Whenever It Comes, It Brings the Whole Sky
The icon is a gift from Father Nikodim from Kareja Hermitage of Saint Sava to the Metropolitanate of Montenegro of the Serbian Orthodox Church. It is meant to bring peace, prayer, blessings, and protection to Montenegro from the Holy Mountain during these difficult times. On the journey from Kareja, through Albania, to Cetinje, the holy relic was accompanied by Hegumen Sergije of Ostrog, the writer of these lines, as well as Krsto Paunović, Aleksandar Milojević, Dragan Mikić, and Miloš Tomić. It was received in Cetinje with ringing bells, singing, a guard of honor, and a supplication

By: Mišo Vujović
Photo: Nebojša Petrović

In a solemn atmosphere, accompanied by bells, prayers, and troparion, the consecrated copy of the miraculous icon of the Mlekopitateljnica from Kareja was received in Cetinje Monastery in mid-June. This is a gift from Father Nikodim from Kareja Hermitage of Saint Sava, where the original of this holy image, highly respected in Orthodox Christianity, is located.
The icon was painted by the Apostle Luke in the first century. Until the 13th century, it was housed in the Monastery of Saint Sava the Sanctified in Palestine. According to tradition, Saint Sabbas the Sanctified (after whom the young nobleman Rastko Nemanjić would receive the monastic name Sava) left a testament that many centuries after his repose, a monk of noble lineage named Sava would visit the monastery. His assistance to the monastery would be invaluable, and in gratitude, the monks should present him with icons of the Three-Handed Mother of God and the Mlekopitateljnica, as well as the abbot’s cane called Paterica.
The testament of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified was fulfilled six centuries later during the first visit of Saint Sava of Serbia to the Great Lavra in the Judean Desert. Even today, the monks of this holy place, who are an essential part of pilgrimage through the Holy Land, maintain a prayerful remembrance of Saint Sava of Serbia and his benefaction to the Monastery of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified.
Desiring to withdraw into strict prayerful seclusion, especially after the repose of his father, Saint Sava founded the Kareja Hermitage. Deviating from the usual practice, he placed the icon of the Virgin Mary Mlekopitateljnica on the throne in the hermitage instead of Christ. This further emphasized the respect and love towards the protectress of the monks.
For over eight centuries, the Mother of God, the Miracle Worker, the Mlekopitateljnica, or the Nurturer, with Christ on her bosom, spiritually nourishes, strengthens, and heals, bestowing fertility. Through generations of devotees, she has answered prayers, spreading her grace to all corners of the world.
– Montenegro has persevered for centuries, defending the cross and seeking protection in the cross. In these difficult times, Cetinje needs the Mother of God. She brings peace and prayer, blessings, and protection to the entire Holy Mountain of Athos, which has lived under the shelter of the Mother of God for centuries. I wish for this icon to be a source of solace and strength to the Metropolitan, his monastic community, the clergy, and the entire faithful people of Montenegro. It is God’s providence that this icon has set out towards Cetinje – conveyed Father Nikodim, a zealous ascetic and donor, while handing over the icon to Hegumen of the Ostrog Monastery, Archimandrite Sergije (Rekić), and the author of these lines, who were honored to present this precious relic to Metropolitan Joanikije in Cetinje.


Our spiritual leader, Father Sergije, the wise Hegumen of Ostrog, did not conceal his joy after the consecration. At the request of Father Nikodim, he agreed to lead us on this journey from the Holy Land to Montenegro, through Albania, which was affected by rain and storms accompanied by landslides, torrents, and floods. We surpassed it all with the blessing of the Mother of God and the prayers of Father Nikodim, a respected elder of Mount Athos, whose prayer rule, without other obligations regarding the maintenance of the entire complex, lasts up to eighteen hours a day. We encountered several places where the torrents had washed away parts of the road, and there were rockfalls and sand collapses accompanying us from the entry into Albania until Tirana, but at no moment did we feel tension. Our spirits were not disturbed even by a malfunction in the refrigerator of one of our cars. After a few refills of water and attempts to contact a service, the leakage miraculously stopped. We crossed three borders, and no one opened our trunk. When we were leaving the port of Dafni and showed the customs officer our written blessing from Father Nikodim, the Mount Athos customs officer asked to kiss the icon.
With monastic humility and cheerfulness, Hegumen Sergije encouraged us, a man whose presence and nobility inspire trust.
– When we came into contact and had a prayerful encounter with the faithful copy, through that flow of grace that flows from the original icon of the Most Holy Mother of God Mlekopitateljnica, painted by the hand of the Holy Apostle Luke, we experienced the experiential words of Saint Ava Justin that time is actually a fragment of eternity. We live and experience in the same moment the entire history of the Icon, as well as the immeasurable joy of all those who will kiss it in the future and receive the grace-filled gifts of the Lady Theotokos through it. We are all (united) together in Christ, whom we kiss by bowing before His image on the Icon – said Archimandrite Sergije, expressing gratitude for the gift from the elder from Kareja, Nikodim.
Addressing the gathered faithful and clergy after the supplication in Cetinje Monastery, which has enjoyed the heavenly patronage of the Mother of God for over five centuries, Metropolitan Joanikije wholeheartedly thanked ”our dear monk Nikodim from Hilandar, the abbot of the Hermitage of Saint Sava, a great ascetic and intercessor for the entire Orthodox world, who graciously sent this miraculous icon to the Cetinje Monastery.”
– As witnessed by Bishop Danilo Petrović in the past, during the defense of faith here: ”Glory to God, no one perished, except that one boy was injured, but he was saved by the Most Holy Mother of God.” We can say that this was, in a sense, a prophecy that also points to this sacred act. For God’s deeds are such that they do not remain confined to a single time but permeate all ages. And we have the opportunity here, praying before this miraculous icon, to all feel the grace of the Most Holy Mother of God – said Metropolitan Joanikije.
He emphasized that Cetinje Monastery traditionally holds a supplication to the Most Holy Mother of God on Fridays, but until now, there hasn’t been an appropriate icon for it.
– And behold, it has arrived to us through the love of our brother Nikodim and the efforts of our Hegumen Sergije from Ostrog, brother Mišo Vujović, and gentlemen Krsto Paunović, Aleksandar Milojević, Dragan Mikić, and Miloš Tomić, who accompanied it from the Hermitage of Saint Sava to Cetinje Monastery, all with God’s blessing. It was a great and miraculous procession accompanied by the angels of God, for wherever this holy relic goes, it brings the whole sky. And perhaps the arrival of this miraculous icon heralds the liberation of the miraculous icon of the Mother of God from Phileremos, which is currently imprisoned in a museum where we cannot properly offer prayers before its miraculous image because the true ambiance for prayer is the house of God, not a museum.


From depths of the centuries
– It is a great honor and satisfaction for me, on behalf of Father Nikodim, one of the greatest ascetics of Mount Athos, to present this miraculous icon of the Mother of God Mlekopitateljnica here today, in this place where the Montenegrin state was founded and where the continuity of the Serbian Church has been preserved throughout the centuries of Ottoman slavery – said the writer of these lines, presenting the icon. – Saint Sava brought this icon from the Holy Land in the 13th century, from the Monastery of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified, where for six centuries with the testament have lived that one day a nobleman of royal lineage and origin would come to whom this icon, the Three-Handed Mother of God icon, and the abbot’s cane – Paterica, should be entrusted. I feel great joy that today this holy relic will be adorned with another precious gem from the Holy Mountain, from the Hermitage where prayer has not paused for over eight hundred years.


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