Four Earthly Domains of the Most Holy Theotokos
The Most Holy Theotokos willed to be a guardian of four locations. These are Her earthly lots, or domains: Iveria, Athos, Kiev and Diveyevo. In his letter to Emperor Nicholas I dated March 7, 1854, “the servant of God and the Mother of God” Nikolai Alexandrovich Motovilov elaborated: ”She personally blessed all four places and promised to spend three hours daily at each location and to never let any of its inhabitants perish.”
Upon the Lord’s Ascension, the Apostles gathered to cast a lot in the Upper Room on Mount Zion to find out to which country they would travel to preach the Gospel. The Mother of God said She also wished to accept, together with the other Apostles, the lot the Lord deigned to bestow upon Her. Iveria was given as Her lot. The Most Pure Theotokos joyfully accepted it and, upon the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, voiced Her desire to start Her journey immediately to preach the Word of God there. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Her saying: “The country you received as your lot will become enlightened later and Your dominion will be established there. Yet, after a short while, You will need to evangelize the land to which God will lead You.” The Lord has announced His will for 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.”
After this vision, the Most Holy Theotokos summoned Apostle Andrew and said: “I will be the guardian of the people of Iveria, and by raising up prayers to My Son for them, I will seek protection in everything from Him.” Saint Andrew went on to preach the word of the Lord and soon afterwards faith took root in Iveria. The land’s final conversion and declaration of Christian state there took place at the beginning of the 4th century. The enlightener of Iveria, the Equal-to-the-Apostles Nina received guidance from the Most Holy Theotokos: “Go to the Iveron country, my domain, preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ there, and you will obtain the grace of God, while I will be your patron.”
To escape persecution by Herod in Palestine, the Most Holy Theotokos and the Apostle John the Theologian directed their steps towards Cyprus in 48 AD. Lazarus of Four Days, raised from death by the Lord, served as bishop there. During their sea voyage, their boat encountered a storm. To avoid bad weather, they took refuge on a beach by Mount Athos, where the Iveron monastery was founded centuries later.
The Most Holy Theotokos marveled at the beauty of the place and was met reverently by its inhabitants. She appealed to Her Son to bestow the whole area of Mount Athos to Her. Soon, a voice from heaven was heard: “May this place become Your domain, a garden and heaven on earth, and what’s more, a refuge to those who seek salvation.” The evangelization by the Mother of God enlightened the local dwellers who received holy baptism. “This place will be given to Me by My Son and My Lord,” said the Most Pure One. “May the grace of God dwell in everyone who resides here and fulfills God’s commandments. They will have everything they need for their earthly cares, and the mercy of My Son and our Lord will never cease until the end of times. I will be their Guardian and will intercede for them before God.”
The Queen of Heaven Herself miraculously guided the ascetics to Athos. Among the first ones was Venerable Peter, who was told by the Mother of God: “There is no better place to serve God than Mount Athos which I have accepted as my heritage from My Son and our Lord. Those who seek to get away from worldly cares and temptations will flock here to serve God. Great is My love for this place and the times are near when it will, from its northern to southern end, be filled with a great many ascetics. As long as they serve God and keep His commandments in their hearts, I will intercede for them during their earthly life, easing their labors and illnesses. They will have everything they ever need: I will weaken their enemies warring against them and glorify the fruit of their spiritual labor throughout the earth.”
In the first half of the eleventh century, the monk Anthony, a future great venerable father and a native of Kiev Rus, labored as an ascetic on Athos and took upon the Lesser Schema there. The Mother of God revealed to the abbot of the monastery Theoktistos that Anthony should return to his native lands. Bidding Anthony farewell, the abbot told: “Go back to the land of Rus, and may those who live there prosper and establish themselves in the Christian faith through you, and may the blessing of Mount Athos be with you always!” In 1013, Anthony arrived from Athos. He dug a cave near the village of Berestovo. Shortly afterwards, however, he chose to return back to Athos.
After the throne of the Great Princedom in Kiev was awarded to Yaroslav the Wise in 1019, the abbot Theoktistos of the Athonite monastery of Esphigmenou had a Divine revelation telling him to send monk Anthony to the land of Rus again. He called for Anthony and announced to him: “Depart for the land of Rus one more time and may the blessing of the Holy Mountain be always with you! Wherefore a great number of monks will stem from your presence there.”
In 1028, during the reign of the great prince Yaroslav the Wise, Anthony returned to Rus and dwelled in a cave on the high bank of River Dnieper, not far from the city of Kiev. While there, he kept to unceasing praying and fasting. Many Christians travelled there to seek his advice and receive his blessing. Some stayed and took monastic vows. That is how the great Kiev Caves Lavra, the third domain of the Most Holy Theotokos, was founded.
Initially, the monastery’s prayer life was concentrated in the caves, where the monks dug out the church quarters, the refectory and the cells. Eventually, the number of monastics increased and the cave church could no longer hold everyone. Therefore, Venerable Anthony blessed the construction of a wooden church on top of the mountain. This is how the great monastery received its name “of the Caves,” in memory of its humble beginnings. The Venerable Anthony did not own any gold, but his ascetic labors grew the treasure like no other as his monastery grew to become the first spiritual center of Rus.
The founding of the Diveyevo community was marked by a miraculous intercession of the Mother of God. Agathia Semenovna Belokopytova, born to a noble family of the Nizhny Novgorod, married a second lieutenant Melgunov, a rich landowner with properties located in the Yaroslavl, Vladimir and Ryazan provinces. Soon widowed, she became a single mother with an infant daughter. Committed to keeping her widowhood pure, Agathia Semenovna left the world and devoted her life to monasticism at the Kiev St. Florus monastery.
Once after a midnight prayer, Agathia Semenovna had a vision of the Most Holy Theotokos appearing as if in a light dream, who told her the following: “It is Me, your Sovereign Lady to whom you direct your prayers. I came to announce My will for you. I do not wish for you to end your days here. Just as I had sent my servant Anthony away from My lot at the Holy Mountain of Athos to have My new lot at the Kiev-Caves Lavra established here, thus I declare: go forth and travel to the land I am about to show you. Travel towards the north of Russia and visit all the holy monasteries dedicated in my honor. I will show 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 a great monastery of Mine. Go forth then, My servant, and may the grace of God, My strength, and My grace, as well as My mercy and riches, always be with you!”
Around 1760, after consulting with the Kievan elders, Agathia Semenovna left the St. Florus Monastery and turned her steps towards north. Traveling from one monastery to another, she went towards Sarov. Twelve verst (appr. 8 miles. – Tr.) before the monastery, in the village of Diveyevo, Ardatov County of the Nizhny Novgorod Province, she sat down to rest by a small wooden church. During a light sleep, she had a second vision of the Theotokos. “Here is the place I commanded you to look for in the north of Russia,” the Most Holy Theotokos told Mother Alexandra. “Here is the lot set aside for you by the Divine Providence. Reside here and do God-pleasing work till the end of your days, and I will always be with you and visit you. I will found a monastery unequal to anything before or afterwards in the world: it is my fourth domain in the whole creation. As many as there are stars in heaven or sands in the sea, shall I increase the number of them who serve the Lord Our God and Me, the Ever-Virgin Mother of Light, and who glorify My Son Jesus Christ. May the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God and the abundance of all earthly and heavenly treasures, obtained without a sweat, never grow scarce at this beloved place of Mine!”