Commemorated on March 9
The Albazinsk Icon
of the Mother of God "Word made Flesh" – is of great religious
significance in the Amur River region. It received its name from the Russian
fortress of Albazin (now the village of Albazino) along the Amur river, founded
in the year 1650 by the famous Russian frontier ataman Erofei Khabarov on the
site of a settlement of the Daurian prince Albaza.
The hue arising over
the Amur Albazinsk fortress became an object of enmity for the Chinese emperor
and his generals, who then already dreamed of expanding their influence over
all of Russian Siberia.
On the eve of the
feast of the Annunciation / Blagoveschenie, on 24 March 1652, there occurred
the first military clash of the Russians with the Chinese at the Amur. Through
the prayers of the Most Holy Mother of God the pagans were scattered and fled to
their own territory. This victory appeared as a blessed portent for the
Russians. But the struggle had only just begun. Still many a son of Holy Rus'
went on to drain the cup of death in the struggle for the Amur – for the
triumph of Orthodoxy in the Far East.
In June of 1658 an
Albazinsk military detachment, 270 Cossacks under the leadership of Onufrei
Stepanov, fell into an ambush and in an heroic fight they were completely
annihilated by the Chinese.
The enemy burned
Albazin, overran Russian lands, and carried off into China the local
population. They wanted to turn the fertile cultivated area back into
difficult years the Most Holy Mother of God shew particular signs of Her mercy
unto the Amur land. In 1665, when Russians returned and rebuilt Albazin,
together with a priest there came to the Amur the starets/elder Ermogen from
the Kirensk Holy Trinity monastery; he carried with him a blessing to
regenerate the region, – a wonderworking icon of the Mother of God "the
Word made Flesh", called since that time the Albazinsk Icon. In 1671 the
blessed elder built on the boundary mark of the Brusyan Stone (one and an half
kilometers from Albazin nearby along the Amur) a small monastery, where also
was kept the holy icon during the following years.
Albazin was built up.
At two churches in the city – the Ascension of the Lord and Sainted Nicholas
the Wonderworker – Albazinsk priests raised up the Bloodless Sacrifice. Not
far from the city (up along the Amur) was built still another monastery, – the
Spassky. The fertile soil produced bread for all Eastern Siberia. The local
populace adapted itself to Russian Orthodox culture, peacefully entering into
the assemblage of the multi-national Russian state, and found Russian
protection from the plundering raids of Chinese feudal war-lords.
At Moscow they did
not forget the needs of the far-away Amur frontier: they strengthened military
defenses and improved regional governance. In 1682 was formed the Albazinsk
Military-Provincial Government. They concerned themselves about the spiritual
nourishment of the Amur region peoples. A local Sobor / Council of the Russian
Church in 1681 adopted a resolution about the sending to the far-off city on
the Lena and Amur, "to the Daurian people", "religious –
archimandrites, hegumens or priests, both learned and good, for the
enlightening of unbelievers with the law of Christ". The Daurian and
Tungusian peoples as a whole accepted Holy Baptism; of great significance was
the conversion to Orthodoxy of the Daurian prince Hantimur, – christened
Peter, and his eldest son Katana, – christened Paul.
The servants of the
Chinese emperor planned among themselves for a new attack. After several
unsuccessful forays, on 10 July 1685, they marched against Albazin with an army
numbering 15 thousand and encircled the fortress. In it were 450 Russian
soldiers and 3 cannon. The first assault was repulsed. The Chinese then from
all sides piled up firewood and kindling against the wooden walls of the
fortress and set it afire. Further resistance proved impossible. With its
military standards and holy things, among which was the wonderworking Albazinsk
Icon, the garrison in military array abandoned the fortress.
But the Mother of God
did not withhold Her intercession from Her chosen city. Scouts soon reported,
that the Chinese suddenly "hurriedly both day and night" began to
withdraw from Albazin, not even being able to fulfill the Chinese emperor's command
to destroy the sown crops of the Russian fields. The miraculous interference of
the Heavenly Protectress not only expelled the enemy from Russian territories,
– it even preserved the bread, which then sufficed the restored city for the
winter months. On 20 August 1685 Russians were again already in Albazin.
A year went by, and
the fortress was again besieged by Chinese. There began an heroic five-month
defense of Albazin, – "the Albazinsk sitting-tight", which occupies
a most honoured place in the history of Russian military glory. Thrice – in July,
in September and in October, – the forces of the Chinese emperor made an
assault on the wooden fortifications. An hail of fiery arrows and red-hot
cannon balls fell on the town. The battle was such, that neither the city nor
its defenders could be seen in the smoke and fire. And all three times the
Invisible Protectress, the Mother of God, defended the Albazinsk inhabitants
from their fierce enemy.
Until December 1686,
when the Chinese, – having acknowledged their inability to succeed – lifted
the siege of Albazin, in the city of its 826 defenders only 150 men remained
These forces were
inadequate to continue the war against the Chinese emperor. In August 1690 the
last of the Cossacks, under the leadership of Vasilii Smirenikov – one of the
heroes of the defense of Albazin, departed from Albazin. Neither the fortress,
nor its holy things, fell into the hands of the enemy: the fortifications were
razed and leveled by the Cossacks, and the Albazinsk Icon of the Mother of God
was taken to Sretensk, a city on the river Shilka, which flows into the Amur.
But even after the
destruction of Albazin, God destined its inhabitants to fulfill yet another
service for the good of the Church. By Divine Providence the cessation of the
military effort contributed to the increase of the influence of the grace of
Orthodoxy among the peoples of the Far East. During the years of war, a company
of about an hundred Russian cossacks and peasants from Albazin and its environs
were taken captive and dispatched to Peking. The Chinese emperor even gave
orders to give over one of the Buddhist temples for establishing in the Chinese
capital an Orthodox church in the name of Sophia, the Wisdom of God. In 1695
the metropolitan of Tobol'sk, Ignatii, sent off to the Sophia church –
antimins, chrism, Divine-service books and church vessels. In a missive to the
captive priest Maksim, "the Preacher of the Holy Gospel to the Chinese
Empire", Metropolitan Ignatii wrote: "Be thou not troubled, nor
hereafter troubled of soul for thyself and all captive with thee, – since who
is able to oppose the Will of God? And captivity for you is not without purpose
to the Chinese people, such that the light of Christ's Orthodox Faith may be
revealed to them by you".
The preaching of the
Gospel in the Chinese empire soon bore fruit – and resulted in the first
baptisms of Chinese. The Russian Church zealously concerned itself over the new
flock. The metropolitan of Tobol'sk, Sainted Philothei – "the Apostle to Siberia"
(+1727), in 1715 wrote a grammota to the Peking clergy and the faithful living
under the Peking Spiritual Mission, having uninterruptedly continued with the
Christian work of enlightening pagans up through the then present time.
The years went by,
and the new epoch brought with it the Russian deliverance of the Amur. In the
year 1850 on 1 August, on the feast of the All-Merciful Saviour, captain G. I.
Nevel'sky raised up the Russian Andreev flag at the mouth of the Amur River and
founded the city of Nikolaevsk-on-Amur. Through the efforts of the
Governor-General of Eastern Siberia, N. N. Murav'ev-Amursky (+ 1881), and the
holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Innokentii, ArchBishop of Kamchatka (+ 1879, Comm.
31 March), and through the spiritual nourishment which obtained in the Amur and
Sea-coast regions, – in several years all the left bank of the Amur was built
up with Russian cities, villages and cossack settlements. Each year brought
important advances in the development of the liberated territory, its Christian
enlightenment and welfare. In the year 1857 on the bank of the Amur were
established fifteen way-stations and settlements (among which number the
larger, – the Albazinsk on the site of the old fortress and the Innokentiev,
named in honour of Sainted Innokentii). So too for the single year 1858 were
more than thirty settlements, among which were three cities, – Khabarovsk,
Blagoveschensk and Sophiisk.
In May 1858, on the
day of holy Sainted Nicholas the God-Pleasing, N. N. Murav'ev-Amursky and
ArchBishop Innokentii of Kamchatka arrived in the cossack post at Ust'-Zeisk.
Sainted Innokentii was here to dedicate a temple in honour of the Annunciation
/ Blagoveschenie of the Mother of God, – the first building in the new city.
Because of the name of the temple, the city was also called Blagoveschensk, –
in memory of the first victory over the Chinese on the feast of the
Annunciation in 1652, and in memory of the Blagoveschenie church at Irkutsk, –
in which Sainted Innokentii began his own priestly service; but it was also as
a symbol, that "from hence hath proceeded the blessed news of the
re-integration of the Amur region territory under Russian sovereignty".
New settlers on the way to the Amur, journeying through Sretensk, fervently
offered up their prayers to the Holy Protectress of the Amur region in front of
her Wonderworking Albazinsk Icon. Their prayers were heard: the Aigunsk (1858)
and Peking (1860) treaties decisively secured for Russia the left-bank of the
Amur and Sea-coast regions.
In 1868 the bishop of
Kamchatka, Benjamin Blagonravov – the successor to Sainted Innokentii,
transferred the holy icon from Sretensk to Blagoveschensk, thereby returning to
the Amur territory its famous holy icon. A new period in the veneration of the
Albazinsk Icon of the Mother of God began with the year 1885 and is associated
with the name of the Kamchatka bishop Gurii, who established an annual
commemoration on 9 March and a weekly reading of an akathist with prayerful
... In the summer of
1900, during the time of the "Boxer Rebellion" in China, the waves of
insurrection reached all the way to the Russian border. Chinese troops suddenly
appeared on the banks of the Amur in front of peaceful Blagoveschensk. For
nineteen days the enemy stood before the undefended city, raining artillery
fire down upon it, and menacing the Russian bank with invasion. The shallows of
the Amur afforded passage to the adversary. But in the Blagoveschensk church
the services were incessant, and akathists were read before the Wonderworking
Albazinsk Icon. And the Protection of the Mother of God, just like in earlier
times of battles over Albazin, was again extended over the city: not daring to
cross over the Amur, the enemy departed from Blagoveschensk. Through the
accounts of the Chinese themselves, they often saw by day over the bank of the
Amur a Radiant Woman, inspiring them with insuppressible fear and depriving
their projectiles of destructive power.
For more than 300
years the Wonderworking Albazinsk Icon of the Mother of God watched over the
Amur frontier of Russia. Orthodox people venerate it not only as Protectress of
Russian soldiers, but also as a Patroness of mothers. Believers pray before the
icon for mothers during the time of their pregnancy and at childbirth, –
"so that the Mother of God might give the true gift of abundant health
from the inexhaustible well-spring of holiness of the Albazinsk Icon".
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.