THE POKROV IN UKRAINE

A reader pointed out to me that on March 6, 2022, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a cohort of Putin, gave an absolutely bizarre and ridiculous excuse for the murderous Russian war on Ukraine that is still underway: he essentially blamed it on Gay Pride. He said:

Today there is such a test for the loyalty of this government, a kind of pass to that “happy” world, the world of excess consumption, the world of visible “freedom”. Do you know what this test is? The test is very simple and at the same time terrible – this is a gay parade. The demands on many to hold a gay parade are a test of loyalty to that very powerful world; and we know that if people or countries reject these demands, then they do not enter into that world, they become strangers to it.

So according to the corrupt Kirill, the test of political correctness is whether your country has a Gay Pride parade or not. Nothing about the bombing of cities and innocent civilians in Ukraine, or the deceit of Putin in sending Russian soldiers to die for a cause that is nothing but lies — just a blame for the horrific violence in Ukraine on, of all things, Gay Pride parades. That is the shameless lunacy of the Russian Patriarchate as it cooperates with Putin in the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

I will take rainbow balloons over bombs any day.

Now on to icons.

At one time there was a Cossack “host” or army in Ukraine called the Zaporozhian Host (Військо Запорозьке/Viys’ko Zaporz’ke). Zaporozhian means “beyond the rapids,” that is, below the rapids of the Dniepr River in central and eastern Ukraine. Their patron was the Pokrov (“Protection/Intercession”) icon of Mary, and that icon remains popular today in Ukraine, and is considered by many a national Protectress.

I have previously given the origin story of the Pokrov icon type. You will find it in the archives. But today I want to talk about it as it appears in Ukrainian iconography.

We find not only the earlier traditional stylized icons of the Pokrov in Ukraine, but also those later examples painted in the westernized, European-influenced manner

It is important to note that there are two basic forms of the Pokrov, distinguished by who is holding the protective veil over the congregation. Both fall under what we can call the “Today the Virgin appears in the church” form, taken from the words commonly found on the scroll of Romanos the Melodist in such icons. They depict Mary appearing above the assembled folk in the Byzantine Church of the Vlakhernae/Blachernae in Constantinople.

The first of these two basic forms depicts Mary holding her protective veil in her hands, as in this example from the late 15th-early 16th century.

(Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum, Lviv, Ukraine)

The second type, however, depicts the veil of protection being held by angels:

PokrovAndrey Sheptytsky National MuseumLviv

(Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum, Lviv)

In addition to these two basic variants of the “Today the Virgin appears in the church” type, there is also another and quite different Pokrov image with iconography borrowed from the Madonna della Misericordia of western European art.  This type shows Mary spreading out her cloak (not her veil) in protection over a group of people.  Some depict persons in the group who were actual political and religious figures from the time of painting.

This example, from the second half of the 17th century, is mixed with the “Joy to All Who Suffer” type, and we even find those words in the inscribed ribbons above Mary’s head.

Pokrovcloak2ndhalf17thcentAndreySheptytskyNationalMuseumLviv

Here is another example, this time from the Drohobych, Ukraine City Museum, which even more obviously depicts this “Protection” icon as a “Joy to All Who Suffer” variant, with angels below helping the needy.

Pokrov:JoytoAllWhoSufferDrohobychCityMuseumUkraine

(Drohobych Museum, Ukraine)

PATRONESS OF KHARKIV

The patron of the Ukrainian city of Kharkhiv, which has suffered and still suffers heavily from bombing and invasion in Putin’s present war against Ukraine, is the Озеряаньска/Ozeryan/Ozeryanskaya icon.

The original icon disappeared during Soviet Russian times, whether stolen or destroyed is uncertain. There were, however, a number of copies made, because the icon was one of those considered “miracle working.”

The origin story of the icon says that it “appeared” when a man was out mowing grass with his scythe in the meadows owned by the priest Theodore along the Ozeryanka River. Suddenly he heard a sound like someone groaning, and when he looked, he found the icon in the grass, cut in two by his scythe.

He took the icon back to his hut. The next morning, it had disappeared, but was found again where he had heard the groaning the previous day. And the icon was said to be “miraculously” whole again, no longer cut in half, though a scar marked where the two pieces had joined. A candle was said to be burning by the icon, and a spring was flowing nearby.

News of the “appearance” of the icon spread, and a church was built on the site of its finding. As these stories go, soon a number of miracles of healing were attributed to the icon, and to the waters of the spring as well.

The church where the icon had been kept and the chapel that was built at the spring were destroyed during the Soviet period in the 1930s. A modern copy is now at the Pokrov/Protection Monastery of the Kharkiv Diocese.

An early 20th century description of the original icon made when it still existed says it was painted in an unsophisticated manner, and was on canvas attached to a board.

ENDANGERED ART

One of the cultural treasures of Ukraine that is now in great danger from the criminal Russian invasion is the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom (Собор Святої Софії /Sobor Svyatoy Sofiy) in Kyiv.

From its outer appearance — the 17th-century restoration under Kyiv Metropolitan Petr Mogila, who hired the Italian architect Octavio Mancini to undertake the work — one might think it a relatively recent building by European standards. Surprisingly, however, the outer shell hides an interior that dates back to the early days of Kyivan Rus — the 11th century.

The cathedral interior preserves priceless mosaics and paintings from the 11th century.  Most famous among them is the “Great Panagia” or “Virgin Orans” in the vault of the chancel.  It is sometimes referred to as the “Unbreakable Wall,” and the cloth in her belt by tradition is said to be for wiping away the tears of the suffering.

virginoransSt.SofiyaKyiv

Another from that period is a mosaic of the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation:

And from about the year 1700 comes the famous “Kyiv” version of the image of Jesus as Holy Wisdom, on the breast of Mary — “Wisdom has built herself a house.” 

WisdombuiltherselfSt.SofiyaKyiv

RESOUNDING SILENCE

Do you hear that great silence?  It is the Russian Orthodox Church saying NOTHING to condemn Putin’s war in Ukraine.  Why so silent?  Because the Russian Orthodox Church is complicit in the invasion.  The Moscow Patriarchate is furious that the Patriarch of Constantinople has recognized the right of Ukraine to have its own recently independent (2019) Orthodox Church of Ukraine, no longer under the domination of the Patriarch of Moscow.  And the Russian Orthodox Church head — the Patriarch of Moscow — and Vladimir Putin support each other in their radical, poisonous mix of religion and nationalism and corruption.

Leo Tolstoy wrote:

The sanctification of political power by Christianity is blasphemy; it is the negation of Christianity.  After fifteen hundred years of this blasphemous alliance of pseudo-Christianity with the State, it needs a strong effort to free oneself from all the complex sophistries by which, always and everywhere (to please the authorities), the sanctity and righteousness of State-power, and the possibility of its being Christian, has been pleaded.  In truth, the words a “Christian State” resemble the words “hot ice.” The thing is either not a State using violence, or it is not Christian.

Ukraine’s President Zelensky is absolutely correct in what he said a short time ago: Russia is at present a terrorist state.  Open, blatant, soulless terrorism.  Putin is a war criminal.  As he continues to perpetrate horrors on Ukraine, there seems to be no end to his loathsome, vicious, brutal malevolence.  And the Russian Orthodox Church is resoundingly silent.

Now for some talk about icons.

Here is a pleasant icon of the Adoration of the Magi from the Ostroh (Остро́г) icon painting workshop, which was opened by Pavel Mykolayovych Zholtovsky at the end of the 17th century.

AdorationMagiOstrozhSchool

We see in it the characteristics considered typical of the Ostroh Workshop:  thin and sharp arching eyebrows, large and clear eyes, rounded features, and a plump lower lip and thin upper lip, all making for a cheerful and friendly expression, so unlike the asceticism of traditional Byzantine iconography that it is considered a happy innovation.

AdorationMagiOstrozhSchooldet1

If we look above the Magi at left, we also see another characteristic of the Ostroh Workshop:  Incised and silvered acanthus leaves in the background.  Notice also the incising on the crowns and vessels of the Magi:

AdorationofMagiOstrohdet2

We see the same cheerfulness in this “Protection of the Mother of God” Ostroh icon from 1739, though in this example it is the garments of Mary that are silvered and incised.

ProtectionMH1739Ostroh

The Ostroh Workshop is generally considered a part of the Volyn/Volhynia icon painting school.  Here is a map showing the location of Volyn in Ukraine:

VolynUkraine

And here is another, showing the location of Ostroh/Ostrog, just below the center of the map.

VolynVolhyniaUkraine

I should not end this posting without mentioning the immense threat posed by the current violent and careless Russian invasion of Ukraine to the country’s museums and cultural artifacts.  Already Russian forces have burned the Museum of Local History in Ivankiv, destroying 25 works by the Ukrainian folk artist Maria Prymachenko.  The city of Kyiv is a storehouse of Ukrainian art and history, and there are many other cultural sites, museums and institutions of Ukraine in danger of destruction.  So it is not only people Russia is waging war against; it is also the art and cultural history of Ukraine.