The Shrine of Boronyavo
oronyavo is a small town in the eastern part of Trans-Carpathia, not far from the junction of the Hungarian and Romanian borders with Ukraine. It is in a mountainous area known as the Hutsul Region or Hutsylchyna, a district of rugged mountaineers with a distinct culture and dialect. The small church is surrounded by fields in a valley of these mountains, and was defended against Communist destruction by devout Greek Catholic faithful of the area.
The church and monastery date back for centuries, and a small community of monks has lived here since the 1500s at least. After the Union of Uzhorod in 1646, whereby the local Orthodox Church entered into union with the Roman Catholic Church, the monks came under the Rule of Saint Basil. The Austrian Emperor Joseph II saw no need for small, contemplative communities in his empire, and the monks of Boronyavo were forcibly dispersed by imperial decree pilgrimsin 1771. The men went to live in caves in the hills, and one of them, Kozak, was gifted with a vision of the Mother of God holding in her arms the Infant Jesus, Savior of the world, when he went to take water from a spring. Mary told him that she was pleased with their continued faithfulness to their vows, and Kozak “wrote” the icon from his memory of the vision.
The icon was enshrined in the chapel, which had been spared destruction by the imperial forces through the intervention of townspeople throughout Trans-Carpathia who loved the monks. Immediately God began to work miracles in the church, including the dramatic conversion of an atheist and many healings. Huge pilgrimages began to the shrine, particularly on the feast of the Annunciation (March 25), Saint Elias (July 20), and the Dormition/ Assumption of the Virgin (August 15), which is the largest of all the pilgrimages.
After the Soviet conquest of 1944-1945, and Czechoslovakia’s forced cession of the entire province to the USSR, the native Greek Catholic Church was bitterly persecuted by the Soviets. The monastery was closed, the monks arrested, and plans set to destroy the entire site. But the icon of Our Lady was taken away to the city of Chust and hidden in an apartment there, and the local peasants regularly defended the buildings against destruction, even when bulldozers were brought in. Many people were arrested, but the church was never given over to Orthodox use, and it survived Soviet rule. Barbed wire was wrapped around the site of the shrine, and people would tie rags as a sign of their prayers onto the wire in defiance of the guards.
In 1991, after three years work of restoration, the church was re-dedicated. Bishop Ivan Semedi of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo stepped aside at the altar to allow the former superior, arrested in 1946 and sent to the Arctic prisons, to come forward and offer the first public Divine Liturgy. The icon was enthroned above the Royal Doors of the iconostas in 1992, back where it belonged at last.