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Centuries-old Marian icon offers solace, protection amid horror of war


DAYTON, Ohio (CNS) — As Ukrainians turn to their faith amid the ongoing tragedy of Russia’s invasion of their nation, many who follow both the Orthodox and Catholic traditions will look to an unusual icon of Mary as a symbol of the solace they seek. In some news photos, clergy are seen holding the icon, which depicts Mary holding a long piece of fabric in her outstretched hands.

This sacred image is known in Ukraine and many other East European nations as the “Pokrova,” or the Intercession of the Theotokos, “mother of God” in Greek, a title for Mary used in both Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches. The Pokrov icon has its origins in a 10th-century Marian apparition that occurred in Constantinople, according to Sarah Cahalan, director of the Marian Library at the University of Dayton in Ohio. Orthodox tradition states that on Oct. 1 in the year 911, Mary appeared to St. Andrew the Fool for Christ during a vigil held at the city’s Church of St. Mary of Blachernae Church. The saint said he saw Mary spreading her cloak – some accounts say it was her veil – over the congregation as a symbol of her protection. At the time the city was under attack and according to tradition, after Mary’s appearance the attacking armies withdrew. Devotion to Mary is an intrinsic part of both Orthodox and Catholic spirituality in the Ukraine, according to Father Silviu Bunta, an Orthodox priest from Romania and professor of Scripture at the University of Dayton.

“We Orthodox call her by many titles, including ‘More Honorable than the Cherubim’ because to us, she is the greatest person who ever lived and will ever live,” Father Bunta told Catholic News Service.