The Appearance of the Most Holy Theotokos to Saint Sergius of Radonezh: Once, late at night, Saint Sergius (1314-1392) was reading an Akathist to the Mother of God. Having finished his habitual rule, he sat down to rest a bit, but suddenly he said to his disciple, Saint Micah (May 6): “Be alert, my child, for we shall have a wondrous visitation.” Scarcely had he uttered these words than a voice was heard: “The All-Pure One approaches!”
Saint Sergius rushed from the cell to the entrance, and suddenly it was illumined by a bright light, brighter than the sun. He beheld nearby in imperishable glory the Mother of God, accompanied by the Apostles Peter and John. Unable to bear such a vision, Saint Sergius reverently prostrated himself before the Mother of God. She said to him, “Fear not, My chosen one! I have come to visit you. Your prayer for your disciples and your monastery has been heard. Do not be troubled, for your habitation shall prosper, not only in your lifetime, but also after your departure to God. I will be with your monastery, supplying its needs abundantly, and protecting it.” Having said this, the Mother of God became invisible.
For a long time Saint Sergius was in an inexpressible rapture, and having come to himself, he raised up Saint Micah. “Tell me, Father,” he asked, “what is the meaning of this miraculous vision? My soul nearly left my body from terror!” But Saint Sergius was silent, and only his luminous face spoke of the spiritual joy which he had experienced. “Wait a bit,” he said finally to his disciple, “my soul also trembles because of this wondrous vision.”
After a while Saint Sergius summoned two of his disciples, Saints Isaac and Simon, and shared with them the vision and the promise of the Theotokos. They all sang a Molieben to the Mother of God. Saint Sergius spent the remaining part of the night without sleep, calling to mind the divine vision.
The appearance of the Mother of God at the cell of Saint Sergius, at the present place of the Serapionov chamber, was on one of the Fridays of the Nativity Fast in the year 1385. The commemoration of the visit of the Mother of God to the Trinity monastery and of Her promise was reverently kept by the disciples of Saint Sergius.
On July 5, 1422 the holy relics of Saint Sergius were uncovered, and soon after an icon of the Appearance of the Mother of God was placed on the grave of Saint Sergius. The icon was honored with great reverence.
In the year 1446 Great Prince Basil (1425-1462) was besieged at the Trinity monastery by the armies of Princes Demetrius Shemyaka and John of Mozhaisk. He barricaded himself into the Trinity cathedral, and when he heard that he was being sought, he took the icon of the Appearance of the Mother of God and with it met Prince John at the southern church doors, saying: “Brother, we kissed the Life-Creating Cross and this icon in this church of the Life-Creating Trinity at this grave of the Wonderworker Sergius, that we would neither intend nor wish any evil to any of our brethren among ourselves. Now I do not know what will happen to me here.”
The Trinity monk Ambrose reproduced the icon of the Appearance of the Mother of God to Saint Sergius, carved in wood (mid-fourteenth century).
Tsar Ivan the Terrible took the icon of the Appearance of the Mother of God on his Kazan campaign (1552). The most famous icon, painted in the year 1588, was by the steward of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra, Eustathius Golovkin on a board from the wooden reliquary of Saint Sergius, which was taken apart in the year 1585 when the relics of Saint Sergius were placed in a silver reliquary (August 14).
Through this icon, the Mother of God repeatedly protected the Russian army. Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich (1645-1676) took it on the Polish campaign in 1657. In the year 1703, the icon took part in all the military campaigns against the Swedish king Charles XII, and in 1812 Metropolitan Platon sent it to the Moscow military levy. The icon was carried in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, and during World War I it was at the quarters of the supreme commander-in-chief in 1914.
A church was built over the grave of Saint Micah and at its consecration on December 10, 1734 was named in honor of the Appearance of the Most Holy Theotokos and the holy Apostles to Saint Sergius of Radonezh.
On September 27, 1841 the church was restored and consecrated by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, who said: “By the grace of the All-Holy and All-Sacred Spirit the restoration of this temple is now accomplished, fashioned before us in honor and memory of the Appearance of our Lady the Most Holy Theotokos to our holy God-bearing Father Sergius, to which Saint Micah was also an eyewitness.”
The commemoration of this grace-bearing event is rightly marked by the consecration of a church, however, this whole monastery is a memorial of that miraculous visit. Therefore, its purpose in the continuing centuries was the fulfillment of the promise of the heavenly Visitor: “This place shall endure.”
In memory of the visit of the Mother of God at the Trinity-Sergiev monastery, an Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos is sung on Fridays, and a special service in honor of the appearance of the Mother of God is celebrated at the monastery on August 24, on the second day of the leave-taking of the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.