WASHINGTON: December 15, 2011
I am always on the lookout for holy things and liturgical vessels for my Church of St John the Baptist in Washington. About twenty years ago, I happened to stop by an antique shop that specialized in Western Christian antiques. The store was in the center of the city of Baltimore, Maryland, about 50 km North of Washington, DC. I had no particular expectation of finding something interesting, but to my amazement, among the multitude of items — primarily from Roman Catholic antiquity — I found a reliquary containing a large relic of the Holy Martyr St Victor the Warrior, my patron Saint. The price tag said that it cost $600. I was somewhat surprised to see that relics were being sold. In talking with the shop manager, I mentioned my surprise. He protested that he was actually selling not the human remains, but the antique reliquary, as an art object; he added that its contents were a gift to the buyer (?). I thought that the $600 price was too high, and in any case, I found the very idea of buying and selling such holy things unpleasant. I asked the shop manager to lower the price, but he firmly refused. I decided that he was not lowering the price because my questions had offended him.
In short, I left empty-handed, but I was not especially upset, as I already had a small piece of the precious relics of my heavenly patron. That relic had been given to me in the mid-1980s by Brother Joseph Munoz-Cortes, curator of the world-famous Myrrh-streaming "Montreal" Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. That miraculous icon had begun to stream myrrh in 1982, on November 24, the day of commemoration of Holy Martyr St Victor the Warrior. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia established that the Myrrh-streaming "Montreal" Iveron Icon of the Mother of God be celebrated annually on November 24.
Later, I again encountered that seller of Christian antiques, this time at a large antiques show in Washington. At his stand, I once again saw the reliquary containing a relic of Holy Martyr St Victor. I did not have money to spare, and so I did not make a purchase.
Afterwards, I would often call to mind the relics of the Holy Martyr, and would reproach myself for not having made an effort to keep the holy object from suffering an indeterminate fate. I even intended to visit the Baltimore shop that sold Christian antiques, but learned that it had shut down. "Well that is that," I thought, "on account of my carelessness, I am not fated to receive that holy object."
Imagine my amazement when, to my complete surprise, on my Saint's Day five years ago, Vsevolod Alexeyevitych Pavlov, one of the parishioners entrusted to me, presented to me — the unworthy one— the reliquary containing a relic of Holy Martyr St Victor!
One year ago, Irina Vladimirovna Barabanova, a colleague of Victor Alexandrovich Semyonov, who is a Deputy in the State Duma of the Russian Federation, began to attend our church in the Nation's capital. She told me about the new church of St Victor in Kotelniki. I told her of the relics of Holy Martyr St Victor that were in my care, and told her that I would be happy to give them to the church dedicated to the heavenly patron of both myself and Victor Alexandrovich.
Through God's grace and with the blessing of His Eminence, Very Most Reverend Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, this "little translation" of the relics of Holy Martyr St Victor the Warrior was scheduled to take place on the anniversary of his martyrdom, November 11/24.
On November 18 of this year, I took the reliquary containing the relic of Holy Martyr-Warrior St Victor of Damascus to Russia. The trip my matushka and I took to Russia was arranged by the learned scientist, agronomist, and State Duma Deputy, Victor Alexandrovich Semyonov, principal trustee of the church.
On November 23, on the eve of the Day of Commemoration of St Victor, the reliquary with his most-precious remains, as well as a copy of the Montreal Myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, also celebrated on November 24 along with St Victor, were solemnly greeted at the entrance of the church in Kotelniki byActing Rector Priest Dionysiy and the congregation. During the polyeleos at the Vigil Service, the relics were brought out of the altar for veneration by the flock.
The next day, on which, as it turned out, the Patronal Feast was first celebrated in the new church, there was a festal Divine Liturgy. The principal celebrant was Abbot Bartholomew of the Nikolo-Ugresh Monastery. Concelebrating were Priest Dionysiy, Acting Rector of the Church of Holy Martyr St Victor, several hieromonks of the Nikolo-Ugresh Monastery, and I a sinner; two deacons also served.
At the conclusion of the Liturgy, I was asked to speak. In talking about the translation of the relics of Holy Marty St Victor to Russia, I said in part:
"This is a gift made within the framework of the Russian Church, now one and united. Matushka Maria and I were born in Europe — she in France and I in Germany. As I child, I was taken to America. It is there that we live. It is there that we brought up our children, and are now bringing up our grandchildren. We are doing this in our native Russian language, and we are striving to preserve as much as possible our Orthodox values. Perhaps that is why, many years ago, I happened to receive remains of St Victor the Warrior of Damascus. For about twenty years, they were kept at home. When I heard that a church dedicated to my heavenly patron had been erected in the Moscow administrative district, and that its founders wanted to acquire a relic of the Saint for that church, I immediately decided, without a moment's hesitation, that I had to give these relics to the Parish of St Victor.
In an Orthodox Christian's life, there is no such thing as coincidence. For so many years, I wondered about where these relics should go. Ultimately, the Lord Himself determined that they be at your church, and I am made inexpressibly happy by this event, by the fact that you have all gathered together to pray to our heavenly patron, and by the fact that he now is with you not only in spirit, that a relic of his body is now here in your church."
Further, I reminded the faithful that it was exactly 29 years ago, on November 29, 1982, the day of commemoration of the Holy Martyr St Victor the Warrior of Damascus, that in the apartment of Joseph Munoz-Cortes, an Orthodox Spaniard living in Montreal, a copy of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God painted on Mt Athos began to stream Myrrh. The ROCOR Synod determined that the Myrrh-streaming Icon should be celebrated annually on November 24, the day that great miracle began. In 1997, Brother Joseph was tortured to death in Athens, and the Icon hid itself from us. Many in ROCOR took this to be a punishment from God. In 2002, the bishops of the Church Abroad issued a special encyclical appealing for a concerted and repentant striving toward unity. In response to this appeal and the repentant prayers of so many people, the Lord showed His children "great mercy."...In Hawaii in 2007, the year in which the two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church achieved unification, an exact copy of the Montreal Icon began to stream Myrrh. Thus, the parishioners of the Church of Holy Marty St Victor are simultaneously celebrating two Feasts — the day of their heavenly patron, and of the miraculous Montreal Icon.
After the procession of the cross and moleben to St Victor, Abbot Bartholomew of the Holy Nikola-Ugresh Monastery presented our Washington Parish of St John the Baptist a painted icon of Venerable St Pimen of Ugresh.
At the Cross, each of the faithful received cotton from, and a paper icon of, the "Hawaiian" Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, and was anointed with Holy Myrrh.
Matushka and I were pleasantly surprised to learn that many of the people we met in Russia were well informed about the ascetic life of brother Joseph and about his martyrdom.
Following the Services, the clergy and guests went to the "White Dacha" Center, where they were offered an abundant festal meal.
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During the period November 18 to December 2, matushka and I took part in a number of noteworthy religious functions.
From October 20 to November 28, 2011, part of the belt of the Theotokos, which is kept in Vatopedi Monastery, visited Russia. Over the course of 29 days, a delegation of Athonite monks accompanying the belt took a specially chartered plane and visit 14 cities and the St Seraphim-Diveevo Convent. An estimated three million pilgrims venerated the belt.
During its one week in Moscow at the Church of Christ the Savior, about one million of the faithful, standing in line for many hours, venerated this Orthodox holy treasure. For the first time in 200 years, the belt had left the monastery on Mt. Athos to come to Russia, visiting several large cities from Siberia to Moscow. We took several opportunities to venerate this great holy treasure.
No political or sporting event had ever drawn so many people as did the translation of the belt of the Most-holy Theotokos. According to Patriarch Kirill, the many-kilometers-long lines of people to the belt were "a prayerful ascetic struggle, one that transformed people before your eyes."
On November 20, we prayed in the Church of the Holy Apostle St Thomas, where Priest Daniel Sisoyev served, and where he was killed two years ago. The same day, at Fr Daniel's grave in the Kuntsevo Cemetery, we took part in a solemn Panikhida on the second anniversary of his murder.
On November 28, the day the Belt of the Most-holy Theotokos left Moscow, we took part in the formal closing of a remarkable exhibition held at the State Historical Museum, "Mt Athos. Images of Holy Land."
Visitors were able to view a unique photo archive, collected through the efforts of ascetic monastics over the course of the last 30 years, and housed at the Simonopetra Monastery on Mt Athos. This was the first time that the photo archive had come to Russia.
Moreover, at the exhibition, one could touch - literally, not merely figuratively - the holy land of Mt Athos. Victor Alexandrovich Semyonov who had organized the exhibition (and who was responsible for building the Church of St Victor in Kotelniki), brought two tons of earth from Mt Athos, to create a 12-meter-high model of Mt Athos as part of the exhibition. Glass cubes of different heights, representing the topography of the Holy Mountain, were filled with light soil (from the peninsula) and dark soil (from the Moscow area).
The main attraction at the exhibition was a copy of the miraculous Iveron Icon of the Theotokos donated by Athonite monks in 1648 to Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich. It came to the exhibition from among the treasures kept by the Historical Museum.
The exhibition hall ceiling was decorated with a starry sky. Lights were arranged so as to simulate the appearance of the stars over Mt Athos on the eve of the Dormition of the Mother of God.
I recommend looking at the exhibition on the official internet website: http://www.gora-afon.ru/#/index
On November 29/30, we left for the town of Kineshma, where during the 1920’s and 1930’s, an awful time under the Soviet atheist regime, Holy Hierarch and Confessor St Basil (Preobrazhensky) performed his archpastoral service. To visit that town was dear to us, as in 1989 our Cathedral in Washington consecrated upon the relics of Holy Confessor St Basil of Kineshma.
Portions of his precious remains were given to me in 1988. That year I was in Russia as a correspondent for the radio station "Voice of America," covering events related to the celebration marking the Millennium — one thousand years since the Baptism of Russ'. A group of faithful gave me four pieces of the precious relics of Bp Basil of Kineshma, with a request that I take them to the USA and pass them on to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Gordonville, to the Synod of Bishops in New York, to Metropolitan Vitaly, and to our Cathedral in Washington.
Along the way to Kineshma, we visited the Convent of the Theotokos' Entry into the Temple. It is that monastery, in Ivanovo, that now houses the relics of the Holy Hierarch and Confessor.
In Kineshma, we met with Svetlana Yurievna Fokin, director of the "Charitable Foundation for the Preservation of the Heritage of Holy Hierarch St Basil, Bishop of Kineshma." Through the efforts of S. Yu. Fokin and her colleagues, in June of this year, reconstruction of memorial to Holy Hierarch St Basil — his home and the chapel next door — was begun. During those years of militant atheist rule, a club for Gospel studies was organized in this house. Bishop Basil would celebrate Divine Services and give pastoral instruction.
Svetlana Yurievna showed us a number of personal items that had belonged to the Holy Hierarch and that were in her care: his riassa, prayer rope, a service book, and other items. In my turn, from my home I brought and donated to the museum an account of the life of St Basil's life that I had taken out of the Soviet Union in 1988 and that was later published by Metropolitan Vitaly, as well as other materials related to the glorification of the New-Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in 1981.
Upon returning to Moscow from Kineshma, on November 30, 2011 at the SS Martha and Mary Convent/House of Mercy, I gave an online seminar on social work in our Diocese of Eastern America and New York, and on the benevolent Fund For Assistance of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The seminar, entitled "Social work of the Orthodox Church in the USA" was held as part of a distance-learning course of study organized by the Synodal Department of Church Charitable Activity and Social Service.
With God's help, on December 2, we returned to Washington.
Protopriest Victor Potapov