Thetocos Zhirovitskaya

This miraculous icon appeared in the 15th century under the following circumstances. In 1470, in woods belonging to Alexander Soltan, an Orthodox Lithuanian nobleman, shepherds from the little settlement of Zhirovits, Grodno province, witnessed an unusually bright light penetrating through the branches of a pear tree which stood next to a stream at the base of a hill. The shepherds' curiosity was aroused by such an unusual phenomenon. They came somewhat closer and saw in the tree a small icon of the Theotokos, arrayed in radiance. For a long time, the powerful light and the reverent trepidation which had seized them at the sight of this icon prevented them from approaching the icon itself. But little by little, the light emanating from the icon dissipated.

Prostrating themselves before the image of the Theotokos, the shepherds took it down from the tree and brought it to their lord, Alexander Soltan, the steward then appointed by the Lithuanian government. Alexander did not give much credence to the shepherds' account, but nonetheless took the icon and locked it up in a chest.

The next day, guests visited Soltan. In the course of conversation, the master told them of the icon of the Mother of God found by the shepherds. His guests became interested in the find, and expressed a desire to see it. Alexander went to get it, but did not find it in the chest. This exceedingly amazed him, for only a little earlier, he had seen it in its appointed place.

A short time later, the same Zhirovits shepherds again found this icon of the Theotokos in the same place, and for a second time brought it to Alexander Soltan. This time, he acted with greater piety toward the holy image than he had before. He considered himself unworthy of having the icon in his home, and made a vow to build a church dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos on the site of Her appearance.

Soltan fulfilled his vow, and built a wooden church, near which a settlement grew, and a parish was organized. Until 1560, the holy icon remained in this church. Then, however, a fire occurred, and, despite all the efforts of the local populace to extinguish it, the fire consumed the entire church. Likewise, efforts to save the holy icon of the Theotokos from the flames proved futile. Everyone, thinking that the icon was destroyed, mourned its loss. However, the icon of the Theotokos was soon miraculously found.

Peasant children, coming home from school, came to the hill at the foot of which had stood the church which had burned down. Here they beheld a marvelous vision: an unusually beautiful Maiden, bathed in radiance, was sitting on a rock. The children did not dare approach Her, but hurried to tell their friends and relatives what they had seen. The news of the vision reached the priest as well. Accepting the children's account as a Divine revelation, they all went to the hill. When they approached the rock, they noted that on it was a lighted taper. When they came closer, they found on the rock the Zhirovits Icon of the Theotokos, not at all damaged by the fire. The priest and people of Zhirovits were inexpressibly overjoyed at the finding of their lost holy treasure. Because they had no parish church, the icon remained for some time in the home of the priest. Later, the parishioners erected a new, stone church. After it was completed, it was consecrated and dedicated to the Theotokos, and the miraculous icon was placed within.

One hundred years after these events, near the church there appeared a monastery; its tasks were educating the people of the region in the spirit of the Orthodox faith and struggling against the Unia and Roman Catholicism. The monastic brotherhood zealously fulfilled its assignment in word and deed. The monks not only dedicated themselves to their educational work among the people, but also followed a strictly ascetic way of life. Unfortunately, their work was soon forced to end. In 1618, the monastery was seized by the Uniates and remained in their hands until 1839. From that point, the miraculous Zhirovits Icon of the Theotokos also came under the control of the Uniates, who extended to it due respect and reverence. Even the Poles revered it. In 1839, the Zhirovits Monastery and the miraculous image of the Theotokos were returned to the Orthodox.

The Zhirovits Icon of the Theotokos is depicted in relief on a jasper stone, which is not of great size. It now rests to the left of the Royal Doors, in the iconostasis of the Dormition Church, the main church of the monastery built on the site of the icon's first appearance. Among the pilgrims who come to bow down before the holy icon, it is the custom to take a supply of water from the spring near which the Zhirovits Icon first appeared. Now that spring is contained in a crypt beneath the church. In addition to the water, pilgrims also take bits of stone from the rock upon which the holy icon appeared for the third time. This rock, which is noted for its great size and which is known as the "Footsteps of the Theotokos," is underneath the altar of one of the monastery churches.

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