The Icon of Our Lady of Tikhvin, one of the most revered icons in Russia, was brought to St Petersburg early Monday morning from Moscow.
A special armoured car with the icon arrived at Petersburg's Alexander Nevsky square. Metropolitan Vladimir of Petersburg and Ladoga, other church officials and a few hundred believers met the icon on the square. They brought the icon in a solemn procession to the St Trinity Cathedral of the St Alexander Nevsky Monastery.
"Today we are welcoming the holy image of Our Lady on Petersburg soil. This is a great holiday. We will pray to Our Lady of Tikhvin asking her for help and protection for all of us," Metropolitan Vladimir said before the service.
The icon will stay in the St Alexander Nevsky Monastery till Saturday. On Sunday morning, a solemn procession will bring the icon to the Kazan Cathedral to stay there till July 7.
"On July 8, we will transfer the icon to Tikhvin (Leningrad region) where it will take its historical place and be available for praying," said the metropolitan.
After Metropolitan Vladimir held a service to the Icon of Our Lady of Tikhvin it was open for all believers in Petersburg.
The Icon of Our Lady of Tikhvin (the Virgin Hodigitria) is one of the most revered Orthodox icons. It was painted in the 1st century by Apostle and Evangelist Luca. In the 5th century, the icon was brought from Jerusalem to Constantinopole, while in 1383, i.e. 70 years before Turks devastated Constantinopole, the icon disappeared.
Annals say, the image of the Holy Virgin appeared over Lake Ladoga and moved toward the town of Tikhvin where it stopped. A wooden church of the Assumption of Our Lady was built on that place, while the icon was ever since known as the Icon of Our Lady of Tikhvin.
Grand Prince Vasily III visited Tikhvin in 1526 and the icon began to be worshiped throughout Russia. Under Ivan the Terrible a stone monastery was built where the wonderworking icon was discovered.
During WWII when the town was seized by the Nazis, the icon was brought to Pskov (Russia's Northwest).
The head of Riga's Orthodox community, Bishop John of Riga (Garklavs) became its guardian in 1944. He took the icon to the United States in 1949. The miracle-making icon was kept in the St Trinity Church in Chicago.
Archibishop John's adopted son, Sergei Garklavs, was appointed the guardian after the archibishop's death. He was obliged to return the icon to the Tikhvin monastery when it revives.
In January 2004, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexis II and a delegation of the Orthodox Church in the United States reached a final agreement to return the Icon of Our Lady of Tikhvin to Russia. On June 20, the icon left Chicago. It was delivered to Riga and further on to Moscow.
Tens of thousands of Orthodox believers took part in the solemn procession in Moscow on Sunday before the icon was sent to St Petersburg.
Alexis II led the procession that set off from the Christ the Saviour Cathedral after a prayer to the miracle-making image. All the clergy of Moscow, church officials from other Russian Orthodox dioceses and local Orthodox churches took part in the procession.
The procession started from the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, moved along the Kremlin embankment towards Red Square. Believers filled the embankment walking even on lawns. Red Square was also crowded as it was the venue of a farewell service to the icon that was returned to Russia on June 23 after 63 years of being kept abroad.
Procession participants praised police that divided them into groups thereby preventing hustles. That was a rare concentration of believers.
His Holiness Alexis II blessed Moscow with the wonderworking icon near the Iverskaya Chapel and the icon was sent further on to St Petersburg.
In the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, the Icon of Our Lady of Tikhvin was open to prayer round the clock for4 days. Tens of thousands of Muscovites and visitors came to pray to the icon over that time period.