On Friday, November 15, 2013, a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, having brought the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign” to Primoriye region of Russia, visited the Vladivostok Diocesan headquarters, met with the local faithful and students of Vladivostok Theological School.
The visitors were introduced by His Eminence Metropolitan Veniamin of Vladivostok and Primoriye, the Rector of the school. Also participating was His Grace Bishop Innokenty of Ussuriisk, Vicar of the Vladivostok Diocese.
The delegation is headed by His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill (Dmitrieff) of San Francisco and Western America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Secretary and Deputy Vice President of the Synod of Bishops. Also in the delegation are Protopriest Vladimir Boikov, Dean of New Zealand of ROCOR; Protopriest Serafim Gan, Secretary of the First Hierarch of ROCOR; Priest Nicholas Olhovsky, caretaker of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God "of the Sign," and Protodeacon Alexander Kotliaroff of SS Peter and Paul Cathedral in Sydney, Australia (ROCOR).
The guests talked about the wonders of the Kursk-Root Icon and how it became the spiritual standard of the Russian diaspora, and about the origins and development of the Russian Church Abroad.
Metropolitan Veniamin reminded the students that the Kursk - Root Icon was discovered in the 13 th century :
In 1985 I was ordained a Hieromonk. I had already been tonsured in the Holy Land, and after my ordination I was sent back to the Holy Land to a small town known as Bethany, where I taught English at a school. But I fell ill there, and two years later returned to the US and was assigned to a small parish in San Francisco. I was immediately summoned by the bishop, and Vladyka Anthony informed me that he had just returned from a meeting of the Synod of Bishops in New York, where it was decided to consecrate me a bishop and appoint me to be Vladyka Anthony’s vicar. I asked if I could refuse. Vladyka asked that I write down my reasons for refusing, so I did. Vladyka took the letter, read it and said “Have you forgotten who you are? You are a monk, you cannot say ‘I want this or that,’ you gave a vow of obedience.
For about ten years I was a vicar of the Western American Diocese. In 2000, Vladyka Anthony died, and the Council of Bishops appointed me ruling bishop.
Russian émigrés did not only live in America, refugees fled to various countries: France, Germany, Africa… People fled for their lives. The history of the Russian Church Abroad is bound with its Hodigitria [“She who shows the way” in Greek— transl .], the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign.” She is our protector to this day. Russians who settled in different countries didn’t first seek to set up a comfortable life, but to find a place for prayer, to set up a church. Of course, building a real church would come much later, at first they would find a small apartment or house, house the priest upstairs, and set up a church on the ground floor. We have had many house churches like this in the diaspora, their faith was profound and strong.
Faith saved our immigrants. We held together closely, reared our children in the spirit of Orthodox Christianity, in the Russian spirit. For instance, in my family, though my parents spoke fluent English, they prohibited it in the house, in order that we learn our native tongue, the language of our forefathers. We were taught to be proud of our culture, to be proud of all that is Russia. Maybe we didn’t quite understand what it meant to live outside of Russia. I can say for myself that when I first traveled to Russia in 2003 as part of a small delegation to meet with Patriarch Alexy II in connection with laying the groundwork for reconciliation, when the plane landed, it brought tears to my eyes, sensing that I had come home. At that moment something inside of me awoke, something my parents would tell me my whole life: “Do not forget that you are Russian, your homeland is Russia. Every time I have come to Russia since I feel that I am coming home.
In December 2010, the Synod of Bishops gave me the obedience to be the caretaker of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God. The icon is kept in New York, in our Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign,” which has been located in Manhattan since 1959. The icon itself arrived in America in 1951, and in 1959, a cathedral was established which the Synod blessed to be named in honor of the icon. The cathedral also has a lower Chapel of St Sergius of Radonezh, and is the headquarters of the Synod administration, chancery, archives, the First Hierarch’s residence, the vicar bishop’s residence and local priests.
The icon is based in New York but is constantly traveling. Not one icon has made so many travels throughout the whole world. When it is in New York, it is either in my residence or at the First Hierarch’s, there is always someone present with the icon. We perform the full cycle of divine services, and the icon is always brought into church, after which it is taken to my room or the First Hierarch’s. It is now in Protection Cathedral here. It brings great joy that the icon is drawing so many people. We have more modest circumstances, but by the blessing of the Synod of Bishops, the icon visits various parishes and even some parishioners’ homes—that is a special blessing for them. This is a very simple process. The icon is invited, I am called, or a bishop or local priest, and ask that the icon visit them at home or in the hospital if someone is sick.
We visit our parishioners with the icon, we perform a short moleben there—the troparion, kondakion, and augmented litany—then we take the icon throughout the home, like when we sprinkle homes with holy water after the Epiphany of the Lord. I always tell the parishioners: I am leaving with the icon now, but the Veil of the Mother of God is with you, pray to Her. This is a special Divine blessing.
This year alone the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign” spent January in the Synod in New York, and beginning in February, during all of Great Lent, the icon visited Vladyka Kyrill’s Western America Diocese. The icon went to California, Nevada, Colorado, even to Honolulu. During Passion Week and all of Bright Week, the icon was in New York, at the Synod, and until Holy Pentecost, the icon visited the Canadian Diocese, from Montreal and Vancouver. Over the summer, the icon was in New York, but visited local parishes in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, etc. In September the icon made its fifth trip to Russia. One day the icon was in Voronezh, then for a week in the Belgorod Metropoliate, then ten days in Kursk, three days in Kursk-Root Hermitage and seven days in Znamensky Cathedral. In October the icon returned to New York, but in November already it once again came to Russia—Vladivostok. The icon has been all over the world. It is just that simple, and accessible. In this I see a special Divine miracle.
God willing, next year the icon will visit Central America, after Pascha, Germany, and in the fall, Russia again, to Kursk and maybe Voronezh.
The Kursk-Root Icon does not stream myrrh, but one senses an aroma from it. Our bishops, priests and parishioners all bear witness to this. We sense a certain aroma . But everyone senses something different . This is Divine mercy.
Sometimes when I visit someone’s home, perform a moleben, as I explained, speak to the people, two or three days later the parishioners would call and say that the place where we prayed smells like myrrh! This is a miracle from God, a symbol of Divine presence, a sign that our prayers are heard, even if we don’t immediately receive what we asked for.
The delegation then answered questions.