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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Our Lady of Vladimir Will Soon Rest

Archpriest Nikolai Sokolov on Wednesday brought Russia's most revered icon, Our Lady of Vladimir, from the Tretyakov Gallery to his Church of St. Nicholas for its last temporary stay.

For the past three years, the icon has traveled several times a year from its place among the museum's exhibitions to a specially protected case inside the church for special holiday services, one of which will be conducted Thursday by Patriarch Alexy II.

After the service, Our Lady of Vladimir will be returned to the exhibit hall. But by the time the icon's next holy day comes around in September, the traveling icon will make the Church of St. Nicholas its permanent home.

After exhaustive negotiations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tretyakov Gallery, which still has custody of the icon, the two sides settled their long-standing dispute in April. The museum will give up Our Lady of Vladimir to the church, but only after it is placed in a special bulletproof, climate-controlled case, which is currently being completed at a military plant in Moscow.

"Rejoice, O the Most Pure, exuding Thy mercies to us from the icon," believers sang Wednesday afternoon, their sights and prayers turned to the peaceful and loving image of Mary holding baby Jesus, which was barely visible through the darkened bulletproof glass.

"She is my joy, she is the salvation of Russia, she is the protector of our country," said a middle-aged woman, tears streaming down her face. In her hands was a copy of the icon, which she brought to be blessed by the original.

The 12th-century Byzantine icon, which Russian Orthodox Christians see as "wonder-working," is perhaps the single most revered object in Russian history. According to legend, it was painted by the Apostle Luke, but its recorded history traces it from 12th-century Constantinople to Kiev, Vladimir and, since 1395, Moscow, thus signifying Russia's Christian tradition. On several occasions, it was seen as delivering Moscow and Russia from foreign invasions and natural disasters. After the Bolshevik revolution, Our Lady of Vladimir was confiscated from the Kremlin's main Dormition Cathedral and put in the State Tretyakov Gallery, where it became the central piece of the museum's icon collection.

But since the early 1990s the church has argued the icon should be returned to the Kremlin cathedral where it could be properly venerated and where people could pray before it. The Tretyakov Gallery and many of Russia's cultural figures resisted, saying liturgical use would destroy it. When it was taken, by a government decision, to Moscow's Epiphany Cathedral for a special service to avert a civil war during the confrontation between President Boris Yeltsin and parliament in October 1993, the top layer of paint was affected and the icon required restoration.

But Russia's religious and cultural elite have found a compromise within the Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi, which has been restored as part of the Tretyakov. It is both a part of the museum and a parish church.

In April, Sokolov said, the gallery's council finally decided to move the icon to the St. Nicholas church permanently. With funding from the Moscow city government, a military plant is working on a new case, which will have an autonomous climate control, but, unlike the present one, will allow the icon to be seen clearly and from both sides.

"It is an ideal solution to the problem: it will be kept both in a church and in a museum," Sokolov said. "It will be kept in museum conditions and, at the same time, be accessible for services and veneration by believers."