Orthodox America


ICONS OF THE MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS “Multiplier of Wheat”   


Commemorated October 15

This unusual icon was commissioned by Elder Ambrose of Optina, and reflects the profound, childlike faith he had in the Mother of God. The Elder himself gave the icon its title (Sporitel’nitsa Khlebov-also translated as “Multiplier of Breads” or “She Who Ripens the Grain”), which conveys an image of the Mother of God as helping those in need to obtain their “daily bread”.

The icon was sent to Saint Ambrose in 1890 by Abbess Ilaria of the Bolkhov Convent. Its original composition depicts the Mistress of Creation seated upon clouds, her arms outstretched in supplication; below is a harvested field on which are several sheaves of wheat.

The Elder himself prayed before this icon, and he encouraged his spiritual daughters-the nuns of the Shamordino Convent which he founded -to do likewise.   In the last year of his life, which the Elder spent at Shamordino, he ordered copies to be made of this icon, and distributed them to his many devoted spiritual children among the laity.  Not long before his repose, the Elder composed a special refrain for singing the general akathist to the Mother of God before this icon: “Rejoice, thou full of grace, the Lord is with thee!  Grant also unto us unworthy ones the dew of thy grace and show us thy loving-kindness!” The nuns often sang the akathist with this refrain in the cell of the failing Elder.  Saint Ambrose established that the icon be commemorated on 15 October.  On this very day the Elder, who reposed on 10 October, was lowered into the grave.  This coincidence confirmed, as it were, the Elder’s reply to his father confessor’s query: “Batiushka, you are dying.  To whom will you entrust your convent?”  Elder Ambrose answered with his characteristic simplicity and trust, “I’m leaving the convent to the Queen of Heaven.” And not in vain. Although all across Russia, 1891 was a year of meager harvests, the Shamordino fields did not fail to yield an abundance of wheat.

The summer following the Elder’s repose, a faithful copy of this icon, executed by Ivan Feodorovich Cherepanov, one of his close disciples, was sent to the newly-established Piatnitsk Convent in the Voronezh district, where there was a serious drought.  Soon after a service of intercession was held before the “Multiplier” icon, it began to rain, and the threat of famine was dispelled.

One might be tempted to criticize the icon’s realistic style, which, although popular in both Greece and Russia, falls outside proper iconographic tradition. Without legitimating such realism, the icon does serve as one more example of how careful one must be not to confine God to our standards of correctness.  The spirit blows where it wills. Clearly, faith and love stand above stylistic purity.

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