This icon received its name from Great Prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich (+ 1246), the father of Saint Alexander Nevsky, and who in holy Baptism was named Theodore in honor of Saint Theodore Stratelates (February 8).
According to Tradition, the icon was found by his elder brother, Saint George (February 4), in an old wooden chapel near the city of Gorodets. Later, the Gorodetsk Theodorov monastery was built on this spot. Prince Yaroslav-Theodore became the Great Prince of Vladimir after his brother Saint George perished in battle with the Mongols at the Sita River. In the year 1239, he solemnly transferred the relics of his brother from Rostov to the Vladimir Dormition cathedral. He gave the icon which he inherited from his brother to his own son, Saint Alexander Nevsky.
Yaroslav-Theodore is renowned in Russian history. He continued with the glorious traditions of his uncle Saint Andrew Bogoliubsky (July 4), and of his father Vsevolod III Big-Nest, and he was connected to almost all of the significant events in the history of Rus in the first half of the thirteenth century.
Russia was burned and torn apart by the Mongols in 1237-1238. He raised it up from the ashes, rebuilt and embellished the cities, the holy monasteries and the churches. He restored cities along the Volga devastated by the enemy: Kashin, Uglich, Yaroslavl’, Kostroma, Gorodets.
He founded he church of Theodore Stratelates at Kostroma and the Theodorov monastery near Gorodets in honor of his patron saint. For eight years he ruled as Great Prince, but he had to guide the land through a singularly difficult path, maintaining a military-political balance with the Golden Horde to the East, while mounting an active opposition to Catholic Europe in the West. His closest companion was his son, Saint Alexander Nevsky, who also continued his policies.
The wonderworking Theodore Icon of the Mother of God was constantly with Saint Alexander, and he prayed before it. After Saint Alexander Nevsky died on November 14, 1263 at the monastery founded by his father, the icon was taken by his younger brother Basil.
Basil Yaroslavich was the youngest (eighth) son of Yaroslav Vsevolodovich. In 1246 after the death of his father (Prince Yaroslav was poisoned in the capital city of Mongolia, Karakorum when he was only five years old) Basil became prince of the Kostroma appanage-holding, the least important of his father’s domains. In the year 1272, he became Great Prince of Vladimir.
His four years as Great Prince (1272-1276) were filled with fratricidal princely quarrels. For several years he waged war against Novgorod with an unruly nephew Demetrius. In becoming Great Prince, however, Basil did not journey to Vladimir, but remained under the protection of the wonderworking icon at Kostroma, regarding this place as safer in case of new outbreaks of strife.
He had occasion also to defend Rus against external enemies. In 1272, during a Tatar incursion, a Russian army came forth from Kostroma to engage them. Following the example of his grandfather, Saint Andrew Bogoliubsky (who took the wonderworking Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God with him on military campaigns), Prince Basil went into battle with the wonderworking Theodore Icon. A blinding light came forth from the holy image, and the Tatars dispersed and fled from the Russian land.
The Chronicles say that the Great Prince Basil had a special love for the Church and the clergy. After the martyric death of Bishop Metrophanes of Vladimir during the storming of Vladimir by Tatars on February 4, 1238, the Vladimir diocese had remained widowed for many years. This grieved Great Prince Basil. With his help, a large cathedral was constructed in Vladimir in 1274. This was apparently in connection with the consecration of Saint Serapion (July 12) as Bishop of Vladimir. He was an igumen from the Monastery of the Caves.
Metropolitan Cyril III (+ 1282) presided over a council of Russian hierarchs. This was the first council in the Russian Church since the time of the Mongol invasion. Many problems and disorders had arisen in Church life, but the Russian Church was just barely beginning to recover from the woe that had befallen it. One of its main tasks was to recover a Russian churchly literacy, and the restoration of the tradition of the ancient Russian “princely order.”
Without books the Church’s salvific activity would be almost impossible. Books were needed for church services, and for preaching, for the monastic cell rule, and for believers to read at home. Through the efforts of Metropolitan Cyril and the Russian bishops and monastic scholars, this important task was begun. The council approved new editions of essential books which formed the canonical basis of Orthodox church life.
In 1276, Prince Basil completed his life’s journey. Most of the important events in his life occured with the blessing of the Theodore Icon of the Mother of God. He died at Kostroma, and there he also found his final resting place. Since that time, the holy icon has been in the Kostroma cathedral of Saint Theodore Stratelates.
Renewed interest in the Theodore Icon of the Mother of God and the spread of its veneration throughout all Russia is connected with events of the beginning of the seventeenth century, and the end of the Time of Troubles. In the year 1613, the wonderworking Theodore Icon from the Kostroma cathedral was used at the proclamation of Michael Romanov as the new Tsar. In memory of this historic event, March 14 was designated for the commemoration of the Theodore Icon of the Mother of God.
Numerous copies were made from the Kostroma Theodore Icon, and one of the first was commissioned and brought to Moscow by Tsar Michael’s mother, the nun Martha. From the second half of the seventeenth century, various copies of the Theodore Icon were enlarged with scenes depicting events from the history of the wonderworking icon.
In the year 1670 the hierodeacon Longinus from the Kostroma Hypatiev monastery wrote the “Narrative concerning the Manifestations and Miracles of the Theodore Icon of the Mother of God in Kostroma.” Not all the things contained in it agree with things previously stated.
The Theodore Icon is two-sided. On the reverse side is the image of the holy Great Martyr Paraskeva, depicted in the splendid attire of a princess. It is believed that the image of Paraskeva on the reverse of the icon is connected with the wife of Saint Alexander Nevsky.
The Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos of Saint Theodore is also commemorated on August 16.