A special icon
The tiny, but enlightened, congregation of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, 1023 Fifth St., North Catasauqua, held a prayer service Nov. 16 to honor its Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God.
Icons are an important part of the Orthodox faith and celebration. Throughout history, it is believed God has continued to work miracles through material objects, including holy images.
The Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God is one of the most celebrated images in the Orthodox faith.
Pochaev mountain is in the west of Kyvian Rus, now in modern-day Ukraine, and it is there in the 14th century that an appearance of the Mother of God with her Saviour was granted to two monks and a nearby shepherd, according to Orthodox teachings. After the vision, a single footprint remained in the mountainside, from which a spring emerged. The previously uninhabited mountain became the site of a monastery dedicated to the miracle.
More than 200 years later, the monastery was visited by a Greek bishop, Neophit, who left behind, as a gift, an Icon of the Theotokos from Constantinople. This is the icon that came to bear the monastery’s name: the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God.
Another spectacular miracle is said to have occurred in 1675. A Turkish army made its way to Pochaev mountain, determined to expand Islam. The monastery was incapable of withstanding an assault and many gave up hope that Pochaev could survive, according to Orthodox teachings.
On the morning of July 23, Pochaev’s abbot instructed the monastics to ask for the intercessions of the Mother of God and Job, a previous monk whose relics were laid in the monastery. With the Turks massed at the foot of the mountain preparing their assault, the monks began their heavenly petitions before the Icon of the Mother of God. With these words, a vision of the Mother of God is said to have appeared in the sky, with the monk Job beside her in prayerful petition, along with an army of angels, swords unsheathed.
At this appearance, the defenders were overjoyed, while the besieging Turks were terrified. In panic, the Turks reportedly fired arrows into the sky at the image, but the arrows simply fell back to earth upon the attackers. Further panicked, the Turks turned to flee, trampling each other in the process. The defenders rushed out of the monastery to take prisoners from the routed army.
These prisoners are said to have later found freedom in Christ, and many stayed on as monks at Pochaev.
The Pochaev icon reportedly produced many other miracles over the years and is still known as a wonderworking image to this day.
The icon at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church is a copy.
The Slavic immigrants who came to Catasauqua in the late 19th century found their home, and their strong beliefs urged them to set up the first Orthodox church in the Lehigh Valley at Holy Trinity. It is considered the mother church of Orthodoxy.
In 1918, the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God was unveiled. It is said no one knows how she arrived or where she came from. Father Timothy Hasenecz, pastor at Holy Trinity, documented copies across the country. He estimates there are 600 images around the world. Parishioner Sue Cressman was instrumental in restoring the local icon.
The prayer service honored the new place of veneration for the icon for the next 100 years. People of all faiths were invited to the service.
Stepping into a prayer service in an Orthodox church is not mumbling a few prayers and dashing out to pick up the kids at soccer practice. The services are long and followed by conversation and refreshments. One parishioner often brings wine, which enlivens the conversation.
The church is looking for new members to keep their unique traditions alive. The church modernized its liturgy, so the prayers and hymns are in English — although one of the choir members, Nina Bagshaw, said they are not as beautiful as when sung in native Russian. Bagshaw said she can sing in both languages.