The Icon of the ProtectionThe Icon of the Protection (Pokrov Покровъ) of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and ever Virgin Mary is associated with the Feast of the Pokrov (in Greek, Skepê Σκέπη) which is the most important feast of the virgin in the Orthodox Church. The feast and the icon celebrate the protection of the Virgin through the intercessions of the blessed Theotokos. It is without question one of the moost important liturgical feasts of the Russian Orthodox year, and in Russia it is the most important after the Twelve Great Feasts. All churches of the Orthodox world celebrate the Pokrov, but nowhere is it more important than in the Ukrainian and Russian, churches, who are the heirs of the Byzantine Church.
According to the sacred tradition of the Orthodox church, an apparition of Holy Mary the Theotokos occurred during the 10th century at the Blachernae Church in Constantinople. The Blachernae was home to several important relics of the Virgin, her robe, veil, and belt (later pillaged and removed to France). An important tradition in Byzantium was the removal of the veil from the most holy Icon of the Theotokos on Friday evening, so that the icon could be venerated through Sunday, and on Sunday the first of October, during the service, St. Andrew the Blessed Fool-for-Christ received a vision that the dome of the church was opened, and the Theotokos appeared surrounded by saints and angels. The Theotokos prayed to Jesus Christ to accept the prayers of all the assembled, and once she had finished praying, she went to the altar, and covered all those assembled in the church with her veil, and therefore with her protection.
Turning to his disciple, St. Epiphanius, St. Andrew asked “Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world? And Epiphanius answered, “Yes, Holy Father, I see it and am amazed!”
The traditional icon of the Pokrov depicts in the upper part the virgin, surrounded by an aureole. She has stretched out her arms, and in them holds an orarion, or veil, which symbolizes the all-encompassing protections of her prayers for us to the one almighty God. Beside her stand many saints and angels, who are recognizable to churchgoers: the apostles, John the Baptist, St. Nicholas. At the bottom, St. Andrew the Blessed Fool-for-Christ is seen with St. Epiphanius, pointing to the Virgin.
There are many churches dedicated to the Pokrov which began appearing in Russia in the 12th century. The Moscow Cathedral of Intercession Upon the Moat (Храм Покрова "на рву") is one of them. It is more commonly known as "St. Basil’s Cathedral" nowadays.