The Kursk Icon with the Russian Exiles in Germany and Western Europe
The Russian people had not yet earned the abatement of the terrible tribulation sent by God: the end of the war did not bring the emancipation of Russia from the godless bolshevik nightmare. The sufferings of our people, who deceived themselves with false hopes, only deepened.
Unable to live any longer in an atmosphere of perpetual deceit, hatred, anger and fear, Russian people, along with the retreat of the Germans, began to abandon their homes and began a second great exodus from their homeland, again becoming a land reigned by evil impiety. The wave of emigrants moved further and further west. With tears and sorrows it left behind its motherland and strove to neighboring Slavic countries. Alas, the brother Slavs, blinded by many years of cunning communist propaganda, filled also not with hatred for the enslaving Germans, coldly, if not angrily, meeting their Russian brethren, looking upon them as rabble. But the front continued further and further West. Bolsheviks occupied the Baltics, Poland, Roumania and Bulgaria. The Soviet army entered Yugoslavia. Vladyka Metropolitan Anastassy, the head of the free Russian Church Outside of Russia, could not and did not wish to be captured by the atheists, and, with a multitude of his devoted flock, left for Germany.
The Protectress, the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, left along with the Synod. A part of the clergy of the Russian Church in Belgrade succumbed to the deceitful Soviet propaganda and decided to await the arrival of the "Red Freedom Army." Some of the priests, for example, Protopriest Ioann Sokol and Vladislav Nekludoff and others boldly requested that Metropolitan Anastassy leave behind the Miracle-working Icon in Belgrad and even tried to use force to keep it. It wasn't easy for the elderly Metropolitan to manage their insistence, but, apparently, the Queen of Heaven Herself did not wish to leave the Russian diaspora without Her Heavenly Protection, and the holy Icon was successfully taken out of Yugoslavia.
It left Belgrade on 8 September (n.s.) 1944, having been in that country for almost a quarter century.
The first stage of Her travel to the West was the city of Vienna. There it remained with the Synod for several months. Vienna at this time was often subjected to bombing raids. And, through the mercy of the Queen of Heaven, in this un-Orthodox land, the very same miracles began to occur as in Belgrade: the apartments to which the Icon was invited, and those people who welcomed it, remained whole and uninjured, though at the very same time they were in the midst of air raids.
I personally experience two or three such rais in Vienna, when traveling from Bratislava on Synodal matters. The Synod at this time was in a small, old hotel, "Pratestern," almost right beside the big train station Nordbanhof. This station was a special target of the allied pilots, and it was often bombed. One raid, which I lived through in Vienna, was fairly severe. I say "fairly," because in Berlin I had to endure much worse bombings.
All the Synodal bishops, headed by Metropolitan Anastassy, escorted by clergymen, descended after the sirens to the small, cramped basement of this ancient hotel.
At the time, I was an archimandrite, and I was permitted to carry the Miracle-working Icon. We had just entered the basement when the air raid began. Hundreds of large and small bombs carpeted the ruined train station and the surrounding blocks. Our small hotel shook and trembled, as though a great earthquake struck. The din was unimaginable. The basement was humid and dark, since the elecricity had been cut off. A small flame flickered from a thin candle in the hand of Fr. Averkii, who was quietly reading a akathist to the Queen of Heaven before the Icon, which I held in my arms. The bishops and everyone else in the basement, in a loose yet amicable chorus, sang "Rejoice, O Unwed Bride." Everyone subconsciously moved towards the Icon, especially when the explosions drew closer and closer. The ceiling dropped plaster on us. Gray, suffocating dust swirled in the air, which smelled dank and mildewy. It was very uncomfortable. Our hearts were frozen from fear...
Yet, the Miracle-working Icon was with us--Insurmountable Wall and Source of Miracles, the Door to Salvation, the Church's Unshakeable Pillar...And our hearts, beating in our chests like birds in a cage, ready to burst from the terrifying stress, began to beat normally, calmly. The wondrous prayer began to sound different: "Strong Warrior of victory, preserving us from the wicked..."
And, almost as the words were sung, the air began to grow quiet, the house ceased to shake, and finally, the siren, now joyous, filled the air, signaling the end of the air raid. We all genuflected with a sigh of relief and ascended the staircase, hurrying to leave the unwelcoming cellar, which could have become our grave. We performed a moleben of gratitude and dispersed to our rooms to rest our nerves after the terrible ordeal.
In such a difficult situation did the Synod spend almost two months, enduring at l east twenty such air raids. Naturally, the news that the government granted permission to move the Synod to quiet Carlsbad, which had not been bombed even once, was met with overall joy; there was also a splendid Russian church there.
Life in Carlsbad, relatively calm, did not last long, some 3-4 months. In April 1945, the Bolshevik military lava-stream rolled into this quiet town as well. Something unexpected happened: we had hoped that peace would soon be declared, and that the Bolsheviks would halt in their campaign towards the West. We had to quickly pack our things and leave. Vladyka Metropolitan was able to procure two seats in the bus of General Vlasov, and together with the Miracle-working Icon, and his personal secretary A.P. Rudko moved to southern Bavaria and temporarily settled in the small town of Fussen, near Kempten.
The Synod was provided with a shipping train car, and after a long, torturous and dangerous trip, harassed by air raids, it arrived in the town of Kuel, near Salzburg, Austria.
At this very time our monastic brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev was born in Wurttemburg, which I headed at the time, after difficulties and dangers. As soon as the war ended, it crossed the Swiss border and ended up in Geneva, leaving some of the monks in Wurttemburg, who, because of problems with their documentation, could not immediately gain access to Switzerland. When we approached the Swiss border, someone informed us that neaby there was a recently-arrived Russian bishop. We instructed one of our brethren to find out who this bishop was, and, if it was Vladyka Anastassy, to immediately notify us in Geneva. It turned out that it indeed was he, with the Miracle-working Icon. As soon as we learned of this, we immediately began to seek to obtain a visa for Vladyka to enter Switzerland, and at the same time sought visas for our brethren who remained in Germany. The process took about two months. By this time, the Synod moved to Munich, where Vladyka Metropolitan moved.
Making some changes in the Synod and preparing for its work, Vladyka, immediately upon receiving a Swiss visa, went to Geneva with the Icon to reestablish contact with the rest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, since there was still no international mail service from Germany .
The arrival of Metropolitan Anastassy in Geneva was a very important event in our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. First of all it disproved the rumor spread by the bolsheviks that the Synod no longer existed, and that Metropolitan Anastassy was taken to Moscow. This rumor was believed by Metropolitan Seraphim of Paris, and the bishop (now archbishop) of Shanghai almost did, too, along with a few other bishops and priests.
Vladyka Metropolitan Anastassy immediately telegraphed all the diocesan bishops in the free diaspora, informing them of his arrival in Geneva with the Miracle-working Icon, indicating that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia must remain independent of Moscow, asking them not to submit to the agitprop of the bolshevik agents, thereby saving the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia from disintegration.
The Miracle-working Icon, upon its arrival in Geneva, was given by the Metropolitan for temporary safekeeping to our brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev, which rented a small, two-storey house in the outskirts of Geneva, oin which a chapel was set up and other monastic accoutrements, with daily services, etc. The brotherhood was at this time preparing to move to the USA. As a native of Kursk, the Icon was especially dear to me. Matters in Europe were very unsettled. Many feared that the bolsheviks would be tempted by its defenselessness and would attempt to seize it. For this reason I began to plead with Vladyka Metropolitan to let the Miracle-working Icon go with us to the USA, at least for a time, until peace would return to Europe. Vladyka was hesitant. On one hand, he was loathe to part with the Relic, which for 20 years accompanied the Synod and was a symbol of the unity of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; on the other hand, the situation in Europe indeed caused great fears, and it was perfectly natural to send such a great historical Russian relic to safer shores. At the time, it would be a pity to deprive the masses of Russian emigres of the Icon, people who were in dire straits, especially in Germany, where mass betrayals to the bolsheviks were beginning.
I started to tell Vladyka that for the peace of mind of these people, we could prepare an exact painted copy of the Icon, but that it would be better to take the Icon itself out of the reach of the bolsheviks. Vladyka Metropolitan blessed a copy to be made, and then...we would see.
The brotherhood's icon painter, hieromonk Kyprian, now an archimandrite, laboring in Holy Trinity Monastery, took to this holy task with piety and fervor. A service of supplication was served to the Queen of Heaven, and the riza [ornamented cover] was carefully removed from the Miracle-working icon. An old, heavily damaged and worm-eaten board was found, the face of which was almost completely black from centuries of soot, and only the contours of the aureola and the clothing of the Mother of God and the Savior could be seen. Their faces were entirely invisible. Soot enveloped even the edges of the Icon, upon which images of the prophets should have been seen. How could a copy be made, when nothing was visible? The Metropolitan was informed of the situation. He came to the Monastery to see for himself. Fr. Kyprian was not only an experience icon painter but a good restorer as well, so he asked for blessing to carefully remove the soot from the Icon. Vladyka Metropolitan waved him off: "What are you saying? If nobody in Russia ever dared to touch the Icon for so many years, how can we bring ourselves to do so?" There was nothing left to do. Fr. Kyprian made exact measurements of the icon board. He had to begin to paint the copy. But what was he to paint, if he could see nothing? Cover a board with black paint and make a few barely-visible strokes of paint? The poor icon painter fretted, he didn't know what to do. There was no way he could proceed. And then, early one morning, when the monks were still asleep, he suddenly decided to begin, took some warm water and carefully, with a clean rag, tried to clean off the upper left corner of the Icon. The gilded halo of King David quickly appeared. This inspired Fr. Kyprian, and, forgetting about everything else in the world, forgetting Vladyka Metropolitan's forbidding and the possible consequences, with trepidation yet great caution, section by section, he began to clean the Icon.
Gradually each prophet appeared, the wonderful work of the talented icon painters of Tsar Feodor Ioannovich. Most of the faces were intact, the clothing and even the inscriptions on the scrolls. Finally, the most terrifying and important: the faces of the Queen of Heaven and the Christ Child. Apparently, this concorded with the wish of the Most-Holy Virgin: Her wondrous face opened up, together with that of Her Divine Son, as well as the gold of Their garments. The work was finished. The renewed Icon shone with wonderful light of the soft, ancient colors. The face of the Mother of God was stern. An unearthly wisdom was contained in the high brow of the Christ Child.
Fr. Kyprian ran downstairs. He roused me from slumber, calling me to the studio: there was something very important to show me. I came in...and could not believe my eyes. What yesterday was a blackened board now burns, shines and glows, caressing the eyes, softening the heart, and piercing the heart with a sunlit, heavenly, blessed light. I fell to my knees, crying, trembling from joy...But how to tell Vladyka Metropolitan? For this was clearly an act of disobedience. We could hardly wait to go see Vladyka with this report. I took a taxi cab for this occasion, pleading with Vladyka to go to the monastery for a very important matter. I did not say why out of fear...
Vladyka, seeing my excitement, did not ask why, and silently gathers his things and got into the automobile. Arriving, we led him upstairs, to the studio. The renewed Miracle-working Icon stood on the mantel. The elder monks stood beside like sentries.
The First Hierarch was clearly stunned. He viewed the divine Icon for a long time in silence. Then he slowly turned and softly, barely audibly, said: "Sometimes even disobedience can lead to good..."
We performed a service of supplication to the Mother of God, and Fr. Kyprian took to painting the copy with special zeal. The work was easy and joyful. He imparted his entire soul into making the copy an exact replica. Not only did he work on copying the front of the icon, but of the verso as well. His experience in restoration paid off here as well: all the cracks, even the wormholes were reproduced; the wood now looked aged and looked to be more than a century old. The colors on the icon copy shone softly in the same way as on the Icon itself.
The work was completed. If the two icons were placed side by side, of course, without the riza, it would be difficult to distinguish one from the other, especially at some distance. We first tested the monks this way, and when the Metropolitan, who would visit the Monastery no less than twice a week, came to the studio, he was shown both icons side by side, and, jokingly, I offered Vladyka to take either one. Vladyka Metropolitan approached the icons, carefully looked at them, took first one, then the other in his hands, looked at the verso of each, hoping that the backs would betray their identities. Alas, both looked the same that way, too.Then the First Hierarch placed the icons back and said with some alarm, "No, you give me the original."
Of course, we reassured Vladyka and showed him the telltale signs that showed which was the original. To prevent any future confusion, Vladyka Metropolitan blessed to remove a small splinter from the Miracle-working Icon and insert it into a silver casing in the copy. The original was quickly returned to its riza, and through the labors of monks Pimen and Alypy another silver riza, like the original, was made for the copy, but less massive.
Soon afterwards I was consecrated into the episcopacy in Geneva, after which Vladyka Metropolitan began to prepare to return to Germany, where the situation stabilized somewhat, and where the Synod and its chancery was located.
We tried to persuade Vladyka to leave the Miracle-working Icon with us to send to the USA, where we hoped to go in the near future, and to take the copy to Germany. Still, Vladyka was adamant and decisively rejected our pleas, saying that the Icon was needed more in Germany for the spiritual encouragement and consolation of the tens of thousands of our poor compatriots who were hunted like animals by the Cheka of the Repatriation Commission.
The First Hierarch wisely noted that there would be a time when the Miracle-working Icon would visit America, but for the time being, the copy should go on ahead as a forefunner. And Vladyka proved to be right. When we arrived in the USA with the copy of the Miracle-working Icon, a drawn-out and grievous schism had begun, lasting to this day. The icon received a lukewarm greeting, and it was sent to Holy Trinity Monastery, where it took a humble place in a row of other icons brought there by us.
Meanwhile, the Miracle-working Icon itself, resettling in Munich in the Synodal Chapel
of St. Vladimir, became a true "intercessor of the orphaned and strangers, the joy of all who sorrow, the protector of the insulted, the blessed consoler of all who came to her with fervor and faith."
The Icon's travels to displaced persons camps began. Once again an ocean of tears was spilled at the great Russian Icon. So many sufferers were consoled, so many atheists or those of little faith were enlightened and encouraged in their faith!
For five long years the Queen was in Europe, residing in Munich and traveling all over Germany, as well as the rest of Europe. It visited Paris, London, Brussels and other Russian colonies. The days of visiting refugee camps were true holidays for the interned.Usually, all the camp's residents dropped what they were doing to greet the Icon. It would be escorted to the camp chapel, long services would be conducted, and then many would follow in a long column as it visited each barracks.
Many miracles occured during this time from the Miracle-working Icon. The Synodal Chapel of St. Vladimir, where the Icon resided, was a spiritual center not only of Munich, but for many Russian emigres all over Germany. I bring one touching memory of Galina Deinitsina:
"I remember Munich, and small, comfortable church on Donaustrasse, where the Icon resided for several years. There was a carved iconostasis, with a fluttering curtain of a warm brown color, the icons of the Savior and the Mother of God in the old style, and on the left, in a special framework with spiral Russian columns, illuminated by flickering candle-glasses on either side, the Icon itself shone. There were always live flowers below, and at the foot of the Iocn, a kneeling human figure. Overwhelming grief was wept over here, prayers were made for those in distant lands, appeals for strength in those quotidian, yet such unusual, days. And everyone leaves unburdened and encouraged. The Mother of God will not leave them...She would intercede...help...The Icon would be surrounded by children after liturgy.
Standing on tiptoe, they would press their pink faces to the corner of the riza, concentrating on the Icon with elated eyes. The church on Donaustrasse nurtured a whole pleiades of faithful little worshipers, first brought in on the forty-day prayer after their birth, and in the last days of our life in Munich, they were already standing serenely, boys and girls, approaching the Queen of Heaven on their own.
"I remember the beautiful, dark-eyed Alyonushka, all pink, in golden curly tresses, and, wearing a red sash and a Russian shirt, Kolenka, one after the other going to venerate the golden embroidered cross decorating the cloth before the Icon. They could not yet reach the Icon itself. But the older children would eagerly help them: Zhenya M., Tamara B., Tanya, Lyuda, Vera...It was interesting that there were children who attended church at their own initiative, without their parents, who, unfortunately, were not especially religious. Girls would always come, and stay the entire length of each service. And often, intently and with determination would go to confession and Communion themselves. This was so touching, so joyful, but also so sad to see. Sad for their parents, who willfully deprived themselves of the joy of seeing the growth of the most wonderful souls in their own children.
"Fortunately, there weren't too many of these. There were much more mothers, nervously awaiting Fr. Averkii to bring out the Icon from its place to take into his cell, where it remained when there was no service. Standing in the path of the Iocn, mothers would once again lead their children to reverently venerate it.
"The exodus of DPS across the ocean began, and services of supplication for traveling would be served before the Icon every day. People bade farewell to the icon as with something that i s most dear to them, taking with them its blessing, taking also small printed icons blessed on the Icon itself."
Chapter from the book of Archbishop Seraphim (Ivanov).
"Hodigitria of the Russian Diaspora." (Second ed., 1963)