A 16th-century copy of the icon of Our Lady of Kazan (Wikimedia Commons)
A 16th-century copy of the icon of Our Lady of Kazan (Wikimedia Commons)
SHADY COVE — Before he evacuated as the massive Obenchain Fire bore down on Shady Cove, Father Charles Holden took his ancient icon of Our Lady of Kazan and drove to the four corners of town to bless the place.

In less than a week, the winds shifted and rain arrived. Shady Cove was safe.

Father Holden knows not everyone thinks the way he does, but he believes the Blessed Mother had a saving influence.

Father Holden keeps the icon in a prayer niche of his house.

“I now call it a wonder-working icon,” he said.

Our Lady of Kazan is a chief image and devotion in the Russian Orthodox Church. The original dates at least to the 16th century when a girl found it shining among the ashes of a burned church. It likely is older. For centuries before the Bolshevik Revolution, the image was invoked for healing and to protect Russian troops.

Father Holden received his icon when he was an Orthodox monk on Mount Athos in Greece.

The pastor has a jaw-dropping resume: He also was married, lost a child, has been on stage in England’s national theater, was homeless in Portland and then drove a bus in the city, developing patience and a love for regular salt of the earth folks. Recently, a relative died and he inherited an English title as a Peer of the Realm.

Father Holden had planned to stay in Shady Cove as the fire approached, like some of his stalwart parishioners and neighbors. He wanted to protect the church. But the people convinced him to seek safety. They would look after the church for him.

The priest took the icon and the Blessed Sacrament and drove to the home of a parishioner who had a room for him. For five tense days, before going to sleep at night, he would gaze out the window and see the flames dancing in the hills.

With blazes all over Southern Oregon, there were not enough firefighters to make a stand if the fire swept into Shady Cove. The town would have burned had the wind continued its course.

But the weather turned for reasons natural, supernatural or both.

Sunday, Sept. 20, was joyous in Shady Cove as the air was clear and the sky blue. Mass could happen again, and there was a full house.

edl@catholicsentinel.org