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A Holy Orthodox Icon of the Whole World
The following is an interview with Protopriest Serafim Gan, head of the Working Group of the visit of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God to Russia. 

From the Editors of Kurskaya Byl’ [Life of Kursk]: participating in the celebrations devoted to the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign,” and in the preparations by the Benevolent Council of the Restoration of the Men’s Monastery of the Nativity of the Most-Holy Mother of God “Kursk-Root Hermitage,” are representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: Protopriest Serafim Gan, Chancellor of the Synod of Bishops and Secretary of the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Head of the Working Group for the trip to Russia of the Kursk-Root Icon, Rector of St Seraphim Church in Sea Cliff, NY; and Priest Alexandre Antchoutine, Rector of Intercession Church in Glen Cove, NY, who is also in the Working Group. Fr Serafim answered a few questions for us: 

- Fr Serafim, today you participated in a procession of the cross, which for the first time included a copy of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign,” which began at “Znamensky” Men’s Monastery of Kursk and went to the Kursk-Root Hermitage of the Nativity of the Mother of God. What were your impressions? 

- My companion, Fr Alexandre Antchoutine, and I participated in this event for the first time. I was stunned and touched to the depths of my soul by the piety of the people of Kursk as they traveled the procession of the cross, their prayers, and the eager anticipation with which they await the arrival of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign.” Fr Alexandre and I were in tears as we walked in the procession, praying for the success of our common desire: the visit of the Icon.  

- You are active in preparing this historic event, so long awaited by us, the people of Kursk. Does this have any personal significance for you? 

At last May’s session of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the question of bringing the Hodigitria of the Russian Diaspora to Russia was decided, and a working group was appointed to prepare this historic visit. I was given the blessing to head this group. This is a great responsibility and a podvig of sorts, but I am happy that this miraculous image of the Mother of God of Kursk will make the trip, this holy icon that unifies us, the descendants of Russian emigres with our historic Homeland, our history, and  naturally with Whom it portrays, the Mother of God. I have a great deal of reverence for this icon, and it is dear to my heart: my heavenly protector was miraculously healed before the Kursk-Root Icon. Also, the Icon has manifested a great many miracles of which my parents and teachers told me. That is why we rejoice that it will visit its native land, the site of its miraculous finding. 

- Fr Serafim, you said that the Icon is very dear to you. Tell us what role the Icon played in your life.  

- I began to revere the Icon as a child, when I heard that St Seraphim of Sarov was healed in its presence. I studied all I could about its history, and when it would visit my parish, our diocese, I tried not to miss a single service performed before it. During such trips, the miraculous icon would often visit our home, where Protopriest Boris Kritzky, the keeper of the icon, would perform a moleben before it. It Belgrade, Fr Boris had been a subdeacon under His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galicia of blessed memory (+1936). Naturally, this elder of God, Fr Boris, told us of a great many instances of miraculous occurrences, of healings before the icon. I can tell you of one event in particular that just came to mind. 

When Fr Boris would come to San Francisco, where I grew up, he often stayed at the House of St Tikhon of Zadonsk, the former residence of St John (Maximovich). During one of these visits, my father drove him there late at night, when there was no one there, and unfortunately, they did not have keys, and all the doors were locked. Papa, jumping over the fence, tried all the windows and doors—they were locked, too. Fr Boris took the icon, made the sign of the cross with it before the door—and it opened! He calmly blessed my father said “good night.” My father could not get over what he had seen: everything was locked, they tried to make their way in, nothing worked—but after the door was blessed with the icon, it simply opened by itself! 

There were a great many such minor miracles, but also many great ones: people have been healed of serious illnesses such as cancer after praying with faith before this image.  

As a rule, whenever the icon visits a parish, it is also taken to the homes of parishioners and worshippers of the church, and also the ailing in local hospitals. People pour out their hearts before the Mother of God: their sorrows and joys, feelings of repentance and their supplications, after which many receive succor from the Queen of Heaven. 

I think that the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign” has colossal significance for the Russian Orthodox faithful in the diaspora, where they shared their difficult years of exile, unifying us all and continuing to do so today. She is the Hodigitria—the Guide—of the Russian emigration, because it was ever present in church and social life, blessing all sorts of celebrations and events, pointing the way for us as a true Hodigitria. It always bound us together with the Local Russian Orthodox Church. I feel that the people of Kursk must be proud that this is not only their icon, but, thanks to Divine Providence, it became an Orthodox icon for the whole world.  

- What significance to you see in the visit of the icon to Russia for all the people of Russia?  

This event will strengthen our unity, which is very important. We must remember that we are all children of the Russian Orthodox Church, and we must labor together to preserve the Orthodox Faith and carry the word of the Russian Orthodox Church and of our people to the whole world. The Lord extended His right hand, and Orthodoxy, thanks to the Russian people, shines throughout the world once again after the years of revolution, and this miracle is closely tied to the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign.” When I was growing up, I was always told that the main goals of the Russian emigration is not only to preserve Russian outside her borders, but to increase that great wealth which we received and to bring it back to our compatriots who were deprived of it during the years of godlessness. I hope that the arrival of the icon will give many people in Russia the opportunity to come into contact with the spirit, history and legacy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. 

The Russian people must unite, share with the world their ideals of piety and sanctity of Holy Russia, and to speak the great words “Let us attend!” to the world. I think that we are approaching this, and the forthcoming event will bring us yet closer.    

- Let us hope that the icon will arrive in time and strengthen the unity of all the people of Russia. We thank you for taking such active participation in this good work. May the Lord grant that the visit of the icon to the Russian land will be fruitful and would satisfy the goals set for it. 

And I hope, too, that this event will strengthen us in the emigration. Because today, Fr Alexandre and I sensed this great spiritual uplifting, and we hope that it touches the hearts of the members of the Russian Church Abroad. 

Elena Volobueva, Correspondent

Kurskaya Byl’, July 2009