The Seraphim-Diveyevo "Tenderness" Icon of The Mother of God
Seraphim of Sarov's cell icon, or "Joy of All Joys" as he used to call it, is mentioned by his contemporaries in their depiction of the last period of the elder's life. In 1815, he left his seclusion and opened the doors of his cell to all who sought his advice and preaching. After a joint prayer of repentance and blessing, father would customarily make the sign of the cross on the visitor's forehead using oil from the oil lamp that burned in front of his cell icon.
Icon of the Mother of God "Tenderness." Painted by Diveyevo nuns at the beginning of 20th century. Located at the Trinity Cathedral of the Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery
The life of the saint says that "he held on to his customary anointing of visitors and the anointed received healing." One of the best-known stories is healing of the landowner M.V.Manturov in 1815. When he was healed and rushed to kiss father Seraphim's feet, the elder rebuked him sternly: "Is it Seraphim's job to handle life or death questions? This is solely upon the Lord! Offer your prayers of thanks to the All-Mighty God and His Ever-Pure Mother." The life account of Seraphim of Sarov offers other similar examples of healing: a peasant woman from Vladimir Province was cured from arthrosis; the peasant M.B. from Avtodeyevo village in Ardatov County was healed from the consequences of a massive stroke; and Alexander, a future monk of the Sarov Monastery, was cured from otitis.
At the beginning of 1833, Hyeromonk Seraphim is known to have reposed in his cell while kneeling in prayer before the icon of the Theotokos "Tenderness." The elders of the Diveyevo monastery reminisced how, not too long before his death, he pointed at his cell icon and told the sisters visiting him from Diveyevo: "I entrust and leave you to the care of this Queen of Heaven." After his passing, the Abbot Niphon of the Sarov monastery invited father Seraphim's cell man and ordered him to send the icon of the Theotokos "Tenderness" to the Diveyevo sisters saying: "She is bound to be there with them."
In 1903, the Holy Synod declared the elder Seraphim a saint and opened his relics with great solemnity. On July 16, celebrations of the glorification of the venerable father's relics began at Sarov. In describing the procession with the cross from Diveyevo to Sarov by the nuns of Diveyevo monastery on July 17, a participant noted that the miracle-working icon of the Mother of God "Tenderness" was carried there: "When the procession from Diveyevo reached the chapel, two Protopresbyters removed the icon from its case and handed it over to Right Reverend Innocent, who blessed the people fourfold."
Procession with the cross from Sarov on the eve of Venerable Seraphim's canonization
Procession with the cross and the icon of the Mother of God "Tenderness" from Diveyevo on the eve of Venerable Seraphim's canonization
Since that time, recognition of the cell icon of Father Seraphim has expanded beyond the Diveyevo monastery. Why it happened can be better understood by taking into account the words of the Metropolitan Anthony of St-Petersburg and Ladoga, who used to say that "…everything is holy and miracle-working when a man is holy, even his shadow, clothing, not just his body or bones… Even the soil his feet stood on receives the power of healing. So it was after the death of the holy elder Seraphim. The soil from his grave, the stone he prayed on, water from the spring he dug out are revered as holy and (…) miracle-working." His words fully explain why, almost simultaneously with his canonization, his cell icon was unofficially but widely acclaimed as a miracle-working icon. Veneration of the elder's holy relic was naturally combined with his glory as a venerable saint and the universal tradition of veneration of the miracle-working icons of the Mother of God in Russia.
Nowadays, as before, the Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery celebrates local feasts honoring the icon of the Mother of God "Tenderness." The feasts take place on the following days: July 28/August 10, at the feast of the icon of the Mother of God Hodegetria of Ustyuzhensk-Smolensk" named "Tenderness" and on 9/22 December, the day of the Conception by Righteous Anna. Archimandrite Sophroniy (Chichagov) composed a special service honoring the icon of the Mother of God "Tenderness." Two original Akathists to the Mother of God honoring Her icon "Tenderness" have been preserved to this day. One of them was likely written by the sisters of Diveyevo and the other one was written by the Metropolitan Sergey Stargorodsky while he headed the Nizhny Novgorod Diocese.
The original icon of the Mother of God "Tenderness" Venerable Seraphim of Sarov kept in his cell
It is for a reason that the venerable father's cell icon became known as "Tenderness" in a context of feeling humble, contrite, and genuinely compassionate. It is the condition the Holy Virgin expressed by saying: "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! be it unto me according to your word." (Luke 1:38). It is not ruled out that there is the connection of the name "Tenderness" and one of her Latin names such as Madonna, or "dell'Umiltà," meaning "humble, meek, obedient young maiden, the handmaiden of the Lord".
In Catholic art, the image of the Mother of God in prayer, with Her hands crossing her chest, has primarily been recognized as an independent iconographic style. Due to its versatile display of attention in prayer, it was used in a range of various paintings, such as "Annunciation," "Crowning of Mary," "Immaculous Conception" (less frequently, in "Nativity," "Descent of the Holy Spirit," or "Last Judgment"), as well as "Crucifixion." Therefore, icons depicting Virgin Mary with her hands crisscrossing her chest represent a fragmented version of that style.
A quote from the ancient Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos "Rejoice, the Bride Unwedded" is located on the icon of the Mother of God "Tenderness." It is a poetical interpretation of the Evangelic greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin "Rejoice, the Blessed One" (Luke 1:28). In his book "The Pillar and Ground of the Truth" Father Pavel Florensky wrote: "The Tenderness icon is remarkable since Theotokos is depicted on it without a child or even before His conception – at the moment of the "Archangel's Greeting," when She is the Ever-Pure Vessel of the Holy Spirit. St. Seraphim had seven candleholders burning before the icon and they took up most of his cell's space. Again, it manifests the Holy Spirit in His seven gifts, seven highest spiritual gifts. The venerable father commanded us to call this icon Tenderness, the Joy of all Joys."
The cell icon of the Venerable Seraphim did not disappear during the era of atheism. The Diveyevo sisters who lived in Murom after the monastery's dissolution, and later the Moscow priest Victor Shipovalnikov safeguarded the icon.
Church at Udelny near Moscow, where the Rt. Rev. Victor Shapovalnikov served. Diveyevo relics while in custody of Rt. Rev. Victor Shapovalnikov
Nowadays, the icon stays at the Patriarchal Residence's Vladimirskaya Church at Chisty Lane. Once a year, during the Great Lent, it is brought into Yelokhovo's Epiphany Cathedral during the Patriarchal service there.