Today, there are four known places on earth, which the Mother of God, with the blessing of God Himself, has under her special protection. This blessed lot fell on ancient Iberia (Georgia), Holy Mount Athos (Greece), Kiev-Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine) and St Seraphim – Diveyevo Monastery (Russia). Each of these places has its own history connecting it with the Mother of God.
Iberia is the first inheritance that the Mother of God received. According to legend, when the apostles gathered in mount Zion’s upper room after the Ascension of the Lord, casting lots to decide where each of them would go to preach, the Mother of God also wished to participate. The Most Holy Virgin gladly accepted Her lot, which was Iberia, and, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, intended to go to these lands. Then an Angel of God appeared to Her and said that Iberia would be enlightened at a later time with Her dominion established there, while for now She needed to stay, because after a while God would send Her to preach the gospel in other lands. Later, Jesus Christ Himself revealed His will to Her: “O Mother, I will neither cast your lot away nor leave Your people without Your intercession in their heavenly aspirations. But send instead Andrew the First Called to this domain of Yours.”* The Mother of God conveyed these words to St Andrew and handed him Her image not made by hands ** in confirmation of her partaking in his mission. Through St Andrew’s preaching and due to the miracles performed by the image of the Mother of God, the Christian faith gradually took root in the Iberian lands. At the beginning of the 4th century, when the Most Holy Theotokos brought Equal-to-the-Apostles Nina to Iberia, Christianity became the dominant religion in the territory of present-day Georgia.
In 48AD, in Palestine, Herod renewed the persecution of Christians. The Mother of God and St John the Apostle, escaping, went to Cyprus, where at that time Lazarus of Bethany, resurrected by the Lord, served as a bishop. The storm that they encountered while at sea forced them to land on the shore of Mount Athos. At the place of their disembarkation there is now the Iviron Monastery.
The Blessed Virgin was delighted with the beauty of those places and the inhabitants, who received Her very reverently. Therefore, She turned to Her Son with a request to make Mount Athos Her abode. The answer sounded from heaven: “Let this place become your domain, both a garden and heaven on earth, and also a refuge for those who yearn for salvation.” The Mother of God enlightened the locals with her sermon, and they accepted holy baptism. The Blessed Virgin called the grace of God to Athos and to all righteously living there and promised that they would have everything they needed for their earthly life, as well as the mercy of the Lord and Her special intercession before Him until the end of the ages.
Since then, the Queen of Heaven miraculously began to gather ascetics on Athos. Venerable Peter was the first whom She brought there, telling him that there was no better place for serving God, and the time would come when it would be filled from end to end with many monastics, who would receive every help from Her already in their earthly lives.
At the beginning of the 11th century the Monk Anthony, a native of Kievan Rus, asceticised in the Esphigmenou Monastery on Mount Athos. Once, the Mother of God revealed to Theoktistos, the abbot of that monastery that Anthony should return to his homeland. From the annals of St Nestor, we know that the abbot then said to Anthony: “Go back to Russia, and may the blessing of the Holy Mountain be with you! For many black robes*** are to come from you.“
Obeying the will of the Mother of God, the Monk Anthony brought the blessing of the Holy Mount Athos to Russia around 1051, during the reign of the great Kiev prince Yaroslav the Wise. Having settled in a cave on the Dnieper shore near Kiev, the saint prayed earnestly and fasted. Soon Christians began to come to him for blessing and advice. Some of them were tonsured into monasticism. So, around 1051, the Pechersk monastery began to emerge. At first, the life of the monastery proceeded in caves, where a church, a refectory, and cells were organized. But with the increase in the brethren, the cave church became overcrowded, and the Venerable Anthony gave his blessing to build a wooden church of the Assumption of the Most Holy Theotokos on the mountain above the caves. So with his labors, the Venerable Anthony of the Caves gradually nurtured the great Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, the Third domain of the Most Holy Theotokos and the first spiritual center of Russia. From then to this day, the blessing of the Mother of God and the inexhaustible grace of the Holy Spirit has dwelt there.
In the eighteenth century The Most Holy Theotokos miraculously took part in the birth of another great monastery in the Russian land. Agathia Semenovna Belokopytova, a noble woman in the Nizhny Novgorod province, became a widow. Wishing to devote her life to God she was tonsured a nun with the name of Alexandra in the Ascension Florovsky Monastery in Kiev. Once, after midnight prayer in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, the nun was honored with a vision of the Mother of God, who said to her: “It is I, your Sovereign Lady to whom you direct your prayers. I have come to announce my will to you. It is not here that I want you to end your life. Just as I had sent my servant Anthony away from My Domain at the Holy Mountain of Athos to have My new lot established here, at the Kiev-Caves Lavra, thus I now say to you: go forth and travel to the land I am about to show you. Go to the north of Russia and visit all the holy monasteries dedicated in my honor. There I will show you the place where you will end your earthly God-pleasing life. In that new place of your residence I will glorify My name by founding My great abode. Go forth, My servant, and may the grace of God, My strength, My grace, My mercy and My riches be with you!”*
Having received the blessing of the Kiev elders, Mother Alexandra set off on her journey. In 1760, having already visited many places, she headed to the Sarov desert. Twelve miles from Sarov, she stopped to rest near a church in the village of Diveyevo, and there the Mother of God appeared to her again. “This is the very place that I commanded you to look for in the north of Russia…” said the Most Holy Theotokos, “…Live here pleasing the Lord God until the end of your days. I will always be with you, and I will always visit this place, and within the limits of your residence I will establish a monastery unequal to anything in the world before or afterwards. This is My Fourth Domain in the universe …”* The Mother of God promised that the number of the Lord’s servants would multiply in that place in numbers as large as there are stars in the sky and sand in the sea, while the grace of the Holy Spirit and the abundance of all earthly and heavenly blessings would never become scarce there.
Indeed, in 1780, the Diveyevo Monastery was founded on this site. Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, the guiding light of the Russian land, soon became the confessor of the monastery at the request of Mother Alexandra and by command of the Heavenly Queen.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of one of these domains of the Most Holy Theotokos, please let us know in the comments.
* Quotes preserved in the Orthodox tradition.
** It is assumed that the original of the icon known as Atskurskaya is meant here
*** Black robes – (archaic) monks.