Today’s icon type, the Derzhavnaya (“Reigning”) image, was painted at the end of the 18th-beginning of the 19th century. It is very westernized in appearance.
Its form, with the rounded top, shows that it was once in an iconostasis, the big icon screen that separates the congregation from the altar in Russian churches.
It is not difficult to see that it was painted on three boards joined together; the cracks separating them are quite obvious, and the image itself shows considerable signs of wear on the paint surface. Unlike traditional icons, it seems to have been painted in oils.
As for the iconography, it depicts Mary seated on a throne, holding a scepter in her right hand and a large globe in her left; these are symbols of ruling authority. Christ Immanuel is seated on her lap, blessing with his right hand and holding his left palm facing upward above the globe. There is no inscription other than the common abbreviation MP ΘΥ (Meter Theou = “Mother of God”) written in the style of the period. In the clouds above Mary is an unusually large depiction of God the Father (“Lord Sabaoth”).
Though it was painted near the beginning of the 19th century, this icon did not “appear” until the year 1917. You will recall that “appearance” (yavlenie) in the jargon of Eastern Orthodox Marian icons, means the time when an icon first manifests itself as supposedly miraculous. It generally has nothing to do with when the icon was first painted.
A common motif in the appearance of Marian icons is the message received in a dream, and that is what we find in the origin story of the Derzhavnaya type.
The story tells us that a woman named Evdokia Adrianova had a dream on the 13th of February in the year 1917. In it, she heard a voice saying:
“In the village of Kolomensk there is a big, black icon. Take it, make it red, and let there be prayer.”
Two weeks later on February 26th, she had another dream. In it she saw a white church, and in the church was a majestic woman whom Evdokia felt to be Mary. So she traveled to Kolomensk, and there saw the Ascension Church, which she recognized as the white church in her dream. She went to the home of the rector, Nikolai Likhachev, and told him her dream and asked what to do.
He took her to the church, and they began to search among its icons. At first, in the sanctuary and on the iconostasis, nothing was found to match the dream image. So they began searching up and down, and eventually, in the basement, stored with all kinds of junk, they came across an old and black icon. They cleaned it up and an image of Mary seated on a throne and holding signs of imperial authority, with her son on her lap, was revealed — and her robe was a bright red. Krasnuiy in Russian means both “red” and “beautiful.”
The image, according to church records, had been brought to Kolomensk for storage in 1812, the year of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia.
Word of the supposedly miraculous event quickly spread, and soon pilgrims began coming to the Ascension Church to see the icon. Additional miracles began to be attributed to it. The icon was taken out now and then to make “royal visits” to various sites in the area, including other churches and factories. Because Mary wears a crown and holds the symbols of royal authority, the image came to be called Derzhavnaya — “Reigning.”
Now it happened, so the story goes, that the day of the “appearance” of the icon — of its finding in the Church of the Ascension — happened also to be the day (March 2nd or 15th, depending which calendar is used) on which Tsar Nicholas II abdicated. This is taken by Russian monarchists and nationalists as a sign that when Nicholas laid down his imperial authority, it was taken up by Mary, as shown by the imperial symbols she holds. Mary was now guiding and ruling “Orthodox Russia.” Of course the new Soviet regime was not pleased by “monarchist” stories accompanying the icon; they put it away in a museum storage facility, and tried to prevent the adulation accorded it and its copies. But things changed in Russia as decades passed, and on July 27, 1990, the icon was placed in the Kazan Church in Kolomensk.
All of this makes the Derzhavnaya icon type a subject of importance today to Russian nationalists and monarchists and to the extremists among them.