Pokrov’s icon: Ukraine’s favorite Madonna
The National Day of Ukraine, celebrated on October 14, is the Day of the Pokrov Icon. It commemorates an apparition of the Virgin Mary in Constantinople.
To understand the love of Ukrainians for the Madonna of Pokrov, we must go back to the tenth century. At that time, whenever the Byzantine Empire (remember that its capital was Constantinople) was threatened by the Arabs or the Slavs, the Virgin Mary appeared with Saint John the Baptist and Saint John.
The Virgin Mary and these two saints appeared to Saint Andrew, called Andrew the “Madman in Christ”, in the Church of the Blacherns in Constantinople. This church is an illustrious Marian sanctuary and a very beautiful church in the city. During the apparition, the Blessed Mother went to the altar in tears, placing her own veil which covered her head over people to protect and save them.
“Pokrov” means “the veil” in the literal sense and borrows, from the Hebrew of the Old Testament, ferryman (veil), the figurative meaning of “protection” or “security”. The feast of the Pokrov icon therefore means, in other words, Our Lady of Protection. This holiday, which commemorates its appearance, has been proclaimed a national holiday of Ukraine. It is celebrated on October 14.
During the times of Soviet and Nazi occupation, this icon gained immense importance for the Ukrainian nation, which reveres it as one of its favorite icons. Interestingly, this festival was created in Russia in the 12th century during the reign of Prince Vladimir Andrew Bogoliubsky (1157-1174), whose patron saint was Saint Andrew. Outside of Russia, it is celebrated in Ukraine, but also in Bulgaria, Romania and also in Greece.
A veil of protection
The Pokrov icon depicts the standing Mother of God in orans (prayer position) arms raised, in a Byzantine church setting, and accompanied by saints. Two variants exist: either the Virgin herself extends her veil widely, or two angels extend the veil over the people. Above the extended veil stands the bust of Christ. Pokrov’s prayer to the Virgin alludes to her veil shining over the saved crowd:
Cover us, O queen, with the cloak of mercy, O Pokrov and defense of men, Pokrov and defense of believers. Thanks to your help, the Orthodox kings are crowned…
On this day we celebrate your luminous feast, O Mother of God, we the faithful protected by your coming and, contemplating your venerable icon, with tenderness we say: cover us with your holy protection and deliver us from all evil, praying your Son, Christ our God, to save our souls.