The icon the Madonna of Kiev is one of the most famous Marian icons in the world. Its beauty is often compared to the Mona Lisa. The viewer’s attention is drawn to the Madonna’s gentle face, her head nuzzling the Christ Child’s.
Today, many nations know the image by the name Our Lady of Tenderness. The icon became the ideal of Marian icons, never again achieved by later artists. It was created by a Byzantine monk around 1132 for Prince Mstislav of Kiev. It came to Ukraine around 1134 and was placed in Vyshhorod, where a beautiful shrine was built to house it. This is why Ukrainians honor her as Our Lady of Vyshhorod. In 1155, Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky attacked Ukraine. Before he demolished Kiev, he took the valuable icon from nearby Vyshhorod and moved it to Vladimir, a city in the north.
The icon survived centuries of wars. In 1395, it was transferred to Moscow. But the Madonna of Kiev showed that neither the frame of the painting nor the gallery walls could limit its power. After all, St. John of Damascus taught that an icon is not only the image itself but the presence of the portrayed saint. This presence made itself known through miracles and answered prayers in another way in the town of Hrushiv.
In 1987, the Holy Mother began appearing above the tower of a small wooden Orthodox church dedicated to the Holy Trinity and belonging to the Greek Catholic community in Hrushiv.
For more than a century it was an important pilgrimage site. But after the Communist takeover of Ukraine, the authorities shut down the shrine.
The years passed. Then suddenly, the seemingly dead church came to life — literally. For three weeks it was inexplicably surrounded by a silver aura.
News of the apparitions spread quickly. Mere days passed before a huge crowd stood around the humble shrine. They came not only from Ukraine but from other republics of the Soviet Union. Every day about seventy thousand people arrived. The militia and the KGB tried, without success, to regain control of this place. It became difficult for the soldiers to remain at their posts, given that they themselves were witnessing the supernatural event. Having received the grace of participation in Marian apparitions, they weren’t able to ruthlessly disperse the crowds as they were ordered to do or handcuff and punish the more zealous participants to make examples of them.
For twenty-one days, the church in Hrushiv became a “free zone” within Ukraine. It is unknown from where priests of the underground Church came out of hiding to celebrate Holy Mass for the crowds of people. In time, the crowds began to receive messages from the Virgin Mary.
Here is one of them, from May 14, 1987: “Ukraine, my daughter! I pray for you, for your children, for your future. There will come a time when your people, so in love with God, will gain independence and become a salvation for those who keep their faith in Jesus Christ.” At the same time, the Blessed Mother’s words were cautionary: “Many will come as false messiahs and prophets. Therefore, I warn you, stay awake and be careful. Happy are the lives of those who are without transgressions and keep God’s commandments.”
Two days later, Mary declared, “Lucifer is losing strength. To keep his place on the throne of darkness, he has already begun announcing that he has improved, but this is not true.” Still, she warned: “Lucifer is intelligent and cunning.”
Referencing the Ukraine’s powerful neighbor, Mary said, “Pray for Russia. Russia will only convert when all Christians will pray for it.”
Visionary From the Gulag
Josyp Terelya, a thirty-four-year-old Carpatho-Rusyn from a mountain village near Mukachevo, belonged to a family of high-ranking Communist officials. But Terelya was raised by deeply religious grandparents. He was actively involved in the life of the underground Church, often participating in Masses celebrated in the depths of the Carpathian forests.
When he was nineteen, he was drafted into the army, but was soon imprisoned for trying to evangelize his fellow soldiers. The punishments grew stricter, but Joseph didn’t stop preaching the faith and made several attempts to escape. He served time in Soviet prisons on and off until 1987, when he regained his freedom through the intervention of President Ronald Reagan.
During his time in a Moscow prison, Terelya experienced the grace of two apparitions. To the prison notorious for mistreating its inmates came the Madonna, the same one he would later see in Hrushiv. The first apparition occurred on February 12, 1979, while he was alone in his cell, his health quickly deteriorating from the cold, damp jail and his torture at the hands of his captors. During this period, prayer helped him survive. When he woke up one night shivering, he began to pray. Suddenly, he felt his body being filled by an unusual warmth. Then the cell was lit up by a beautiful light — the same one as he would later see in Hrushiv. A moment later, the Mother of God stood in front of him.
Mary said to Terelya, “You should learn to forgive those who persecute you the most. Difficult years are before you, judgments, degradation. But starting today, you will never be afraid again.”
Terelya later wrote in his book, Witness, “It was a brief apparition, lasting a few minutes, but those few moments meant more to me than the whole world. I felt incredibly safe even though I was where I was, despite what awaited me in the near future.”
The second meeting with Mary also took place February 12, but two years later, in 1981. From the moment he was convicted for issuing a publication and circulating it underground, Joseph Terelya was transferred to a “freeze cell.” An icy wind was blowing inside, and the prisoner was only wearing a thin shirt. He himself described this one night:
The guard on duty looked through the peephole, saw this, and switched off the light. I sat on my bed and began to freeze. There was an old quilt you could see through and I wrapped myself in it, garnering what little comfort it could afford me. Too weak,
When the hand lifted I was able to open my eyes. There before me was the young Virgin. ‘You called to me,’ she said, ‘and I have come.’ The cell grew warmer. My body felt as if it were near an oven.”
During this apparition, the Mother of God delivered many prophecies to Joseph concerning humanity. She also showed him a map. The visionary wrote, “Certain places were on fire. Russia! Neighboring countries were also licked by the flames. Then Mary asked for the sorrow of sins and spiritual purity. At the end, a great flash appeared and the Blessed Virgin disappeared.”
The prisoner took off his shirt and began walking around the cell. “It was very hot. The guards couldn’t believe I had survived the night. The next day, a commission was convened to find out what happened that night. But they didn’t believe that the Mother of God appeared to me.”
After Terelya was released, he visited Hrushiv, where he met the Mother of God from his prison years. Together with the long-suffering pilgrims, he heard several messages from Heaven.
During the “thaw” following Stalin’s death, Terelya helped work toward the legalization of the Catholic Church in Ukraine. Quite unexpectedly, he received permission to travel to the Netherlands. Alas, once out of the country, he was barred from returning to his homeland.
Now an exile, he decided to settle in Canada and began working to spread the message entrusted to him by Our Lady. Several times in the course of his mission, Terelya met with Pope St. John Paul II — a man who knew a thing or two about Communists.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in The World of Marian Apparitions: Mary’s Appearances and Messages from Fatima to Today. It is available as an ebook or paperback from your favorite bookseller or online through Sophia Institute Press.