With the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, Archpriest Victor Potapov and Protodeacon Leonid Mickle went on a pilgrimage from July 23 to August 3, 2009, to Kiev, “second Jerusalem and mother of Russian cities.” The main purpose of our pilgrimage was to pray at holy sites in Kiev and in other cities and towns in Ukraine, to receive from the hands of His Beatitude Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine, relics of all of the Venerable Saints of the Kiev Caves Lavra, and to participate in festivities on the occasion of the 1021st Anniversary of the Baptism of Rus'.
We arrived in Kiev on July 23. Providentially, that happened to be the day of commemoration of the Venerable St Antony, founder of the Kiev Caves Lavra. We went directly from the airport to a previously-scheduled meeting with His Beatitude at his residence on the grounds of the Lavra. The Most-blessed Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church gave us a warm reception, blessed us to serve in the churches and monasteries of his Church, gave us gifts as mementos of our visit, and directed Archbishop Paul, administrator of the Lavra, to give us relics of the Kiev Caves Saints. I expressed our heartfelt thanks to the Most-blessed Vladimir for the love and attention he had shown us, and I emphasized that the Holy Relics would be an enhancement and source of comfort not only for the parishioners of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist and other Orthodox Christians in Washington, but also for all of the faithful in the USA and in Canada.
On our part, we gave His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir a number of gifts, including a richly-embroidered depiction of the “Footprint” of the Pochaev Mother of God (on the occasion of the celebration of the 450th Anniversary of the Pochaev Icon), and a number of works published by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
The next morning, July 24, we left for Western Ukraine, His Eminence Archbishop Sergiy of Ternopol and Kremenets was waiting for us. Along the way, we visited the stavropegic Holy Trinity Resurrection Convent. There we venerated the “Surety of Sinners” Icon of the Mother of God, which is widely venerated throughout Western Ukraine. We received the blessing of Mother Natalia, Abbess of the Convent, and toured the grounds of the monastery, which its residents were feverishly preparing for the upcoming visit by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill.
That afternoon, we reached the Convent of the Holy Theophany, which lies in Kremenets, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. There, our gracious host, His Eminence Archbishop Sergiy of Ternopil and Kremenetsk was waiting for us. After praying in the Holy Theophany Cathedral and venerating its most precious holy object, the “Sorrowful” Icon of the Mother of God, we shared a meal with Vladyka Sergiy in his quarters. That evening, Vladyka Sergiy personally took us to one to the sketes attached to the Pochaev Lavra, a skete which is home to about 60 monks.
Early in the morning on July 25, we finally reached the Holy Dormition Pochaev Lavra, the bulwark of Orthodoxy in Western Ukraine. There we were able to unhurriedly pray before the Lavra's holy treasures: the Miraculous Pochaev Icon, which daily is lowered on a ribbon from its place in the upper tier of the Holy Dormition Cathedral's icon screen so that pilgrims might venerate it. This year, the Church celebrates the 450th Anniversary of the Miraculous Icon's arrival on the Pochaev Hill.
Another holy treasure of the Lavra is the “Footprint” of the Most-holy Theotokos. In the 13th Century, two spiritual strugglers whose names are unknown to us, together with a local shepherd named Ivan Bosiy, witnessed a great miracle, an apparition of our Most-immaculate Lady in a pillar of fire above the Pochaev cliff. On a solid limestone rock on the place where she stood in prayer that night, Pochaev's most ancient treasure, an imprint of the Theotokos' right foot remained. The imprint is always full of pure clean, healing water from a spring that burst forth that very night. We venerated that holy spot and drank some of the holy water. We venerated the relics of SS Job and Amphilokhy of Pochaev, and read our parishioners' many commemorative lists of names.
In Pochaev, we purchased for our Washington Cathedral an exact copy of the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God, set in a golden radiant halo.
That same evening, we said goodbye to Mother Abbess Marionilla and the other hospitable nuns of the Kremenets Convent, and left in Arcbishop Sergiy's car for Ternopol, where the Vigil was to be served in the Cathedral church.
At Vladyka Sergiy's Cathedral, Divine Services are done without any abbreviations. On July 25, the church was filled to overflowing with people who had come to congratulate their beloved vladyka on his recent Saint's Day, which he had celebrated in Holy Trinity St Sergius Lavra. In congratulating Archbishop Sergiy, Archpriest Stephan Balan, cathedral rector, expressed his appreciation of and filial love for vladyka, whose spiritual struggle - archpastoral service - was so complex and difficult. Fr Stephan told me, “Over the years during which Vladyka Sergiy has been head of the Ternopil diocese, much has changed: the number of parishioners has increased significantly, and the golden crosses of the beautiful cathedral have surged toward the heavens. And those are only the visible changes. If you but remember that Vladyka Sergiy began his service in Ternopil in a tiny cottage, you can see how much work and spiritual struggle, known only to the Lord, was done over the course of those years.”
On Sunday July 26, Archbishop Sergiy served the early Liturgy in the lower church, the Church of Holy Martyrs Sts. Vera, Nadezhda, Lyubov, and their mother Sophia. At the close of the Liturgy, Vladyka Sergiy addressed us with warm words of welcome, and gave Archpriest Victor Potapov, who had concelebrated with him, an analogion-sized icon of the patron saints of the lower church, for the Cathedral in Washington. Vladyka emphasized that this gift was to serve as a reminder of our mutual love and of the unity which the Russian Orthodox Church achieved two years ago. I expressed my heart-felt thanks to Vladyka Archbishop Sergiy, and addressed the faithful with remarks in which I thanked them for their resolute keeping of the Orthodox Faith in Western Ukraine.
After resting a bit and having a meal in Archbishop Sergiy's home, we went in his car to Kiev, to meet His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and to take part in the festivities on the occasion of the commemoration of Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir, and of the 1021st Anniversary of the Baptism of Rus'.
On the morning of July 27, we were on St Vladimir Hill, where thousands of the faithful had been gathering since early morning. His Holiness arrived at 9:40. He was greeted with shouts of “Our Patriarch is Kirill!” After the moleben, which was widely reported on in the mass media, a procession of the cross, moving from St Vladimir Hill to the Kiev-Caves Lavra, began. To take part in this procession along with thousands of the faithful from all over Ukraine was both exciting and spiritually comforting. Along the four kilometer route, participants continuously chanted prayers, read the Jesus Prayer aloud, and proclaimed “Our Patriarch is Kirill!”
At the Lavra, those in the Procession of the Cross assembled on the square in front of the Dormition Cathedral and waited for the all-night vigil for the eve of St Vladimir's Day to begin.
Evening services were conducted in the Cathedral square, as no church in the Lavra was large enough to house such an enormous number of clergy and faithful. Two choirs – a monastic choir and a mixed choir – sang at the Vigil. The Most-holy Patriarch headed the service, and personally anointed all of the clergy and many of the faithful.
On July 28, the 1021st Anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, the Chief Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church once again headed the celebration of the Divine Services. Concelebrating with him were His Beatitude Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev, and Archpastors and Pastors of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
On July 29, in the Trapeza Church, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill met with hierarchs, clergy, monastics, faculty members and students from the Kiev Theological Academy, and representatives of the intelligentsia. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill addressed the attendees with a remarkable Primatial speech which is available on the website patriarchia.ru, and he responded to questions touching on matters including, inter alia, problems of parish life, the task of bringing those already baptized into fuller participation in the life of the Church, the religious situation in the country, and the results of his meeting with V.A Yushenko, President of Ukraine.
During our final days in Kiev, we visited the Holy Trinity Kitaev Hermitage, where we venerated the relics of the Venerable St Theophil, the men's Monastery of the Entry into the Temple, the Holy Trinity – St. Jonah Monastery, the Goloseev Holy Protection Monastery, the Holy Protection Convent and the St. Florus Convent. At each monastery we visited, we commemorated our parishioners and their relatives.
On August 2, we once again spent some time in the Kiev Caves Lavra. There we served a final Moleben, this time in the so-called “Far Caves.” We were granted a great honor: The covers of a number of the coffin-reliquaries were unlocked and raised for us. Thus, we were able to directly venerate the relics of those Worthy Ones of God, and also the Myrrh-streaming skulls belonging to spiritual strugglers of the Kiev Caves, whose names are unknown to us.
The Myrrh-streaming heads are ancient, particularly revered holy treasures of the Lavra Caves. The heads do not stream Myrrh all at once, and the Myrrh appearing on the various heads is not uniform in composition. In Soviet days, Myrrh ceased to stream from the heads; the Myrrh-streaming resumed only after monastic life in the Monastery resumed in 1988.
The following interesting detail was once related to me: chemical analysis of the Myrrh was done in the biochemical laboratory department of the Kiev Institute of Medicine. The analysis results showed that all of the samples were highly refined oils, of unknown origin, containing various levels of albumin. Protein matter is characteristic only of living organisms. It would be impossible to artificially synthesize this biological substance.
We brought with us a bottle of the myrrh, which we will keep in the Altar of our Cathedral.
We offer our heartfelt thanks to everyone for their holy prayers, thanks to which our pilgrimage to the third earthly province of the Most-Holy Theotokos was so grace-filled.
Archpriest Victor Potapov