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The Joy of All Who Sorrow in Mikhnovo, Lithuania

Today, October 6, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the icon of the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow. The wonderworking icon was glorified in the year 1688. Euphymia, the sister of Patriarch Joachim (1674-1690), lived in Moscow and suffered from an incurable illness for a long time. One morning, during prayer, she heard a voice say, “Euphymia! Go to the temple of the Transfiguration of My Son; there you will find an icon called the Joy of All Who Sorrow. Have the priest celebrate a Moleben with the blessing of water, and you will receive healing from sickness.” Euphymia did as she was directed by the Most Holy Theotokos, and she was healed. This occurred on October 24 (November 6), 1688.

The icon of the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow (with coins fused to it by a bolt of lightning), was manifested at Saint Petersburg in 1888. It is commemorated on July 23. This icon also depicts the Theotokos standing between angels. Her Son is visible above her in the clouds, the King of heaven and earth. Along both sides of the icon, framing the Mother of God, are suppliants asking for her intercession.

Joy of All Who Sorrow is the name of the Cathedral in San Francisco, California, also known as Holy Virgin, where the relics of Saint John (Maksimovitch), Archbishop and Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966) are displayed. This text, however, will present another place with the church dedicated to the same wonderworking icon, in Mikhnovo (Mikniškės), Lithuania.

Mikhnovo is an Orthodox community located in the Southeastern corner of the present-day Lithuania, only a few kilometers away from the border with Belarus. It was founded in 1915 by a local widow, Anastasia Koretsky, who bequeathed her entire estate to the church. Spiritually awakened after the death of her husband and a child, she traveled with her three daughters to Optina to receive the blessing by the celebrated Optina elders for this God-pleasing act.

Anastasia Koretsky built the church during the Great War and dedicated to the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow. Circumstances and earthly lords came and went, but the community survived, and even prospered. The Vilnius region was given to Poland after the war, then to Soviet Union after World War II, and finally to Lithuania in 1991. The inhabitants were slandered and persecuted, the community was even made into a kolkhoz during the Soviet times, and it frequently changed official names. It was preserved, nevertheless, mostly thanks to the wise decision never to make it into a monastery. Nowadays, about 100 souls live and work communally in Mikhnovo according to the rules for monastics.

The community blossomed under the leadership of Elder Pontius Rupishev (1877-1939) at its head. He was the spiritual son of Saint John of Kronstadt, who came to this region in 1921. First surrounded by the Germans, then pursued by the Bolsheviks, Father Pontius arrived in Mikhnovo after a series of miracles that saved his life, but forced him to leave his wife and three children behind in St. Petersburg forever. He became the spiritual father of the Koretsky sisters, and then to an increasing number of believers in search of a true shepherd. Pressed between the Roman Catholic Church and Communists, the people found a spiritual haven here.

Owing to his ascetic life and the gift of spiritual confort, Father Pontius was also visited before his repose just before the start of World War II by throngs of the local Slavic Catholic population, which represent the majority in this area. His earthly remains are now located in the chapel of St. John of Kronstadt, close to the main temple, in which liturgies are served in the summer. The three Koretsky sisters, devoted to their elder and a life of prayer and work till the end, are buried in a little cemetery behind the church. Many cases of wondrous healings were recorded in the post-war period in both places.

It is well known that storks make their nests only in healthy places, where an atmosphere of love and understanding prevail among people. In the summer, the entire Mikhnovo community echoes with the sound of their beaks clattering. Storks make their nests on the unused chimneys of nearly all the one-storey buildings and the surrounding trees. Archimandite Leonid (Gaidukevich), a healthy 87-year-old head of the community, has proven to be a worthy heir of Elder Pontius and his successors. Every visitor can feel divine peace upon their first visit. Nested between elms, birches, meadows and grassy hillocks, Mikhnovo is a rare Orthodox jewel and a center of true spiritual joy.

Svetozar Postic

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