Here is yet another “icon in a tree” image. If you look closely, however, you will see that there is also a large fish and a round loaf of bread in the tree:
It all relates to the story of another of the monastic founder monks of the “Northern Thebaid” — one of those who wandered off into the forested wilds of northern Russia. This one is “Holy Venerable Martyr Adrian Poshekhonskiy, Wonderworker.”
Adrian was a monk at the Vologda-Korneliev Monastery. He supposedly had a vision in which Mary appeared to him, telling him to go into the northern wilds and build a church there. An alternate account says that while at that monastery, Adrian met a strange old starets (religious elder) named Bestuzh, who told Adrian his future was to build a church in a wild place, and also told Adrian he knew where that place was to be found.
With the permission of his abbot, Adrian set off into the forests with his fellow monk Leonid, and the strange starets travelled with them, guiding their way into the swampy, forested region. when they arrived at their destination, the starets mysteriously vanished — and they determined from this that he must have been an angel sent to guide and protect them.
They had brought with them an icon of the Dormition (Uspenie) of the Mother of God, and this they hung in an oak tree. Then they went off into the forest — some say to look for whatever mushrooms and berries they might find to eat.
While they were gone, some local fishermen from the village of Beloselsk came into the area, fishing on the Vetka River at the same place where the monks had hung the icon of Mary. There they were able to catch two extraordinarily large pike (a kind of fish). One of them found the icon — some say shining with a bright light — and climbed up and attempted to take the icon from the tree, but a strong unseen force pushed him away. Impressed by all this, the fishermen left offerings at the tree, in the form of fish and bread. That accounts for the large fish we see lying across a branch of the tree in the icon, and it also accounts for the round loaf near it.
When Adrian and his companion returned, they were surprised to find the food left at the tree.
Feeling this was the spot for their church, the monks set to work. Other people in the region came to them and helped, and eventually a church and monastery rose on the site.
There was trouble, however. In the year 1550, robbers came from the village of Beloye to the monastery, thinking that there must be wealth inside. They tried to get Adrian — now the abbot — to reveal the wealth, but when he told them there was only 40 Rubles for the construction work, they strangled him with a rope and killed other monks as well.
The story is that that the robbers carried away Adrian’s body. Some say they just threw it aside in the forest, and that later a priest found it, buried it, and planted a rowan tree over the grave. The killing of Adrian is why he has the title Prepodobnomuchenik — “Venerable Marytr,” that is, a monk-martyr.
As these tales go, however, that was not the end. It is said that people in one of the local villages on the Ukra River began to notice something odd. If they were ill and happened to eat the berries from a certain rowan tree (rowan trees, by the way, were often considered sacred in pre-Christian times), they would suddenly find themselves well again. Of course word about this miraculous tree got out, and some priests finally came to investigate in the year 1625. They dug under the rowan tree, and there, it is said, they found the incorrupt body of Adrian. And of course the usual tales of miraculous healings associated with the remains of Adrian followed.
Though icons of Adrian have the same general form, depicting Adrian on one side and the tree with the the icon of the Dormition, fish, and loaf in it on the other, some examples — like the one above — also include the fishermen with their nets in the river, and one of them finding the icon. Other examples show an additional monk or monks standing with Adrian Some also show in the background the monastery he founded, as in this icon:
Here is a simpler version of the image, dated 1902 — one of those lithographs printed by the Fesenko firm in Odessa. For more information on Fesenko, see this earlier posting: