Nothing seems capable of stopping the Russian advance. In Ukraine the red flag already flutters. Now the Communists head for Poland. After conquering the country, they will soon head west; they wish, after dominating the whole of Europe, to overpower America and Asia as well. The universal expansion of this cancer is just beginning. But to accomplish it, they must first subjugate the Polish obstacle.
Advancing relentlessly, the Red Army reaches Warsaw and initiates a confrontation on the banks of the Vistula River. The Bolsheviks begin to gain the upper hand in the clash. Everyone perceives that the defeat of the Poles is inevitable.
No, this is not a conjecture about the immediate future, but an event that took place a hundred years ago…
The Soviet threat
The Treaty of Versailles, in 1919, finally put an end to the territorial disputes which led to one of the greatest events of the 20th century: the First World War. As a result of the agreement, the borders of many countries were altered, with Poland being one of the greatest beneficiaries. In fact, since the 18th century this nation had been divided between the Austrian, Prussian and Russian Empires, and the pact restored its independence.
Meanwhile, in the country of the Tsars, another event caught the world’s attention: the Communist Revolution. In 1917, the Bolsheviks deposed Emperor Nicholas II and established the Soviet socialist regime under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. The aim of the Reds was, from Russia, to dominate the whole world: “The interests of socialism and world revolution are above national interests, above the interests of the State,”1 Lenin affirmed in May 1918. To this end, it was of utmost importance to conquer other territories in order to confront Western capitalism.
In the thick of Russia’s claim to universal rule, the Polish-Soviet War began. Polish General Josef Pilsudski broke through the border of Soviet Ukraine, together with the Ukrainian nationalist leader Symon Petliura, and advanced on Kiev.
Although the first attack was frustrated and the Polish-Ukrainian phalanxes were forced to withdraw, Lenin used the occasion as a pretext to send in the Red Army in order to sovietize Poland.
The Poles retreated about fifteen kilometres per day. After a series of victories, the Bolsheviks reached Warsaw, commanded by Tukhatchevsky, a “twenty-eight year old Soviet ‘Napoleon’.”2 Russian victory seemed inevitable.
Distraught and with no hope of help from other Western countries, thousands of Poles gathered in Częstochowa to turn to the only one who could help them at that moment. She had saved them once before; why would She not do it again?
Our Lady of Częstochowa
The medieval town of Częstochowa, more specifically the monastery of Jasna Gora – Mount of Light – is a great pole of attraction for Polish piety, for the priceless treasure it contains: a miraculous image of Our Lady, also known as the Black Virgin.
According to pious tradition, it was painted by St. Luke on a table made by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, while the Evangelist was conversing with the Blessed Virgin Mary! St. Helena found the image in Jerusalem and carried it to Constantinople, where it remained for about five hundred years. It then became the object of various endowments and, in the 14th century, came into the hands of the Polish prince Ladislaus Opolszyk.
One day, when Poland was at war with the Tartars, an enemy arrow entered through a window of Ladislaus’ castle in Belsz and pierced the throat of the sacred icon.
To protect it, the prince decided to take it to Opal, his home town. However, while making a stop in Częstochowa, he left the image in a small wooden chapel overnight. The next day, as he was getting ready to leave, he picked it up and carried it to his carriage. But to his surprise, his animals refused to move, oblivious to the prodding of the coachmen.
Ladislaus, understanding the will of Our Lady, decided to leave Her in the aforementioned chapel. From then on, the image was called Our Lady of Częstochowa. The monastery and church of Jasna Gora were built around Her, and soon Marian devotion spread throughout the region. Thousands of pilgrims flocked to pray to the Black Madonna.
Before long, She began to work miracles. In 1655, the monastery was besieged by the Swedes, who had conquered Warsaw, Krakow and Poznan. For forty days, a contingent of two hundred soldiers, some nobles and seventy monks withstood the siege carried out by more than three thousand men. The battle was miraculously won by the Poles, who attributed the victory to Our Lady. King John II Casimir consecrated Poland to the Virgin Mary, declaring Her as its Queen and Patroness.
In 1920, during the communist invasion, it was to Her that the people turned…
The Battle of Vistula
The final battle took place on August 15, 1920, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on the banks of the Vistula River.
Suddenly, the Russian armada began to retreat. The Poles soon launched a counter-offensive which pushed them towards East Prussia. Almost one hundred thousand Russian soldiers surrendered to the Polish army. Some historians claim that, to this day, it seems impossible to find the cause of the “crushing defeat suffered by the Red Army.”3
However, we disagree. It is impossible for them to find it, because they are looking in the wrong place. What is the use of searching earth for something found in Heaven? On that day Our Lady appeared in the clouds over Warsaw, driving the communists away. Immediately the victory was attributed to the Black Virgin and the event became known as the Miracle on the Vistula.
Mary is the Queen of history
The Book of Proverbs says: “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Prv 21:31). Human forces were powerless to halt the onslaught of the adversary, but the Queen of Heaven herself, “terrible as an army set in array” (Cant 6:3), decided to intervene.
We might almost say that this is a rule of Marian assistance in every era and on all occasions: it is usually manifested only when men have reached the extreme limit of their efforts and feel themselves overcome by the acrid odour of failure, so that they realize that the victory is due solely to the action of the Virgin.
Thus, even when all seems lost, we can be sure that our Queen and Protectress continues to hold the reins of history in her hands. ◊
1 PIPES, Richard. História concisa da Revolução Russa. Rio de Janeiro: BestBolso, 2008, p.305.
2 DANIEL-ROPS, Henri. A Igreja das Revoluções. II – Um combate por Deus. São Paulo: Quadrante, 2006, p.318.
3 PIPES, op. cit., p.313.