"Pokrova and Remembering Ukraine Again"
September 6, 2023, 6:00 AM

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people and adorns the poor with victory. Psalm 149:4

As Ukrainians increasingly turn to their faith amid the ongoing tragedy of Russia’s invasion, many who follow both the Orthodox and Catholic traditions continue to look to an unusual icon of Mary as a symbol of solace.

In some news photos, clergy are seen holding the icon, which depicts Mary holding a long piece of fabric or veil in her outstretched hands. This sacred icon is known in Ukraine and many other East European nations as the “Pokrova,” which means “veil” deriving from the Hebrew word seter (veil) referring to “protection” or “security.” The other title for the image is the Intercession of the Theotokos, or “Mother of God.”

The icon of Pokrova represents the Mother of God standing in orans (praying position), with her arms raised and accompanied by the saints. This image of Mary is used in both Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches.

Oral history reflects that during a major attack in 911 AD by a foreign army in the area now called Ukraine, St. Andrew of the Fool for Christ reported an apparition of the Virgin Mary. She appeared to spread her veil over Ukraine as a symbol of her protection. The Blessed Mother during the vision went in tears to the altar, placing her own veil that covered her head over the Ukrainian people to protect and save them.

As a result of the suffering she experienced, Mary became the formidable comforter for the persecuted and marginalized as well as protector in the time of war. The scope of the veil of Mary covers not only the church, but also the entirety of the world. There is no one that is not covered by the Grace of God.

The message in this image teaches not only Ukrainians, but also all of us that we are to be protectors of others from harm. Through prayer and our actions of love, we impact the lives of others. Furthermore, we have the ability to assess our own part in causing war, cultural annihilation, and fractured relationships with one another.

As the prayer of St. Francis reminds us, may we too become the “instruments of God’s peace.” The work of the church belongs not only to God, but also to us. “God’s work. Our hands.”

The Ukrainian Pokrova prayer focuses well on Mary’s veil that shines over all people in the following words:

Cover us, O Queen, with the mantle of mercy;

     Cover us with your holy protection.

           Deliver us from all evil.

We pray that your Son, Christ our God,

     Grants all souls salvation. Amen.

As we pray for peace in Ukraine and Russia, may we also pray for the restoration of all of God’s world, and those attempting to survive in these times of great warfare.

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John