The “Three Joys” Icon of the Mother of God

Commemorated: December 26 / January 8


The Mystery of the Church and Grace

The icon of the Mother of God, called the “Three Joys”, a copy of the painting The Holy Family by Raphael, became famous for its miracles in Russia in the eighteenth century. Starting from the sixteenth and especially the eighteenth century, many icons in the Russian Orthodox Church were painted under the influence of Western images. At that time Russia was integrating into the mainstream of European culture, and many works of religious art were brought to Russia, as well as copies, drawings and engravings of foreign originals. Russian icon painters used these materials widely in icon painting and church painting. But at the same time, our icon painters, using Catholic samples, remade them into the organic artistic language of Orthodox Church art, and their works were often artistically much superior to the originals.

In the collision of two realms—the Russian Orthodox and the European Catholic—a tradition alien to Russian consciousness was gradually established in Russian artistic culture from the seventeenth century onwards. Ordinary believers viewed the new forms, themes and patterns with distrust, intuitively resisting heterodoxy. It was hard for Russian people, who were nurtured by Greek iconography, to get used to the new icons, but at the same time, it is an indisputable fact of our history that some greatly (and Churchwide) venerated icons, from which many miracles occurred, are replicas of Western (mostly Italian) images. Among them are the Icons of the Mother of God of Akhtyrka, Kozelshchina (both in Ukraine), the “Three Joys” (we will talk about it below), “Tender Feeling” (“Umilenie”—the icon in front of which St. Seraphim of Sarov used to pray in his cell), etc.

True, opinions of such a phenomenon vary. And, of course, icons painted according to Western patterns cannot be compared in terms of spiritual significance and artistic perfection with Russian icons of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. But, interestingly, in Russia many wonderworking icons appeared and became widely venerated in the period of the decline of icon painting. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh once said approximately this: “It is not with the perfection of the art of icon painting with which God unites His grace. As through us, imperfect people, grace is transmitted to others, so through an imperfect human work God transmits grace to people. I have no doubt that a paper icon—torn, glued, attached to a small plank or adhesive paper—depicting the Savior, the Mother of God or some saint—is a holy object in the strongest sense (just as each one of us is an image of God, no matter how disfigured we may be by our sins and imperfection). It is my deep conviction that an icon is made holy not because it was painted one way or another, but because it was taken, placed on the holy altar, and sprinkled with holy water. In ancient times, icons were anointed with myrrh in the same way as Christians are anointed after Baptism—and then it enters the mystery of the Church and grace... I keep with reverence paper icons that I inherited from my mother or from people I love, and I don’t see any difference in them in this regard. But I am not so ignorant as not to understand that an icon painted according to the canons not only captures grace and is the center of illumination, but it is also an instruction1…”

The Holy Family by Raphael

During the reign of Peter the Great (1682–1725) a pious painter after studying abroad brought from Italy a copy of the image “The Holy Family” by Raphael. In the West there are two ways of painting icons of this type. The first one, which is very widespread, depicts the Theotokos with the Divine Infant and St. John the Baptist in adolescence. In another variation of this image, Righteous Joseph the Betrothed is also present on the icon.

​The Holy Family by Raphael, 1506. A fragment. Source: ​The Holy Family by Raphael, 1506. A fragment. Source:     

The icon, which was brought to Russia in the eighteenth century, was painted according to the first iconographic type. The theme of Madonna and Child has always occupied a central place in Raphael’s work. Before the Revolution of 1789, there used to be six different images of the Holy Family by Raphael in the Duc d’Orleans Gallery (Palais Royal in Paris) alone. But the “Three Joys” Icon is of the Madonna sitting in an armchair with the Divine Infant and the adolescent John the Baptist standing next to Her.

Before another trip abroad, the painter the icon handed over to his relative, who was a priest and served at the Moscow Church of the Holy Trinity in Gryazi at the Pokrovsky (“Holy Protection”) Gate. After the owner’s death, the priest donated the icon to his church.

About forty years later, an event occurred, thanks to which the help of the Mother of God from this icon became known. A noble woman suffered three misfortunes within a short span of time: her husband was slandered and sent into exile, their estate was confiscated by the national treasury, and her son was taken prisoner. Shaken by grief, the woman put all her hopes on the help of the Queen of Heaven. One day she heard a voice in a dream telling her to find an icon of the Holy Family and pray in front of it. The woman visited all the Moscow churches until finally she found it at the porch of the Holy Trinity Church on Pokrovka. The woman prayed fervently for deliverance from the misfortunes that had befallen her and soon received three pieces of good news: Her husband was acquitted, her son was released from captivity, and their estate was returned to them. After that event the wonderworking icon was called, the “Three Joys”.

Having become famous in Moscow, the veneration of the “Three Joys” Icon spread throughout Russia very quickly, but in the Russian iconographic tradition: it depicted the Theotokos with the Divine Infant flanked by Righteous Joseph the Betrothed and the holy Prophet John the Baptist.

The church in which the icon was found and kept with reverence has since been rebuilt twice. In 1819, the heated church was dismantled, and in its place a new one appeared with the altars dedicated to the Mother of God and St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. And in 1861, the current stone church was completed. The special veneration of the miraculously revealed icon is indicated by the fact that in the newly consecrated church the main altar was dedicated in honor of the “Three Joys” Icon of the Mother of God, or the Synaxis of the Theotokos, with the side-chapels in honor of the Holy Trinity and St. Nicholas. The miracle-working icon was kept in the church, and thanks to it the church was often called the “Three Joys”. Over many years, the Mother of God showed Her mercy and helped people through her icon, interceded for the slandered, for those separated from their loved ones, those who lost what had been accumulated by their labor; she helped in family needs and was the Patroness of well-being in the home.

​The Church of the Holy Trinity at the Pokrovsky Gate. Source: ​The Church of the Holy Trinity at the Pokrovsky Gate. Source:     

The “Three Joys” Icon was especially venerated in the Don region and Kuban (now the Krasnodar territory in southern Russia), where numerous copies were made of it. Cossack women, staying alone at home during their husbands’ military training, prayed to the Mother of God fervently in front of the icon for the protection of their spouses from enemy bullets and captivity, and that they keep their vows of marital fidelity. As modern history shows, established traditions continue.

The One Who carried the joy of the whole world in Her embrace

The bloody twentieth century came with its deadly revolutionary whirlwind swirling over our Homeland and destroying everything on its way.

In December 1929, the Church of the Holy Trinity at the Pokrovsky Gate was closed, and the “Three Joys” wonderworking icon, the “swift deliverance in distress” so beloved by Muscovites, disappeared, and its fate is unknown. For half a century the Holy Trinity Church housed various cultural institutions. In those godless years it was impossible to recognize the church: its huge dome was broken and its bell tower was destroyed. In the early 1980s, the building was renovated and in 1992 it was returned to the Moscow Patriarchate. On the feast of the Holy Trinity, the first Liturgy was celebrated in the cleared part of the Holy Trinity (right) Chapel. The central chapel in honor of the “Three Joys” Icon was consecrated on its feast on January 8, 2002.

In the same year (1992) a remarkable event contributed to the return of a copy of the “Three Joys” Icon to the newly opened church. Several icons confiscated at customs were transferred from the Patriarchate to the community of the Holy Trinity Church. One of them “coincidentally” turned out to be a mid-nineteenth century copy of the “Three Joys” icon for veneration on a stand (analogion). It is now kept in the sanctuary and is taken out during the prayer service on Wednesdays. Another copy was made of it, which is now situated to the left of the iconostasis. There is one more “Three Joys” Icon in the church, handed over by the venerable ninety-year-old handmaid of God, Tatiana, which was painted in the early twentieth century for her aunt’s wedding.

And nowadays, the Mother of God does not cease to relieve our sorrows and fill our hearts with joy through Her “Three Joys” Icon. There was another story in the church. When the akathist to the “Three Joys” Icon of the Mother of God was brought to the church on Wednesday, and on Wednesdays the parish used to read the akathist to St. Nicholas. The question arose: should the parish continue to pray to St. Nicholas or pray in front of the “Three Joys” icon, venerated in the church, on Wednesdays? In the midst of the discussion an icon lamp suddenly lit itself in front of the icon of the Mother of God. Since then, the akathist has been read in the church on Wednesdays in front of the “Three Joys” Icon. People come to thank the Queen of Heaven for merciful help in sorrows and illnesses. “Rejoice, O our Joy, Thou Who didst carry the Joy of the whole world in Thine embrace.”

In addition to the famous “Three Joys” Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos at the church of the Holy Trinity in Gryazi, there are also venerated copies of the icon in two other churches: of the Deposition of the Honorable Robe of the Mother of God in Blachernae in Leonovo (Moscow) and in the church of the legendary Sofrino Task Force of the Internal Troops of the Russian Ministry for Internal Affairs near Moscow.

At the Church of the Deposition of the Honorable Robe of the Mother of God in Blachernae the venerated icon is kept at the Chapel of the “Burning Bush” Icon of the Mother of God. In 1918, a significant number of icons and church utensils from St. Michael’s Church of the Grodno Diocese (Belarus) were transferred to the Church of the Deposition of the Honorable Robe of the Mother of God in Blachernae in Leonovo. Among them was a copy of the “Three Joys” Icon.

This icon is mentioned in the biography of Schema-Igumen Savva (Ostapenko; 1898–1980), a spiritual elder of the Pskov-Caves Monastery. “After the end of the war, in his spare time he began to travel to Leonovo, where a wonderworking icon of the Mother of God, called the ‘Three Joys’, was especially venerated. He would travel there to pray and help the priest: he sang and read in the choir.”

Before the restoration it had been kept at the right choir of the main chapel and is currently kept in the left chapel in front of the choir.

Source: Source:     

The icon of the Sofrino Task Force

As already mentioned, through the “Three Joys” Icon, as before, the Mother of God shows special mercy to servicemen who are in hot spots and especially in need of protection, and to people who are in prison, captivity or a foreign country.

Divine Providence, through invisible bonds and through the veneration of the “Three Joys” Icon, connected the fates of the Holy Trinity Church in Gryazi and the Church of the Icon of the Savior “Not-Made-by-Hand” in Muranovo with the Sofrino Task Force.

The revival of spiritual life in the Muranovo Estate (now Museum-Reserve) near Moscow, which is associated with the great poet Fyodor Tyutchev, accomplished by the efforts of Hieromonk (now Igumen) Theophan (Zamesov) and the Museum-Reserve Director V. V. Patsyukov, began with the “Three Joys” Icon.

In June 1998, on the feast of the Holy Trinity, the first prayer service was held in front of the church under restoration. At the end of the service, Schemanun Mikhaila, who had taken the veil in the Soviet era and was a spiritual daughter of Schema-Igumen Savva (Ostapenko), came up to the rector. Mother Mikhaila handed the priest a whole pack of the “Three Joys” Icons. She was fulfilling the will of her spiritual father, who had blessed her to distribute the icons among people. The rector paid special attention to the icons, distributing them among parishioners and regarding it as a blessing of the Mother of God for the opening of the Muranovo church. But that was only the beginning of the story.

Source: Source:     

Years of tireless labors and prayers went by. Hieromonk Theophan was made responsible for the pastoral care of the Sofrino Force. Its units, performing combat missions, are constantly located in places of regional ethnic conflicts on the territory of the former USSR—in Baku, Fergana, Nagorno–Karabakh, Tbilisi, Dagestan, Chechnya—with the aim of establishing law and peace there.

The Task Force command and the clergy of the Pushkin Deanery in the Moscow region decided to build a church in this military unit. Spiritual work was already active here: the sacraments of confession, Communion and Baptism were performed. On September 27, 2003, the foundation stone of the Church of the holy Prince Alexander Nevsky was laid and its construction commenced. In the meantime, in order to celebrate services, it was decided that a chapel-church be consecrated in honor of the holy Prince Vladimir Equal-to-the-Apostles, the Baptizer of Russia, who is also the patron-saint of the Internal Troops of our State. The Lord visibly helped this good cause—immediately people appeared who donated the necessary utensils. On Bright Week of 2004, the head of the Pushkin Deanery performed the lesser consecration, and then the first Liturgy was celebrated, during which the defenders of the Fatherland received Communion.

The church rector, Hieromonk Theophan, often thought of acquiring an icon that would especially help soldiers in their difficult service. One day, the faithful from the town of Khimki near Moscow came to the Muranovo church after a prayer service to the Lord and His Most Pure Mother with humanitarian aid for soldiers. With the words: “This icon has already helped soldiers in their difficult service”, they handed over to the priest for the Sofrino Task Force an ancient copy of the “Three Joys” Icon. Seeing Divine Providence in this, the rector placed the icon in a worthy place in the chapel of the holy Prince Vladimir.

Having learned about the wondrous icon of the Mother of God in the military community, Orthodox believers expressed their desire to pray in front of it. For a short time, it was taken outside the military unit so that the faithful could ask for the intercessions of the One Who is our Protectress and Comforter. And after praying in front of the holy icon, many people received grace-filled help.

It is amazing how harmoniously the destinies of the living and the departed, what surrounded them and what was dear to them, are intertwined in the world of God… Anna Fyodorovna Aksakova (nee Tyutcheva; 1829–1889; the great poet Feodor Tyuchev’s daughter), who was the first tutor of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, Alexander II’s son, wrote in a letter to her former pupil that she would like to give his fiancee an unusual present. Many years before, after a prayer service and a vow she had made at St. Sergius of Radonezh’s shrine, Anna Fyodorovna presented Sergei Alexandrovich’s mother, Empress consort Maria Alexandrovna, with a copy of the “Three Joys” Icon. That icon was always with the Empress, and she prayed in front of it daily. The icon was returned to Anna Fyodorovna after the Empress’s death. Anna Fyodorovna wrote to her former pupil: “I want your fiancee to accept this icon as a blessing coming from your mother and from the saint who is the patron of Russia and your Heavenly patron as well.”2

Let’s return to the story of our times. Of course, the Church of the Holy Trinity in Gryazi did not avoid these events taking place with their beloved and venerated icon. Its rector, Archpriest John Kaleda, and parishioners provide spiritual assistance to soldiers.

Now the “Three Joys” Icon has become an integral part of the spiritual life of the Sofrino Force. The icon is taken to the parade ground or the assembly hall on special occasions—on the Force Day, the Memorial Day of fallen Sofrino soldiers, when sending soldiers on a mission and during prayer services and cross processions—to bless and help the military.

​Fr. John Kaleda. Source: ​Fr. John Kaleda. Source:     

At the end of our short essay about this wonderful icon of the Patroness of the Russian land, we will speak about a colonel of the Russian army. Before he went on a mission to Abkhazia, Fr. John Kaleda blessed him and gave him a copy of the “Three Joys” Icon. Every day the soldier prayed to the Mother of God in front of this icon, and when going to checkpoints he would always take it with him.

“On February 14, 2003, a report was received about the discovery of a mine at checkpoint 301 on the road near the Inguri River. In my line of duty, I had to examine the situation and make a decision. I arrived at the scene and saw that there was a mine with an unknown improvised explosive device next to a refugee tent, and a second mine was found under the bridge. Setting up a cordon and evacuating people, I found myself fifteen yards away from the mine, and at that time there was an explosion. The mine had a full impact range of 200 yards, but thanks to the icon not a single fragment hit me!

“Being on the ‘front line’ in the conditions of mine warfare and constant clashes with bandits, not one of the 1,500 soldiers and officers under my command died over a year of service!

“On September 18, 2003, Private Derevyannykh A.V. was captured by bandits. During the search I had to move at night through the areas of action of bandit formations, and everywhere the icon was with me and saved me. On October 1, 2003, after disarming the bandit group, the hostage was freed.

“In December 2003, I gave the icon to the mother of another hostage who was captured by bandits in Gagry in July 2003. She had been trying to get her son freed for six months and was in despair, since the Russian law enforcement agencies were powerless to do anything in Abkhazia. Negotiations with the bandits were very complicated—they demanded a huge amount and threatened to kill the hostage.

“On December 31, 2003, Alexei Vorobyev, an eighteen–year-old Muscovite hostage, was rescued from very dangerous and difficult conditions—two mines were removed along the route of the detachment’s withdrawal, while all the participants in the operation survived.”3


The day after the feast of the Nativity of Christ, the whole Church, Heavenly and earthly, rejoices, celebrating the Synaxis of the Mother of God, Who bore eternal Joy in Her womb, and in this unceasing jubilation Orthodox people honor Her “Three Joys” wonderworking icon.

Svetlana Rybakova
Translation by Dmitry Lapa

Sretensky Monastery


1 Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh: We Have Something to Say About Man (in Russian) // Zlatoust. No. 1. 1992. p. 133.

2 Three Joys:

3 The “Three Joys” Icon of the Mother of God:

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