Orthodox America


Commemorated May 7

In the spring of 1494, some shepherds in Zhirovits, near the present-day Polish-Belorussian border, saw an unusually bright light emanating from a thicket. On closer inspection, they saw in the branches of a wild pear tree an icon of the Mother of God, surrounded by a shining radiance. It was a small oval image, chiselled in granite. They stood transfixed for several minutes until the light faded. Then, after venerating the icon, the shepherds reverently lifted it from the tree and took it to their master, the wealthy Lithuanian Orthodox landowner, Alexander Soltan. The latter didn't take much stock in the shepherds' story and rather casually put the icon away in a trunk.

That evening, Soltan had a gathering of guests. In the course of conversation, the host mentioned the shepherds' discovery. The guests expressed interest in seeing the icon, but when Soltan went to get the icon, he found it was missing. The shepherds, who did not know of the icon's disappearance, found it again in the same wild pear tree. This time, Soltan showed greater reverence for the icon, and vowed to build a church dedicated to the Mother of God on the site of its miraculous appearance. Attracted by the sacred image, a number of peasants began moving to the area and a settlement grew up around the church. About 1520 a fire ravaged the community; the wooden church burned to the ground, leaving no trace of the icon in the ashes. One day, however, some children were passing by the site of the former church on their way home from school when they saw a wondrous sight: surrounded by radiant light, a Woman of exceptional beauty sat on a large rock holding the Zhirovits icon. The children ran to tell their parents, who returned together with the priest. The Woman had disappeared, but to their great joy they found on the rock the wonderworking Icon.

In the mid-sixteenth century a monastery was founded in Zhirovits. Privately owned as part of Soltan's holdings, it changed hands with unsettling frequency until it was purchased in 1605 by a certain Ivan Meleshko, who converted to Roman Catholicism and donated the monastery to the Uniates. It remained in Uniate hands for two hundred years. When changing political tides brought the territory into the Russian Empire, the monastery returned under Orthodox jurisdiction. A seminary, established in Zhirovits in 1827, contributed greatly to the restoration of Orthodoxy in the area.

The wonderworking Zhirovits Icon has been preserved to this day in the monastery's Dormition cathedral.