The Akhtyr Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos appeared on July 2, 1739 in the village of Akhtyr in the area of Kharkov, east of Kiev, Russia.
Father Basil Danilov, a righteous man of strong faith, was the priest of the Dormition Church in Akhtyr. He wanted to try out a new scythe, and so he went out to a field by the church. As he began to cut the tall grass, Father Basil noticed an icon of the Mother of God shining with a radiant light. Dropping the scythe, he fell to his knees and began to pray, then took the icon to his home.
The icon remained in the priest’s home for three years. No one could spend the night in the same room as the icon, because an inexplicable fear would force them to leave.
One night the Theotokos appeared to Father Basil in a dream, reproaching him because he had not cleaned the icon in the three years since he had found it. When he awoke, he dusted the icon off and washed it with water, then went back to sleep. That night he had another dream in which he saw himself going to the river in order to pour out the water he had used to wash the icon. The Mother of God appeared to him again and ordered him to return home with the water, explaining that it would cure people of malaria and fever.
When Father Basil’s daughter became ill with malaria, he gave her some of the water to drink and she was immediately healed. Others also received healing in this way. The priest decided that the icon should not remain in his home, so he took it to the church.
An iconographer named John was commissioned to restore the icon. When his son contracted malaria, John remembered how the water used to wash the icon had cured people of that disease. Therefore, he washed the icon and gave his son some of the water to drink. The young man was healed at once, and there were many other miracles after this one.
The miracles of the Akhtyr Icon were investigated no less than three times. In 1751 the Holy Synod determined that reports of the miracles were true, and declared the icon to be wonderworking.
Empress Elizabeth had a stone church built in Akhtyr for the icon, and she personally donated two thousand rubles. St Joseph of Belgorod blessed the cornerstone. The church was consecrated in 1768.
Tsar Nicholas I ordered that on the Saturday before Pentecost the Akhtyr Icon should be taken from the Protection Cathedral and carried in procession to the Akhtyr-Holy Trinity Monastery. The icon was brought back to the cathedral during the week of All Saints. Unfortunately, the icon was stolen from the Protection Cathedral on April 1, 1905. However, many copies of the Akhtyr Icon were made before it was stolen.
On July 2 churches bless water in remembrance of the healings which took place after the Mother of God ordered Fr. Basil Danilov to wash the icon.
The icon is rather unusual, and does not seem to have an earlier prototype. It is painted in a Western style, and shows the Theotokos with an uncovered head. The Crucifixion of Christ is depicted in much smaller proportions, and the Virgin seems to be gazing directly at the Cross. Her hands are held with the palms together, and the fingers pointing upward, which is not a typical gesture of prayer in Orthodox iconography.
By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org )