Our Lady of Pochaev (Ukraine) and photo of the icon arriving in Magadan, Russia
“... if my words don’t come together, listen to the melody, ‘cause my love is in there hiding. I love you in a place where there’s no space or time...”
Leon Russell, “ A Song For You” 1970
The other day I was driving and this song came on the radio (Karen Carpenter’s beautiful version) and the words were suddenly illumined for me. It honestly felt like Heaven had entered the car and filled it with such overflowing Love, that I had to pull over. Similarly, you can hear the word of God; words you’ve heard a hundred times, which then light up your soul and fill it with hope. As Jesus said, “ The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed grows, he himself knows not how. All by itself the soil produces grain - first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain that ripens within.” (Mark 4: 26-28)
Our Lady of Pochaev, has been in the Pochaev Lavra (monastery) since 1597. A miraculous legend has been associated with this icon. In 1198 a monk ascended Mount Pochaev to pray and was met by a Pillar of Fire which in moments, revealed the Mother of God. Almost immediately the monk shared the news with the other monks in the Pochaev Lavra, who did not believe him. So he went back to the place of the apparition
and Our Mother had left her foot print seared into a rock to convince the monks she had actually been there. This foot print always appears in the icon, as you see here.
In 1995 I was blessed to go to Magadan, Far East Russia (four hours flight from Anchorage, Alaska) to visit the former place of a horrible concentration camp, where millions died, (1938-1955) so that I could come back to Alburquerque and create a new icon, Our Lady of Magadan. This was commissioned by Archbishop Hurley of Anchorage to be given as a gift to the Orthodox Bishop of Magadan. While there, my guide, the late Mr Bill Lavin who spoke Russian fluently, took me to a new Monastery, the St Sergius of Radonezh Lavra.
So as I was talking with some of the young Orthodox monks (Bill was translating), Bill decided to tell them I was an iconographer . They perked up visibly and joyfully told him “Ah, this is wonderful ! He will do three icons for us ! St Sergius of Radonezh, St Seraphim of Sarov and Our Lady of Pochaev.” Now .... Magadan was (is?) an impoverished city, struggling so much they only had paper-print icons or small hand painted ones with no real gold leaf halos, just painted ones. I was waiting for their furrowed brows of disapproval and rejection when they found out I was Catholic. So I said “Bill, you better tell them I’m not Orthodox and in fact, a Roman Catholic priest.” He did and they all smiled, laughed, and said, “ O that doesn’t matter at all, we’re poor!” So I said, “I’d be most honored to write/paint one for you. Please pick one.” And they chose Our Lady of Pochaev.
I will never forget that moment and imagine my joy when Archbishop Hurley sent me the above photograph taken in October 1996 when the icon of Our Lady of Pochaev arrived at the Lavra. I saw in the photo, an Orthodox monk bending to kiss/venerate the icon, and I know that She is still with them today. Holy Martyr St Nestor Savchuk had been in the seminary in the Pochaev Monastery, Ukraine, and I felt that connection too. As Jesus said, these things happen, who knows how?
With all the tragedy of Ukraine and Russia, I offer this prayer I found, to the Mother of God, Our Lady of Pochaev , I quote :
“Rejoice, O Glory of the Universe.
Rejoice, O Temple of the Lord.
Rejoice, O Mountain overshadowed by the Holy Ghost.
Rejoice, O Refuge of all.
Rejoice, O Golden candelabrum.
Rejoice, O Honorable Glory of all Christians.
Rejoice, O Mary, Mother of Christ Our God.
Rejoice, O Paradise.
Rejoice, O Divine Altar.
Rejoice, O Golden Urn.
Rejoice, O Hope of All...
Mother most good, cover our Church and our Ukrainian people with your mantle. Help our brothers and sisters in Ukraine in their suffering. Give them strength in their struggle with their atheist enemies, be consoling and unfailingly firm in their harassment and shield them in their misery.
Be for them and us All-Merciful Guardian, and let them praise you openly and freely together with them, Oh Virgin, among all Virgins, and your Son, Our God, Jesus. Let there be glory, honor and adoration now, and always, and forever. Amen “
Fr William Hart McNichols 💙💛 April 2022