This round icon with a movable hoop at the top contains a chest-length relief image of St. Matrona, the Blessed Eldress of Moscow. The saint is depicted in accordance with the traditional iconography. The palm of her right hand is opened at her chest in a confessional gesture, while the left is holding rosary as a symbol of incessant intercessory prayer.
The iconography of St. Matrona is unique and complex due to her closed eyelids. The saint was born blind. In Christian iconography, the eyes play an important role. When a person looks at an icon while praying, the gaze of the saints seems to penetrate their soul like an X-ray, denouncing their sins, and, at the same time, giving them hope that the saint shall intercede before God on their behalf. In the case of St. Matrona, the lack of eyes is compensated by her wide smile, which expresses an immense and all-forgiving love for anybody who calls out to her.
The Blessed Matrona (Matrona Dmitriyevna Nikonova) was born in 1881 in the village of Sebino, in the Tula province, near the famous Kulikovo field, in a poor but pious peasant family. Matrona had three older siblings, two brothers and a sister. At first, her mother wanted to commit the unborn child to an orphanage, but then she saw a prophetic dream where her unborn daughter appeared as a white bird with a human face and closed eyes and perched on her right hand. The God-fearing woman took the dream to be a special sign and decided not to send her daughter to the orphanage. Her daughter was born blind, but her mother loved the “unfortunate child”.
Having chosen St. Matrona for a special mission, the Lord gave her a heavy burden from the very outset, a cross she bore with humility and patience throughout her life. There were different signs that pointed at the girl being chosen by God. For example, there was a cruciform bulge on her chest, something akin to a cross pendant not made by human hands. As an infant, Matrona would refuse the breast on Wednesdays and Fridays. When she was lowered into the baptismal font, those present saw a column of light fragrant smoke rise from the infant.
From an early age, God gave St. Matrona the gifts of spiritual discernment, insight, miracle-working and healing. Not only was she aware of the crimes and sins committed by other people, she was also able to read their thoughts. She felt the approach of danger and foresaw various natural and social disasters. Her prayer healed the sick and consoled the bereaved and distressed.
As an adolescent, Matrona had an opportunity to travel when the daughter of a local landowner took her along on a pilgrimage to the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra and the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, to St. Petersburg and to other cities and shrines in Russia. In 1899 she met St. John of Kronstadt at the Kronstadt Cathedral. According to legend, when the church service was over, the righteous man asked asked the parishioners to make way for Matrona, who was about to approach the solea, and said in a loud voice: “Matrona, come, come to me. Here comes my replacement, the eighth pillar of Russia.”
In her seventeenth year Matrona suddenly lost the use of her legs and since then became unable to walk. Matrona knew this was going to happen and accepted it as the will of God.
In 1925, Matrona moved to Moscow, where she spent the rest of her days moving between houses, shacks, apartments and cellars, visiting relatives and friends. The huge metropolitan city had a lot of unfortunate, lost or spiritually ill people, those who had fallen away from the faith. For almost thirty years, she carried out her spiritual and prayerful ministry in Moscow, turning many of them away from perdition and helping them find salvation.
The Blessed Eldress of Moscow passed away on 2 May 1952. On 4 May, during the week of the Myrrhbearers, she was buried at the Danilovskoye cemetery with a large crowd present. The funeral service and burial of the Blessed Matrona marked the beginning of her glorification as a servant of God. On 2 May 1999 Matrona of Moscow was canonized as a local saint in Moscow and her relics were placed in the church of the Pokrovsky monastery.
Numerous people from all parts of Russia and from abroad come to her relics with their troubles and illnesses. After all, even before her death, the Blessed Matrona used to say: “Come to me, all of you, as if I were alive, and tell me about your sorrows, I will see and hear you and help you”. She also used to say that anyone who trusted themselves and their life to her intercession before our Lord would be saved.
The back of our small icon depicts a bird of paradise with a human face and closed eyes, the symbolic and figurative image of St. Matrona’s soul that manifested to her pregnant mother in the prophetic dream. Among other things, it is associated with the folk belief in Gamayun, a bird of paradise that can foretell the future and reveals the secrets of the universe to those who ask her questions. For many, St. Matrona was indeed akin to a bird of paradise that does not have a nest of its own but still brings happiness to other people, opening their spiritual eyes and foretelling the future.