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A book is propped up on a metal bookshelf, cover facing outward. A black cord with a brown crucifix and black tassel is around the base of the book. The Russian title on the cover translates to "A Gift of Love: The Vatican Copy of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God." At the top is Peter Anderson's name, written in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Our Lady of Kazan: Hope of Christian Unity

By Emily M. Lawrence

It is my fervent prayer … that the icon will someday become a symbol of charity between the Orthodox and Catholic children of the Mother of God.

— Letter from Peter Anderson to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow, Dec. 29, 1993

In 2014, Peter Anderson gave the Marian Library a collection of his papers — correspondence, research, a manuscript and a book about the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan, one of the most highly venerated icons in Russian Christianity.

According to tradition, a 10-year-old girl named Matrona received several visions and found the burial place of the icon in 1579. Since then, many stories have arisen about healings and other miracles attributed to the icon.

This icon was stolen in the early 20th century. In 1972, the World Apostolate of Fatima (the Blue Army) purchased a copy of the Kazan icon (possibly the original—its status is disputed) from the Mitchell-Hedges estate in Indiana. The Blue Army then relocated the icon to its chapel in Fatima, Portugal. 

Anderson’s involvement with the Kazan icon began in the 1980s. He was a member of both the Blue Army and the ecumenical Sister Churches Program, a program that connected participating Christian communities in the Seattle, Washington, area with those in Russia. In this capacity, he helped arrange a 1989 visit by then-Metropolitan (comparable to the title of archbishop) Alexy of Leningrad and Novgorod. Alexy, who became Patriarch of Moscow in 1990, inquired about the icon and its authenticity, and for years after this meeting, he expressed a strong desire for the icon’s return to Russia. 

Anderson wrote letters to the Blue Army and the Roman Curia, proposing the idea that Pope John Paul II himself should visit Russia and offer the icon to the Patriarch of Moscow in a solemn ceremony as “a gift from the Catholic Church” (letter to Rev. Frederick L. Miller, May 22, 1989). Archbishop Edward Idris Cassidy of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity agreed to do what he could to make this dream a reality. With his help, the icon passed from Blue Army custody in Fatima to papal custody in Vatican City in 1992. Ecumenical difficulties in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, coinciding with the political and societal impacts of the collapse of the Soviet Union, delayed progress for 12 years.

Over those years, Anderson kept conducting research and writing letters to key figures in the Blue Army, the Curia and the Russian Orthodox Church to facilitate the delivery of the icon. During this time, Alexy, known in Russia as Alexy II, told Anderson about how, in 1993, he had reconsecrated the Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God on Red Square in Moscow — a church the Soviet regime had previously destroyed (letter to Anderson, Jan. 24, 1994). This event testified to the renewed visibility of religion in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Anderson forwarded a copy of this letter to Cassidy, who believed in Anderson’s dream and Our Lady’s support behind it: “My prayers are with you and your very difficult work which has so much potential for fulfilling Our Lady’s plan of reuniting her Orthodox and Catholic children” (letter to Anderson, Feb. 28, 1994). While dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches continued, Anderson maintained his friendship with Alexy, sharing updates on the Sister Churches Program, inviting him to ecumenical events, passing along records about the Kazan icon and expressing his hopes for the icon’s return.

Orthodox-Catholic relations did not improve enough for Pope John Paul II to visit Russia. Nevertheless, Anderson’s prayers saw their fulfillment in the final year of John Paul II’s papacy. Cardinal Walter Kasper, on behalf of the Catholic Church, presented the Kazan icon to Alexy in St. Petersburg in 2004.

For Anderson, this gesture of charity and goodwill was a providential symbol of the growing relationship between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches. Moreover, he saw the guiding hand of the Virgin Mary in the success of this project. Anderson once shared this vision with Alexy:

I do believe that the Mother of God has a plan for her Orthodox and Catholic children and especially for Russia. I fervently pray to her that the Kazan icon will be part of her plan and will be an instrument in the reconciliation of her children. I am confident that the icon will be returned (letter to Patriarch Alexy II, Dec. 25, 1994).

Anderson drew inspiration from the same hope expressed at the Second Vatican Council, which urged all Christians who honor Mary to pray for her intercession so that, in Jesus Christ, the whole world “may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity” (Lumen gentium 69). Anderson identified Orthodox and Catholic Christians’ common love for the Virgin Mary as a pledge of hope for reconciliation and unity. He reiterated this hope in letter after letter and, eventually, in his 2013 book Returned to Russia with Love: My Personal Experiences with the Vatican Copy of the Kazan Icon.

This year, we observe the 60th anniversary of the Vatican II documents Lumen gentium, Orientalium ecclesiarum and Unitatis redintegratio, which express a vision of the Church’s relationships with its own faithful of different traditions and with non-Catholics. This year also marks 20 years since the return of the Kazan icon to Russia. It may be, however, that the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine overshadows the hope that the return of the Kazan icon represented for Anderson and the Church in 2004. 

Much work remains to heal the divisions between the Roman Catholic Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and all Christians. As Catholics approach the closing of the Synod on Synodality this October, Anderson’s story is a striking example of collaboration between laity and clergy, between Catholics and Orthodox Christians and among Christians across continents, all on a journey of dialogue and peacemaking. In this story, Mary maintains watchful care over the Mystical Body of her Son, interceding for all Christians and all human beings as they strive to walk together in truth and unity until Christ’s own prayer “that they may be one” is finally fulfilled (John 17:11).

—Emily Lawrence ’24 was a graduate assistant in the Department of Religious Studies and the Marian Library; she earned a master’s in theological studies in May.

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