Sermon on the Feast of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Dear in Christ brothers and sisters! When a person sets off on an untraveled and distant path, he takes an experienced travel guide along as a companion and entrusts himself to him. Despite the dangers of the road he safely reaches his destination, thanks to his guide. This is how it is in both everyday life and spiritual life when pious Christians entrust their lives to experienced guides—their heavenly protectors.

The spiritual path of a Christian who is striving to save his soul is thorny and full of dangers, and that is why he needs guidance. Pious Christians have recourse to many holy God-pleasers, but especially to the Sovereign Queen of Heaven, the Most Pure Virgin Mary, to whose protection they entrust their lives from earliest youth to their final moments. In the years of childhood and youth, man encounters thousands of seductions, various temptations, incorrect upbringing, loss of parents, and sicknesses. All of this can destroy life at its very beginning, and its blossom can wilt forever. Therefore, pious parents are wise to entrust their children from the earliest age to the protection of the Most Pure Theotokos. History knows many examples of when the Mother of God saved children from dangers.

No easier is the period of life when a person reaches adulthood—how many labors, sorrows, sicknesses, and dangers there are that oppress both soul and body, ready with their weight to crush weak human creation if it weren’t for the protection of the Mother of God and her aid!

The years go by. And then, while reverently contemplating eternity, the soul burdened with sins comes to repentance, and a feeling of fear and trembling so overtakes it that it burns as if in fire, finding no rest. And only tears poured out with a feeling of living faith before the image of the Fervent Intercessor can dispel the darkness that encompasses it and return to it a blessed state of mind, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Orthodox Christians, by virtue of the great and tender mercies of the Mother of God, called her by various names: “She Who is Quick to Hear”, “Joy of All Who Sorrow”, “Search of the Lost”, “Unexpected Joy”; likewise she is called the “Way Shower”. Today we celebrate the feast in honor of the icon that bears this name.

The icon of the Mother of God called the “Way Shower” (Gr.: Hodigitria), was, according to tradition, painted by the holy Evangelist Luke, and before the triumph of Christianity in the Greco-Roman nations it was located in Jerusalem. When the Christian faith triumphed, the “Way Shower” was brought to Constantinople, where the Greek Emperor often took it along on campaigns against his enemies and with it would be victorious. The Greek emperor Constantine Monomachos blessed his daughter Anna with a copy of it in 1046 when he gave her in marriage to Prince Vsevolod of Chernigov. In the twelfth century, Vsevolod’s son Vladimir Monomakh transferred this icon from Chernigov to Smolensk, which is why the icon is called the Smolensk icon. There it was placed in the cathedral church in honor of the Dormition of the Mother of God, and it was there that later, when the army of Khan Batiy of the Horde advanced on Smolensk, that the icon manifested its miraculous grace-filled power.

Finding themselves on the brink of destruction, the people of Smolensk gathered in the cathedral before the “Hodigitria” icon and prayed with tears to the Mother of God for help and intercession. They placed a strict fast upon themselves and repented, confessing their sins and begging forgiveness. At midnight, the sacristan heard a voice from the icon, saying, “Go and tell my servant Mercurius to come in his military clothing to the church.” When the soldier Mercurius arrived, he heard from the icon, “Mercurius, who is pleasing to me! The leader of the Horde wants to attack my city this night with his whole army, but I have prayed to my Son and God that He not give it over to be enslaved by the enemy. Go secretly from everyone and meet the enemy, and by the power of Christ you shall be victorious. I myself will be will you, helping you. But along with victory, a martyr’s crown also awaits you.” Mercurius did as he was told: He killed the warrior-giant upon whom the Tatars had more hope than on their entire army, and he smote Batiy’s forces with the help of lightning-bearing men and in the presence of the Radiant Lady, whose majestic countenance brought terror to the enemies; but Mercurius himself fell in the battle.

In the fourteenth century the “Hodigitria” was brought to Moscow. Centuries later the people of Smolensk asked that the icon be returned to their city. It was brought solemnly, with a cross procession from Moscow, and final prayers before it were raised at Devichy Field. Later, the Novodevichy Convent was built not far from the place where the Muscovites said goodbye to the icon.

Celebrating today, my dear ones, the glorification of the Mother of God, we must for our own edification remember also her moral virtues by which she pleased God.

From her very birth, the Virgin Mary was distinguished by her unparalleled piety; she was chaste in body and spirit, joining this marvelous, angelic chastity with the greatest modesty in all things—the first sign of true innocence. She was very modest in dress, conversation, gaze, and speech. She dressed in good decency, with modesty, adorning herself not with plaited hair or gold garments, but with good deeds, that she might please the Lord.

Women should follow the example of the Mother of God and emulate her, because we often see that even Christian women come to church dressed indecently, partially exposing themselves and thus serving as a temptation to others. Women must take care not for beautiful clothing but for good deeds, as is appropriate for people who have dedicated themselves to piety.

The Most Holy Virgin Mary was also distinguished by extraordinary humility, and by total dedication to the will of the Heavenly Father, with extraordinary magnanimity accepting everything that pleased God’s will to send to her. Even in those hours when she saw her Beloved Son on the Cross, when she experienced such inexpressible sorrows as none born of earth had ever endured—even then she did not lose heart but courageously and steadfastly bore the trial sent down to her.

But the Most Holy Virgin was so dedicated to God’s will, and so courageous was her soul, so compassionate and tender she was to people, who loved her with all their hearts, that she acquired the people’s love. And we must emulate her in this.

Beloved brothers and sisters, let us pray with our whole hearts to the Queen of Heaven, that she might guide us too from the earth to the Eternal Heavenly Kingdom, teaching us to sincerely love God and fulfill His holy commandments, and guarding us by her holy prayers from all evil; that having successfully lived through this age, we might be settled in the eternal mansions and their glorify her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ—to Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory and praise unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov)
Translation by

Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra


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