Русский | Russian Club in Shanghai | May 23, 2002
L. Chernikova
(about the author)

Traces Obscured
(The Tabynsk icon in China)

English Translation by Igor Radev

The history of the Tabynsk icon of Mother of God totals more than four hundred year history. In 1597, 12 km from the village of Tabynsk (Southern Urals Mountains), founded by Tsar Ivan the Terrible, the hermitage of Prechistenskaya was situated. The magnificent, fairytale like nature, surrounded the 30 inhabitants of the hermitage, who used to work on the fields and boiled down salt. One of them, Hierodeacon Amvrosy, passing by a salty source, heard the voice of the Most Pure Mother of God: "Take up my icon". Afraid of possibly being deluded, he did not pay any attention to it. But on the third day, having again heard the same voice, he saw the wonder-working icon of the Mother of God. He immediately hastened to the brotherhood. And by having a litany, they accepted this holy icon. Then they put it inside the church and a supplication service was served in front of it. Afterwards they closed the church, but the next morning the icon was not to be found there. It was later discovered on the monastery doorstep. Soon a chapel was built on that spot; exactly as in the past was done in the case of "Iviron" icon too.

photo from Georgy Arutyunov

The image on the icon, which was discovered in Tabynsk, is similar to the image on the Kazan icon of the Mother of God, but itís much darker. The size of the Tabynsk icon exceeds that of Kazan icon: the height from one side is 107 cm, but from the other is a bit shorter (105 cm), and its width is 72 cm and the thickness is 4.4cm.

Right after its appearance, numerous miracles happened through the icon, and because of this, it was taken to Kazan and Ufa for confirmation. From Ufa this holy icon suddenly disappeared, only to be found again in a miraculous way at the salty spring near the village of Tabyn.

The hermitage of Prechistenskaya was finally destroyed in 1663, and from then on there werenít any records of the icon. It was unknown whether the icon stayed under the wreckage of the demolished church or in some other place. But 100 years from then its second appearance happened.

In 1765-68, while three Bashkir shepherds grazed their cattle at Salty Springs, suddenly they saw the icon of the Mother of God standing by itself on a huge rock. The tradition says that they rushed to cut it down, but went blind. One of them, the youngest (who had been at the time 14-15 year old) began to pray and thus came to see clearly again. But then he tried to run away and so he again went blind. For the second time he started to pray, and called his friends to do the same. They gathered in front of the icon, desperately crying: "we shall not leave, until the Russian God cures us". Subsequently the youngest of them was later christened and lived for 130 years, all his life going barefooted to the Tabyn icon whether in winter or in summer, clothed only in one mantle and a cap. He died near Chelyabinsk, praying in front of the icon.

The icon had been brought in the Protection of the Mother of God church at the plant of Bogoyavlensk (the settlement of Krasnousolsk). The next morning the icon was not to be found in the church, but later they discovered the holy icon in the village of Tabynsk. Since then the wonder-working icon of the Mother of God was referred to as - of Tabynsk.

The icon of the Tabynsk Mother of God- is considered as patroness of all of Urals area: Bashkiria, Orenburg region, the Volga region, Siberia, Kazakhstan. After its appearance in these lands, religious processions started to be performed, which were accompanied by many miracles.

The icon has rescued, as the written records testify, Orenburg, where an epidemic of cholera, which started in 1848, has destroyed about half of the population (in five years died 29 807 people). Only in 1853 Christians remembered their Protectoress, and by bringing her icon the cholera at last receded. "The Sovereign Emperor was pleased to arrange to transfer annually the icon of the Kazan Mother of God from the church in Tabynsk Village of Stelitamsk County to the city of Orenburg every September and to Sterlitamak on the 9th Friday after Pascha (Orthodox Easter) accompanied by a litany. The local police is assigned with the duty of supervising over the order and safeguarding the people during the service" (Ministry of Interior, file № 250, 12 XII 1856). On the day of transmission of the holy Icon that was performed annually on September 7, a mass of people used to flock in  Orenburg from its immediate countryside and  the nearby settlements, as well as from the more distant towns of Buzuluksk district of the Samara province. The arrival of the Tabynsk icon of the Mother of God was met in by all the city clergy, the provincial authorities and the local armies with their orchestras of regimental musicians. The bringing in of the Icon into the city was accompanied by a celebratory peal of the church bells, by the fine singing of the diocesan chorus which merged with sounds of the military band music playing "How glorious is… ". The presence of parading armies with banners, the collective singing of the troparion "Assiduous Protectress…" and the procession of numerous clergy with banners and icons - all this together produced the involuntary exclamation: "No, the Faith in the Russian people has not yet become scarce".

The litany with the Tabynsk icon in 1861 was the longest in history of Russia. In the summer of that year a terrible drought struck Ufa province. In spite of the fact that in each church people prayed, as well as on the fields and the sources of water, the Lord seemingly did not respond to their prayers. But a rumor has spread that rain will fall wherever the Tabyn icon is. People of Sterlitamak, a city which has half burned down, in crowds left to meet their Rescuer, the Mother of God, asking for vivifying dew. During the prayer a thunder struck and for five consecutive days rain poured down. The drought stopped. The city and the neighboring lands have been saved at last. In the Orenburg steppes the Icon was as though "left loose to freedom". Every settlement and town tried to accept the Great Guest to themselves, a litany began to proceed, passing already 4000 versts (4267 km), visiting at the request of  its inhabitants, such remote cities, as Chelyabinsk, Tobolsk and Qostanay. This orthodox relic was visited both by schismatics, and Mohammedans.  The Bashkirs did not allow anyone else to carry the holy icon on their land, since they reserved that privilege only to themselves. The plentiful grace proceeding from the wonder-working icon cured a multitude of blind and lame, who were waiting for a consolation from Christ.

Under the established order, the icon of the Mother of God was carried out from Tabynsk village after the 9th Friday following Pascha and brought to the nearby areas of the Orenburg diocese and then was taken on to Upper Urals district. But, if Pascha fell earlier, and, hence, more time was available, the icon was brought to the city of Chelyabinsk, Tyumen and Qostanay. The icon entered Orenburg on Nativity of the Virgin (on September 22 according to the Old Calendar) feast. Then, it was taken up to Uralsk, and from there it went to the Samara province and from the town of Buzuluk was sent back in Tabynsk where it stayed till next year and remained in its place till the 9th Friday after Pascha when a mass of people from the bordering areas flocked there. V. V. Dal recollected: "This miraculously discovered icon of the Mother of God passes through half of the province after the 9th Friday after Pascha, and to this procession a mass of people comes, and every inhabited place with its population escorts it".  

The holy Tabynsk icon of the Mother of God was carried in a special cart with five central boards, and during the travel, temporarily appointed priests and deacons served at the icon. On the carriage only horses upon which no one has sat were harnessed. "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not" (Mathew 10, 5). Frequently it happened that the icon stopped, and nobody could move it. Then it would be discovered that on the spot in question a killed baby was buried or some other evil deeds were done. The icon refused to come into some settlements. The Mother of God as though called those people to repentance. Believing in the wonderful force, the well-known icon from Bashkiria till the onset of the revolution of 1917 was carried in a carriage to many Russian provinces - to Samara, Qostanay, Tobolsk, Uralsk, Chelyabinsk, Orenburg.  

The last Litany, which took place in 1918, was carried on around Orenburg. Suddenly the procession was attacked by the Reds, who broke the gold and silver Orenburg copes, and then threw the holy icon on the road. They had no need of it. The icon has been picked up by Cossacks of ataman Dutov. During the Civil war, in the time of the greatest tribulations for the Cossacks, the ataman of Orenburg Cossack army, Dutov, in order to hoist the fighting spirit and the moral among the Cossacks, took out to the armies the image of their sacred Patroness, the Tabynsk icon of the Mother of God.  

But ataman Dutov in the end had to make his retreat. He used to pray quite often in front of the Tabynsk icon, contemplating the fate of Russia. But the Mother of God did not provide any help in the fratricidal war. Moreover, during the retreat of the Cossacks from Russia, on the coast of Amur River near Blagoveshchensk the Tabynsk icon just stopped, as if it did not want to leave Russia! But with the encroachment of the Reds, all were threatened to die. Then a chapel was constructed above the icon. Archbishop of Orenburg, Methodius, Archbishop of Tomsk, Meletius, and the bishop of Kamchatka, Nestor, accompanied by many priests fasted and prayed for three days, asking the Patroness for favor. After that, the holy icon was moved through the border to China.  

On the border between Russia and China there were difficult mountain tracks and narrow passes. Here neither vehicles, nor horses could pass. What ataman Dutov has taken on this difficult road? In the diary of the ataman it is recorded: "… We have taken through only the weapons, cartridges and the icon".

St Nicholas Cathedral
in Harbin

 In China the icon was kept in an Orthodox monastery in Harbin down to 1948. On foreign land too the Tabynsk icon became famous for its miracles, so even the Chinese used to pray to it, speaking: "The Tabynsk icon brings success". After 1948 the icon has been taken out by archimandrite Filaret (the future head of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) first to Australia, and then to the USA in San Francisco. Further traces of it are lost, and where it is at the moment - it is not known.

Nowadays, the rector of the church dedicated to the Tabynsk icon of the Mother of God, priest Vladimir Sergeev, helped by a group of assistants is engaged in data gathering concerning the icon as well as in endeavors to find this lost treasure.

According to all the latest information, which were passed to me, the Tabynsk icon ostensibly was not taken out from China, but has been hidden in Urumchi, the capital of Xinjiang-Uigur autonomous region, whether by Russian or by Chinese. They have written: "Recently at the Bashkir Academy of Sciences (city of Ufa) a recorded report was heard made by a man trying to find the Tabynsk icon in China… To find this report and the person in question was apparently beyond our possibilities…".  Further on, they asked to be involved in the search through Chinese channels. But this did not took place, for I live in Shanghai, and Urumchi is the most northwest corner of People's Republic of China, inhabited, for the most part, by Mohammedan peoples. Nevertheless, if any opportunity comes forth, Iíll try to find people who are going there.

To tell the truth, I donít really believe that Russian immigrants leaving Shanghai and Harbin in 1948, could have left behind the icon in a foreign speaking, religiously and culturally alien environment. I believe that Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia can help to find or at least to throw some light on the problem of locating the Tabynsk icon. The question is not about returning the icon to Russia, but - rediscovering a national Relic.

However, I managed to find the person who was leading searches for the Tabynsk icon in China, or to be more correct, he found me. The man in question is Vladimir Vladimirovich Simonov, who worked in China for some years, but simultaneously being engaged in searches for the icon. He has visited Dalian, Harbin and in Xinjiang, but the quests he undertook were not crowned with success.

The Tabynsk icon was located in Harbin down to 1948, and after that it had been forwarded either to Shanghai, or to Urumchi. There is a version about existence of two icons: an original and a copy.

We ask everyone who could know something about the existence of the Tabynsk icon, or its copy, or has any data referring to it, to contact "Russian Club in Shanghai".