One of the greatest treasures in the possession of the Monastery of New Valamo in Heinävesi, Finland is the wonder-working icon of the Mother of God of Valaam. Written on lime wood, the 132 x 79.5 cm icon depicts the Theotokos as a full-length figure standing on a cloud with lowered gaze, clothed in a bright red cloak and a dark turquoise undergarment. She is holding the Christ child, who is dressed in a thin, pale yellow smock, on her left arm. With her right hand, she points to Christ, in the style of the “hodigitria” icons of the Mother of God. Christ blesses with His right hand and holds an orb, surmounted by a cross, in His left hand, signifying that He is the Creator of the world and King of all.
According to the inscription, the icon was written in 1878, “the work of the monks of Valaam.” It is customarily attributed, however, to Father Alipy, one of the leading iconographers at the original Valaam Monastery in Lake Ladoga in Russian Karelia. Father Alipy wrote the icon only a few years after he arrived at the monastery, before he had become a novice there. He was tonsured to monastic orders in 1884 and ordained as priestmonk in 1893.
Following the conventions of the late 19th century, the icon was painted in a “naturalistic” style, employing a technique that combined the use of tempera and oils. Originally, the icon was to have been placed in the Valaam Monastery’s Church of the Dormition. This never occurred, however, and subsequently the icon was misplaced. In 1897, the icon was rediscovered and gained its miracle-working reputation on the strength of a succession of visions of the Mother of God experienced by an elderly woman with serious rheumatoid arthritis, Natalia Andreyevna Andreyeva, who was cured of her illness.
Despite the Valaam Monastery’s long history, it never had an icon of the Mother of God of its own design, although Father Alipy’s icon came to occupy such a position in subsequent years. During the turmoil of World War II, the icon was transported to safety in Finland, along with many other treasures from Valaam and the majority of the monks.
It now occupies a prominent position in the Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord at the New Valaam Monastery. In 1987, the bishops of the autonomous Orthodox Church of Finland established an annual feast in the Valaam Icon’s honor on August 7. The troparion and kontakion for the feast were written by the late Archbishop Paul of Finland.
On July 29, 2005, the Valaam Icon of the Mother of God was brought for the first time to North America by His Eminence, Archbishop Leo of Karelia and All Finland.
Troparion (Tone 4) –
O Virgin Theotokos,
we rejoice in beholding your holy icon,
for devout prayers offered in front of it were fulfilled on the island of Valaam
and the ascetics’ failing strength was renewed.
Hear our prayers, also, O Most Holy One.
Strengthen us in faith and love,
entreating peace for the world
and great mercy for our souls.
Kontakion (Tone 3) –
With minds elevated,
we come before your Holy Icon,
O Most Honorable Theotokos!
Your akathistos hymn was sung while it was being painted on the island of Valaam.
You appeared three times to the widow you healed,
and you showed the location of your forgotten icon.
Strengthen us in our affliction.
Increase in our hearts humility, love and silence of prayer.
Be a constant protection of your monastery
and our courage before your Son,
O praised Mother of God and heavenly Queen.
By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org )