In the early twenty-first century, the wonderworking “Unfading Blossom” Icon of the Mother of God, not made by hands, was revealed to the world in Russia’s Samara region.
On April 16, 2010, an image of the Theotokos with the Divine Infant, not made by hands, appeared on the window glass of an ordinary house in the village of Chernovka of the Sergiyevsk District of the Samara region. The owner of this house was Ekaterina Ivanovna Malygina,1 a very pious eighty-seven-year old lady and a World War II veteran.
In winter Ekaterina Ivanovna covered her window with an oilcloth to protect herself from the terrible drafts. In the spring the woman decided to remove the “protective layer” that had saved her from cold winds. Imagine her amazement when she suddenly saw an icon there... “Half of the window was all aflame, there was something white on the glass, and there were images of the Mother of God with the Christ Child in the very middle. I cried with joy, ‘Lord, how has the Mother of God appeared to me, a sinner?’...” Ekaterina Ivanovna said. Subsequently, she learned that this icon is called “the Unfading Bloom”.
Then the woman went to her Chernovka parish in honor of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, told Priest Sergei Derzhavin about everything and asked him to look at the icon that had appeared.
Metropolitan John (Snychev) Among the religious villagers Ekaterina Ivanovna was well-known for her piety. In the 1980s, she travelled to Archbishop John2, the future Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, with the request to help her acquire a Bible. In those days it was impossible to buy the Holy Scriptures. Vladyka blessed the devout parishioner and told her what day to come for the Bible. On the worktable Ekaterina Ivanovna saw a photograph of her beloved archpastor and asked him to give it to her. With a smile Vladyka John gave her the photograph, which she placed in the holy corner, next to her icons, as a token of respect. Ekaterina Ivanovna also came to Archbishop Sergei of Samara3 more than once to request for a place in their village for a prayer house, because the nearest church was twenty-five miles away, and it was impossible to travel there on foot. Previously, there were very pious old women in Chernovka: everyone would gather and pray with them, but by that time all of them were dead. “Where will we pray?” Ekaterina Ivanovna lamented. Then she knocked on the doors of 300 houses, collected thirty signatures with a request to allocate at least some corner for prayer, and went to Vladyka Sergei. He listened to her attentively, accepted the signatures and said that they should pray and things would sort themselves. And so it happened!
The believers secured a place for themselves in a former pharmacy, and there was an opportunity to pray in their native Chernovka. Now the indifferent parishioner thought about how to build a church, because before the 1917 Revolution there used to be two churches in their village. The example of Ekaterina Ivanovna shows us how in the twentieth century the “white headscarves” preserved the Russian Church in the times of godless persecution.
Metropolitan Sergei (Poletkin) Knowing Ekaterina Ivanovna’s pious life, Fr. Sergei came to her house with the head of the deanery, Fr. Vasily Anisimov, and with choristers. They celebrated a prayer service to the Mother of God with an akathist outside, by the window with the icon.
On the first day the icon remained till the evening, and at about eleven it slowly disappeared, but reappeared in the morning. This went on for fifteen days. And the next evening the image of the Mother of God did not disappear and was with the owner all the time. Ekaterina Ivanovna did not sleep for several nights in a row: she kept sitting and looking… She told Olga Kruglova, a journalist of the Blagovest newspaper, about her observations of the miraculous icon: “It does not suddenly appear and then disappear; rather, everything happens gradually. At about four in the morning a white canvas emerges with a thread on it, and behind it another, blue one, and the whole image is painted, moving slowly, in small stitches. A white thread then appears and circles around the future face of the Infant Jesus Christ, and in half an hour the entire head of the Infant emerges. As I look, I weep and make the sign of the cross: ‘Lord, I am unworthy of seeing all this4‘…”
Pilgrims began to flock to the icon. Some of them saw three burning candles by the icon. Believers touched them with their hands and felt a “soft heat”: real warmth emanated from the “fire” on the glass... And some people with little faith tried to erase the image with a solvent, and a local scratched it off with a nail, as Ekaterina Ivanovna explained: “They wanted to make sure we hadn’t painted the image and hadn’t made an imprint on the glass. Why insult us like that?…” After that red spots appeared in these places on the image of the Mother of God, as on a living body with a wound. After a few days they disappeared, though.
However, Ekaterina Ivanovna, despite some people’s strong skepticism, perceived the appearance of pilgrims in her house as her service to God. She began to teach people to pray: “Since you’ve come, read the prayer—I found the troparion to the ‘Unfading Blossom’ Icon of the Mother of God and specially placed it next to the icon. Read it and then tell the Theotokos about your sorrows...” She continued: “And I pray with them, write down their names and then at night I look at the icon and pray, ‘O Mother of God, forgive us, heal us, have mercy on us. Help us in all troubles and misfortunes and lead us all to prayer to God, enlighten us all and bring us to salvation through Your prayers so that we all can honor God and pray to Him.’ Everything happens according to our faith and according to our prayers… A few days ago a woman came from Samara and prayed so earnestly by the icon, imploring so fervently, weeping so much. Her niece gave birth to a baby and it became very ill. It was at the hospital, but the doctors did not give a good prognosis. So she prayed for the baby, and today she called me and said that the baby has recovered. She cried and thanked the Mother of God5.”
“Unfading Bloom” Icon of the Mother of God Ekaterina Ivanovna prayed throughout her long life. She was taught to pray by her relatives, “nuns”, whom she would run to visit. When her father died, her mother was left alone with four young children in her arms. Katya helped her mother in her hard work, so she knew how to work and pray from her childhood. No one intentionally taught her how to pray—it just came naturally. She heard and remembered it, and then she always prayed like that.
When Olga wondered if she was tired of such an influx of pilgrims, the toiler of Christ answered, “Of course, I often get tired, and everything hurts; but this is God’s work, how can I stop doing it? Since the Lord Himself assigned this to me, how can I do otherwise? I should hold out and communicate with everyone who comes to look at the icon.” True, Ekaterina Ivanovna admitted that when she was dead on her feet, she would close the door and ask pilgrims to pray and kiss the image of the Theotokos from outside.
After the publication of an interview about the icon in the Blagovest newspaper, people from other cities, towns, villages and even from other regions began to call the editorial office. They wondered how to get there, and some shared stories about their pilgrimages to the relic. We offer our readers the testimonies of some eyewitnesses.
The retired colonel of internal service Mikhail Borisovich Dekatov shared his reflections. “An undoubtable miracle, which pierces the soul! It’s just astounding. Now many cases of myrrh-streaming icons are known, but appearances of such holy images as this are very rare. The only thing that saddens me is that the icon may disappear. As this miracle came to us, so it will go. Priests should celebrate prayer services at the wonderworking image so that real church services can resume in the village. So far, there is not even a real prayer house in Chernovka (only a prayer room), let alone a church. Maybe that’s why this miracle occurred in Chernovka—so that a church can appear in the village? This has always been the case in Rus’—whenever a miraculous appearance of a holy icon took place, a church was erected in memory of the event.”
Tamara Plokhova, a parishioner of the Cathedral of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Samara, related her story:
“I have already been to Chernovka at the miraculous image twice. And every time I leave with an indescribable feeling! What grace this holy image possesses… From morning till evening pilgrims flock with reverence to ‘the Unfading Bloom’ Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, not made by hands, candles in their hands. People enter a small room and weep with tenderness and reverence for the Mother of God Who visited us, sinners. On June 7, Ekaterina Ivanovna Malygina greeted us with tears: ‘I stayed up the whole night! When I looked at the icon I saw that the veil of the Queen of Heaven, the eyes of the Theotokos and of Her Divine Son had become sky-blue!’ So, all night long she prayed and was touched by this gentle Heavenly azure... And in the morning again she saw the veil on the Mother of God of a deep blue color. The pilgrims from our cathedral who arrived three days later became eyewitnesses of the amazing phenomenon: The veil of the Virgin Mary on the glass began to sway slightly in waves, as if from a breath of wind, and an iridescent radiance began to emanate from the image. Everyone sobbed... If earlier the image of the Most Holy Theotokos with the Divine Child would disappear from the glass at night, now from outside it remains. Ekaterina Ivanovna placed a bedside-table beneath the window, on which she put a piece of paper with a prayer to the Mother of God in front of ‘the Unfading Bloom’ icon.
Photo: Soksmr.livejournal.com “Now at night she hears people drive up to her house, come up and pray silently. Every evening, lights from invisible candles emerge by the icon... After praying, many pilgrims put handkerchiefs and other little things on the marvelous image. Cases of healings through prayers in front of the icon, not made by hands, are known. Two women with sore legs were healed. The companions of one of them barely pulled her out of the car when they arrived. The woman with great difficulty limped to the house with a walking stick. She prayed and wept together with Ekaterina Ivanovna. And then she walked back to the car with easy steps and got into it... Only then did she remember, ‘Oh, I’ve left my stick in the house!...’
“Five pilgrims arrived from Sergiyevsk, all very sick. They didn’t even enter the house: they just stood, praying outside and weeping with a tender feeling. The next day they called Ekaterina Ivanovna with great joy: all five felt much better! Ekaterina Ivanovna’s neighbor, a very religious woman, twice saw in a dream, as if in reality, the Most Holy Theotokos in black abbess’ garments standing all night long on the porch of Malygina’s house, hearing our prayers...
“And I want to say one more thing. Ekaterina Ivanovna collects every kopeck, every ten-ruble note that grateful pilgrims sometimes donate, to help decorate the prayer house. God willing, new good icons will be purchased for the prayer house.
“Even at the tram stop, Vera Kozhaeva, whom I often see at services at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral, also spoke about the miracle in Chernovka: ‘I didn’t plan to go anywhere, as there are lots of things to do at home... But once I saw in the Blagovest newspaper a photo of the icon that had appeared on the window, I was blown away by it. I so wanted to go there! I phoned my religious friends. One of them, Elena, asked her husband Andrei to drive us there. Although he had just arrived from work and was very tired, he immediately agreed. He found the house on a computer map and printed out the route... The trip was a real blessing! It was easy to find the right house in Chernovka. We approached the house, looked and saw a table beneath the window. But we could not see any image on the glass! We wailed, ‘The Queen of Heaven does not want to show us Her image...’
“We entered the house and immediately our sadness gave way to joyful admiration. From inside, the wondrous images of the Mother of God and the Divine Infant were perfectly visible. Although, there is cause for concern, too. The image is getting smaller. And probably the day will come when it completely disappears because of our sins… It was not without reason that the “Unfading Blossom” Icon of the Mother of God appeared on the glass—to call on us to come to our senses and to break free from the slavery to our passions. How else could She get through to our withered souls and hearts?...
“Ekaterina Ivanovna was not at home, and her sick son was lying in bed. We asked permission to pray in front of the icon, and he nodded benevolently: ‘Of course, pray!’ With reverence we put our small icons and crosses along the edge of the image on the glass, and when we left we saw the images of the Virgin Mary and the Infant Christ from outside.”
Marina Alexandrovna Bereza from the city of Novokuybyshevsk shared her impressions:
“I first heard about the miracle in Chernovka from my acquaintances. Lydia Viktorovna Andriyanova (she lives in Samara and works at the Holy Trinity Church at Voronezhskiye Ozera) related how she had seen it with her own eyes: The image appeared literally thread by thread on the window—and in a few moments it became full... Then I read about it in the Blagovest newspaper; I wanted to go to Chernovka, to see the image of the Most Holy Theotokos and the Infant Christ, to pray and bow to Them. We met with our friends and drove in two cars. Ekaterina Ivanovna Malygina greeted us like family. I marvel at how hospitable and tireless she is. Once she has received one group of visitors, prayed with them and seen them to the door, another group arrives: they need to be greeted, shown the image, explained everything and given an akathist to read. After all, not everyone brings an akathist with them. We read the Akathist to the Unfading Blossom Icon of the Mother of God, and my friend Lyubov said in a low voice: ‘Look, the Mother of God is smiling at us!’ I myself thought so, but I was afraid to believe my eyes... Such a great miracle!”
The Orthodox entrepreneur Lyudmila Alexandrovna Akintseva arrived in Chernovka on the day when the newspaper issue describing the miracle was just coming out. This is how it happened. She stopped by the editorial office of Blagovest on business when the publication about the miraculous appearance of the icon on the window was being prepared for publication, so she learned about the phenomenon in advance. At the Holy Trinity Church she heard from the pilgrims who had been there that the miracle was authentic! And she decided to go there.
In her time Lyudmila was involved in organizing and holding pilgrimage trips, and so it was not the first time she experienced God’s special mercy. In 1994, in Tashla [Orenburg region.—Trans.] together with her group of pilgrims she saw a dense shroud of clouds disperse over the holy spring and the Most Holy Theotokos spread Her veil over the worshipers. In 1995, Lyudmila witnessed the myrrh-streaming of icons at the Holy Trinity Zheltovodsky (“of the Yellow Water Lake”) St. Makary’s Convent in the Lyskovo diocese, Nizhny Novgorod region. Lyudmila Alexandrovna reacted to the news of the miracle in Chernovka calmly and without exaltation. In her soul she had a feeling of gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Most Pure Mother and a sincere desire to pray in front of the icon not made by hands.
She didn’t arrive at the house with the miraculous images empty-handed—she took lamp oil with her, bought small “Unfading Blossom” Icons of the Mother of God, and headscarves. She put some icons and headscarves on the images on the glass and took them with her as relics, leaving the rest of them, along with the oil, at Ekaterina Ivanovna’s house for other pilgrims to use. A few days later she heard that many pilgrims were being anointed in front of the icon with holy oil.
“When they anointed me at the icon that had appeared on the glass, from top to toe I felt an incomprehensible warmth,” said her friend Marina Limonnikova, an employee of the Moskovsky shopping center in Samara. “An ineffable feeling overwhelmed my soul!” Marina Limonnikova brought to Chernovka an icon of the Mother of God, which had been kept in her house for a very long time. She had no idea what kind of icon it was—the image of the Most Holy Theotokos had gone too dark with time. Ekaterina Ivanovna said in admiration: “What an old icon you have!” While praying she put the icon on the image on the glass. And after returning to Samara, Marina prayed fervently in front of her icon—and a few days later she saw that it was renewed and became lighter, and now it was clear that it was the “Helper in childbirth” Icon of the Mother of God in sky-turquoise tones…6
The rector of the prayer house, Priest Sergei Derzhavin, testified to another miracle. Once a family with a child with cerebral palsy arrived from Moscow in a minibus. The father carried the child into the house with the wonderful icon. The family stayed with Ekaterina Ivanovna, praying in front of the miracle-working icon of the Virgin Mary. The priest said that he saw that the boy went back home on his own two feet.
These simple stories of believing souls testify to the grace of God poured out on people through prayers in front of the icon, revealed on the glass in Ekaterina Ivanovna’s small house. As the Russian proverb goes, a village can’t exist without one righteous person, and a city without one saint.
The journalist Olga Kruglova concluded her conversation with the owner of the house, where “the Unfading Blossom” Icon of the Mother of God miraculously appeared, with kind words: “After seeing pilgrims to the door, Ekaterina Ivanovna prays by the image, not made by hands. She prays out of her great love for Christ; she simply cannot help but pray and can’t do otherwise. And many who have come to her house over this month discovered in amazement that this is what it means to pray and to believe... Now many people visit Ekaterina Ivanovna’s house—she strengthens pilgrims in the faith, reveals Christ to the curious and teaches everyone fervent prayer. I saw a real miracle there—an eighty-seven-year-old woman who does not spare her heart for prayer and weeps bitterly in front of the image of the Most Pure Virgin for all of us. Ekaterina Ivanovna needs no signs and wonders to believe in and love the Lord. It is we (with our withered hearts) who need to stop in front of the miracle-working ‘Unfading Blossom Icon of the Mother of God and listen to our hearts, to test whether faith burns in them or only smolders.”
Many years have passed since the appearance of the icon. In 2016 Ekaterina Ivanovna fell asleep in the Lord. The “Unfading Blossom” Icon on glass, according to it’s keeper’s will, was transferred to the prayer house of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, where Fr. Sergei Derzhavin is the rector.
Unfortunately, a church has not yet been built due to the small number of parishioners of the prayer house in Chernovka. However, spiritual life goes on there, and pilgrims come and pray in front of “the Unfading Blossom” Icon of the Mother of God. Many receive help according to their faith. Fr. Sergei cordially receives pilgrims.
And the construction of a house of the Queen of Heaven in the village depends on all the faithful—on the parishioners of the community of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, pilgrims who come to Chernovka to pray, and even on the prayers of those who are reading these lines now.