Tradition has it that one night back in 1314 Bishop Trifon of Rostov saw a wondrous pillar of fire beyond the Volga River near Yaroslavl. The light was coming down from an icon of the Mother of God suspended high in the air. The bishop built a wooden church with his own hands at the spot where he saw that miracle and later a monastery appeared there. Both the icon and the monastery were named after the Tolga River, a Volga tributary running in the Volga at that spot.
For the last 680 years the monastery and the miracle-working Tolga Icon have become spiritual symbols of Russia. In 1987 the monastery was resumed as a convent, and in 1993 the Russian Orthodox Church, the Yaroslavl Administration and the local ethnographical museum reached an agreement to return the miracle-working Tolga Icon from the museum to the convent.
His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia arrived at the Tolga Convent for the celebrations devoted to the 680th anniversary of the Tolga Convent on August 20. At the Yaroslavl airport he was met by Bishop Mikhey of Yaroslavl and Rostov, Yaroslavl administration head A. I. Lisitsyn, Yaroslavl mayor V. V. Volonchunas and other officials and diocesan clergy.
Later that day, His Holiness the Patriarch officiated at All-Night Vigil at the miracle-working Tolga Icon of the Mother of God and at the relics of St. Ignaty Brenchaninov in the convent's Cathedral of the Introduction of the Mother of God to the Temple. He was assisted by Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk and Bishop Mikhey of Yaroslavl and Rostov.
On August 21, the Day of the Tolga Icon of the Mother of God, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy celebrated Divine Liturgy at the cathedral, assisted by the same bishops, as well as Archbishop Alexander of Kostroma and Galich.
Among those who arrived for the celebrations were Russian Prime-Minister V. S. Chernomyrdin, Minister of Finance S. K. Dubinin, regional administration heads and other officials.
The Primate of the Church led a cross-procession through the convent and conducted a thanksgiving at the famous cedar grove where the Tolga Icon appeared.
In his address His Holiness Patriarch Alexy emphasized that the restoration of the Tolga Monastery was a sign of that "gathering the scattered stones of our history to which the time has calls us". His Holiness awarded the Yaroslavl regional administration head and the mayor of Yaroslavl the Order of St. Prince Daniel in recognition of their contribution to the regeneration of the cloister, and Sister Varvara, Mother Superior of the convent, the Order of St. Olga Equal to the Apostles.
"In our hard times", the Russian Prime-Minister said at the reception, "we need to be patient. But what I mean by patience is work". In this sense, the early restoration of the Tolga Monastery, which took only six years, may be considered true work.
On August 22, Patriarch Alexy visited the church representation of the Tolga Convent at the village of Vvedenskoye, where he inspected the convent's farm. He also made a trip to the Church of Our Lady of Smolensk at the Diyevo Gorodische village in the Yaroslavl Region - the church where a miracle-working copy of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God is found. The church has never been closed; its interior is distinguished by a special beauty.
In the afternoon, His Holiness visited St. Theodore's Cathedral in Yaroslavl, inspected the building to house the Yaroslavl theological college and had another meeting with Prime-Minister Chernomyrdin, who was in Yaroslavl, and the regional leadership.
In the evening of August 22, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia returned to Moscow.