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DIOCESE OF SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND: September 25, 2007
Photo-Report of the Visit of the Official Delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate and Sretensky Choir, With the "Reigning" Icon of the Mother of God, To the Churches of New South Wales

The Meeting of the Icon

It was not long ago that the Australian land said goodbye to a great Russian sacred relic – the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, which returned to its place of residence in the USA.

Now, once again, the Most-Holy Mother of God has willed to grace upon the faithful Orthodox people in the faraway land of Australia that they be communicants of yet another unforgettable and most joy-filled visitation.

On Saturday, 22 September, for the first time in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church, the holy Reigning Icon of the Virgin Mary (read history here http://www.stjohndc.org /Russian/theotokos/9703b.htm ) arrived in the city of Sydney.

By the blessing of His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Alexis II, a special delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP), headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Onufry of Chernovtsy and Bukovina; His Eminence Archbishop Evgeny of Verey, Rector of the Moscow Theological Academy; the Very Reverend Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), Prior of Sretensky Monastery in Moscow; together with a select group of clergy and the choir of the Sretensky Monastery accompanied the “Reigning” Icon.

The Holy Icon and the delegation of the MP were met at the Kingsford Smith Airport by His Eminence Archbishop Hilarion of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand, the Chief Deputy of the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR); Protopriest Michael Boikov, Diocesan Secretary; Protopriest George Lapardin, the Sacristan of the Cathedral; Protopriest Vladimir Makeev, clergyman of the MP in Blacktown; lay helpers and representatives of the Embassy and Consulate of the Russian Federation.

The Moleben in the Archbishop's Chapel

Following the arrival of the Icon, all three bishops together with the welcoming group set off to the Archbishop's Chapel of All Saints of Russia in Croydon for moleben. The rest of the MP delegation traveled to their hotel in order to prepare for the forthcoming evening service.

The greeting of the Icon in Croydon took place with particular reverence and ceremony. Archbishop Hilarion; Mitred Protopriest Michael Li, the eldest clergyman of the Australia and New Zealand Diocese (ROCOR); Protopriest Nikita Chemodakov, Dean of Sydney; Priest Alexander Filchakov, clergyman of the MP in Newcastle; Hieromonk Joachim (Ross), Prior of St John the Forerunner Skete; Cathedral Protodeacon Alexander Kotliaroff; and local Deacon Constantine Moshegov, a well-known ophthalmologist; a choir under the direction of Andrei Laptev and a sea of worshippers escorted the Icon into the church while singing the troparion of the “Reigning” Icon. Metropolitan Onufry, Archbishop Evgeny, their guide and designated driver, Protopriest Michael Boikov, and others entered the church, following the Icon.

This is the first time in the history of the Archbishop's Chapel that not only one, but two bishops of the MP have offered up joint prayers to the Most-High God and His Most-Pure Mother with the clergy and people of ROCOR.

Following the moleben, while the people venerated the Holy Icon, Protopriest George Lapardin, together with the choir, read and sang the akathist. The clergy who had gathered continued into the church hall, where the Sisterhood led by GN Strekalovsky had prepared an abundant luncheon.

The Matins Service in Cabramatta

At around 6 pm that day, in the God-preserved suburb of Cabramatta, in the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God, the Resurrectional matins service was sung. After the reverent greeting of the Holy Icon, everyone, including the clergy, headed by Archbishop Hilarion, the Sretensky choir, and the mass of pious people awaited an event that had never previously taken place – the greeting of two bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

What great joy everyone experienced when they for the first time saw three archpastors serving together!

Serving with them were: Archimandrite Tikhon; Father Michael Li; Father Nikita; Father Vladimir; Protopriest Vladislav Tsypin (professor of Canon Law at Moscow Theological Academy); Protopriest Nedad Djurshinovich; Father Michael Boikov; Father George; Father Alexander; Priest Boris Ignatievsky (the rector of this church); Hieromonk Joachim; Protodeacon Alexander; Hierodeacon Seraphim (Sretensky monastery) and Deacon Constantine, with the help of a large number of acolytes.

Who can describe how sweet the singing of the famous Sretensky Choir sounded under the direction of their choirmaster, Nikon Zhila!

Fortunate were those who prayed in the church and enjoyed the sweetness of the singing. From the time of the polyeleos until the end of the service, more than a thousand Christians venerated the Holy Icon.

After the service, having greeted one another before all the people, the archpastors, together with the clergy and choir, entered the church hall where the parish Sisterhood, under the direction of VK Paramonov, treated them to a wonderful dinner.

“On the First Day Following the Sabbath…” In SS Peter and Paul Cathedral (Sunday, 23 September 2007)

On Sunday at 8:30 am, the clergy and people met the holy “Reigning Icon” together with the Ruling Bishop and Rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Archbishop Hilarion. Immediately, as is the generally-accepted custom in Russia, the Third and Sixth Hours were read.

Prior to the Liturgy at the Cathedral, Father Michael Boikov escorted Metropolitan Onufry and Archbishop Evgeny to the Church of All Saints of Russia, which is next to the Diocesan Administration headquarters, for prayer and worship before the wonder-working Icon of Akhtyrka, which, according to an ukase of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR, temporary resides in Australia. Also, Father Michael, Sacristan of this church, with the blessing of the Rector, Archbishop Hilarion, presented the two archpastors with small portions of the cassock of the Holy Hierarch John of Shanghai. Following this, the archpastors and their driver headed off to the Cathedral.

What a wondrous scene awaited them! The ringing of the bells, a great multitude of people, the traditional bread and salt, the clergy vested in the Theotokian blue. The honorable guests felt as if they were back at home, rather than in some distant foreign land.

Protodeacon Boris intoned: “Wisdom!” The powerful and disciplined choir of Sretensky Monastery began with the singing of the festal hymn of the Nativity of the Mother of God.

The extraordinary greeting of the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate gave everyone present the opportunity to sense and abide in that grace which now preserves the wholeness of the once-separated parts of the Russian Orthodox Church. Once again the souls of the Russian people in the diaspora could spiritually sing together with their compatriots the words of the Palm Sunday stichera, “Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has brought us together…”

The hierarchal Divine Liturgy is usually beautiful and ceremonious. However, there was nothing usual about this ceremony. Three archpastors were serving in our Cathedral – the same Cathedral where in 1963 the ever-memorable First Hierarch of ROCOR, Metropolitan Philaret, was consecrated a bishop.

What a great assembly of clergy! Archimandrite Tikhon; Father Vladimir Makeev; Father Vladislav; Father Michael Boikov; Father George; Father Alexander; Hieromonk Joachim; Father George Morozov, a ROCOR clergyman from Tasmania; Hieromonk John (Macpherson, Superior of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Monkerai – ROCOR); Protodeacons Boris and Alexander; Hierodeacon Seraphim; Deacon Constantine Tzortzis (a cleric of the Old Church of All Saints in the Convent at Kentlyn) and Deacon Constantin.

And worshippers numbering over a thousand!

All experienced deep compunction while listening to the wondrous singing and seeing the spiritual beauty of this unforgettable service.

Throughout the service the Holy Reigning Icon shone forth and enlightened all by its presence.

At the end of the service people are usually tired and hurry to get home. However it was not so on this occasion. In the hall a lovely lunch by the Sisterhood of the Cathedral, under the culinary expertise of the Senior Sister, EF Pasternatsky, while outside, the church yard was overflowing with people. Following lunch, Abbess Maria (of the Convent of Our Lady of Kazan in Kentlyn), the nuns and their helpers, escorted the Reigning Icon to the convent which is not far from Sydney for an akathist. The unexpected visit of the Icon to the monastery could not forestall the oncoming flow of worshipers. It was clear to all that upon the monastery rested the grace of God and the good will of the Virgin Mary.

The Concert

At 5 pm, in Sydney Town Hall the Sretensky Choir gave a magnificent concert. For many in the audience, their singing drew tears of joy and compunction. The Russian soul cannot live without the Russian song and these singers are of the highest class and their director a great master! The standing ovation from the audience for their benefactors, the singers, continued for a prolonged period.

Our gratitude to you, our dear friends!

Until We Meet Again

On Monday, the 24th of September, late in the morning, our guests from Russia continued their worldwide journey. The same persons who had met them also came to see them off. However, this time their eyes were not filled with the shining joy of the meeting, but expressed a feeling of great sorrow for the impending separation.

We thank the Most-High God and His Most-Pure Mother, that they did not forget the Russians in the diaspora and especially us, who are so far from our motherland. We thank also His Holiness, Patriarch Alexis of Moscow and All Russia, without whose blessing this great Russian holy treasure could not have come to our country. We thank also the archpastors, Metropolitan Onufry and Archbishop Evgeny, and Archimandrite Tikhon and all the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate for the attention they have accorded us and the joy they have brought us.

We are impressed by your patience and strength. For this is not an easy obedience.

Personally, for the author of these words, who spent three weeks (both in the USA and Australia) with these true sons of the Russian Church and the Russian Land, there has not been a more enjoyable time of communion and friendship.

Thank you!

Protopriest Michael Boikov