Then I remember finding myself in bed again. I turned on the lights and saw it was 1.30 a.m. – the precise time the nuclear disaster struck. The Lord has sent St. Seraphim to wake me up and call me to prayer and vigil that night.

    

I immediately had an insight: the nuclear catastrophe was one of the watershed events in human history, described in the Book of Revelation: “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water – the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter” (Rev. 8:10-11). Wormwood is a wide-spread plant in this area, also known as “chernobylnik,” hence the name of the town.

There is also a direct link between the apparition of the Holy Virgin above Chernobyl ten years before the tragedy. This land was meant to be a place where the Holy Scriptures culminated, and the Lord’s word split human history into “before” and “after” the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I kept trying to understand why the Lord has chosen St Seraphim to reveal the spiritual meaning of the tragedy and wrote a letter to Patriarch Alexiy II. We corresponded for two years. As a result, our church officially received part of St. Seraphim’s holy relics, which I personally brought from Diveyevo. St Seraphim was a devout monk, but also an active participant in all the important events of his time. He began his spiritual journey in Kiev, where he worshipped at the holy places and the saints of the Kiev Caves monastery. He wanted to join the brothers at the monastery and received a blessing to go to Sarov. He always remained involved in the affairs of his homeland.

Ever since St Serpahim’s apparition on the anniversary of the tragedy we have conducted all-night vigils and the Holy Liturgy on the night of April 26th in Chernobyl. Numerous archbishops, bishops and members of the clergy have joined us over the years to remember the victims. Among them is Pavel, the Metropolitan of Chernobyl and the bishop of the Kiev Caves Lavra, who ordained me to the priesthood. I believe the Lord has purposefully made him the first church leader in Chernobyl.

Numerous pilgrims are also drawn to Chernobyl on this day. We usually go to the cemetery to have a funeral service for the firefighters who were the first to face the blazing nuclear reactor. Thus, through St Seraphim, the Lord has blessed us to stay awake and pray during the hour our planet suffered a nuclear explosion. In 2016 this tradition will be 30 years old.

It is unlikely we will ever be able to grasp the fullness and the importance of signs and events surrounding the history of the nuclear tragedy in Chernobyl. Yet, there is clearly a direct spiritual link between all of them. The Lord reveals all that is necessary in His own time. We must remain patient and steadfast in our prayer, as we wait to receive His knowledge.

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