This wonderworking icon is truly unique. Both Catholics and Orthodox kneel before it. The great Christian holy site where the icon of the Mother of God of the Gate of Dawn is located happens to be just two hours away by car from Minsk, but one has to cross the border and find oneself in another country, in Lithuania.
The Orthodox icon is currently in the gate chapel. It is called by the name of the place – the Gate of Dawn, or Ostraja Brama (Polish: Ostra Brama; Lithuanian: Aštria broma). It is a city gate near the chapel, where there is an ancient image of the Virgin with her eyes down and arms folded on her chest behind the glass in an expensive frame.
It was painted in Kherson or, as it was called before, in Korsun. For some time the icon was known as Theotokos of Korsun. Grand Duke Algirdas of Lithuania presented this icon to his first wife. Mary, a daughter of Prince Yaroslav of Vitebsk, was baptized into Orthodoxy and received it as a blessing. The pious princess donated the icon to the Holy Trinity Monastery located in Vilna (as Vilnius used to be called). The monastery is located near the city gate, called the Gate of Dawn. It stands on the site of the martyrdom of the court boyars of the duke – Anthony, John, and Eustathius. Their relics are now buried in the main church of the monastery.
In 1569, the inhabitants of this district, which had been called the Eastern or Russian in honor of the Orthodox Christians who inhabited it, converted to the Eastern Catholicism. So did Holy Trinity Monastery, but eventually it became Orthodox again. The icon, along with the chapel, was taken over by the Uniates. They, in turn, later handed it over to the Catholic monks of the Carmelite order.
Catholics maintain that the image of the Virgin Mary of the Gate of Dawn was copied in the 17th century from another icon of Dutch origin and was originally painted in Western European style. However, it is known that the face of the Virgin Mary was repainted in 1829 in a Catholic fashion. At that time there was still an inscription in Church Slavonic: the words “more honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim” were visible on it.
According to Orthodox Christians, the icon of the Mother of God of the Gate of Dawn is a part of the composition of the Annunciation. After all, this copy of the ancient Byzantine image of the Virgin Mary shows her at the moment when she received the Good News, brought to her by Archangel Gabriel. That’s why the Virgin Mary is depicted without the Holy Infant. Her face with lowered, almost closed eyes, reveals her chaste humility, deepest peace, and submission to God’s will. The hands of Our Lady are crossed on her chest, just as it is now customary to approach the Holy Communion. She has a two-tier crown on her head. Rays emanate from her face like from the sun. She is surrounded by a halo of stars. There is a crescent at the bottom of the icon. The Mother of God is depicted half-figure.
The icon is now in a rich gilded silver case, so that only her face and hands can be seen. It was made by Vilnius craftsmen at the end of the 17th century.
The icon is revered by everyone, despite different views regarding its origin. Many believers kneel before it in a cobbled street right in front of the gate chapel, from the window of which one can see the beautiful image of the Most Holy Mother of God. Obeying her destiny in response to the voice of the Archangel, she calls us to follow her example and humbly and gently commit ourselves into the hands of her loving Son and our Savior Jesus Christ.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds