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THE KURSK-ROOT ICON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
“OF THE SIGN” TO VISIT RUSSIA

(Kurskaya byl’ [Kursk Life], No. 7, July 2009)

The Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, the main holy icon of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, was brought out of Russia in 1920. At the present time it is kept in the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign of the Russian Church Abroad in New York City. The negotiations over bringing it to Russia began with Schema-Metropolitan Yuvenaly (formerly of Kursk and Ryl’sk). It was he who sent a letter with this request to Metropolitan Vitaly. In 2007, when the two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church unified, the possibility of the icon visiting the place it was discovered arose once again. In May, 2007, during the visit to Kursk by Metropolitan Laurus of Eastern America and New York, Primate of the Russian Church Abroad, the topic of a visit by the miracle-working icon was also broached. Multiple meetings and discussions were then held in Moscow, including one during the Pomestny Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church. And on May 5, 2009, the consent, in principle, was granted by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to bring the Kursk-Root Icon to Russia.

A working group was appointed to prepare the icon’s visit, headed by Protopriest Serafim Gan. “I thank God that we have the opportunity to fulfill the last wish of Vladyka Laurus, who gave his blessing for this great historic deed,” said Fr Serafim.

One of the conditions of bringing the miraculous image was the restoration of the main Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God in Kursk-Root Hermitage. Construction began two years ago, and should be completed by the end of August. “The church was built in record time: in June 2007, we were laying the foundation stone, and now we have a beautiful, magnificent cathedral. This project is the crowning glory of our common labors,” said Vladyka German.

One other condition for the Kursk-Root Icon’s visit to Russia was that guarantees be in place for its safety and for its expedient return to the US. “This is in no way a symptom of mistrust, simply pastoral caution. This is also to calm the fears of those who doubt the need for the unity of the two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church and the visit of the icon to Russia,” noted Fr Serafim.

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia already provided his personal guarantee. During a meeting of the Benevolent Council in June, representatives of the Russian Church Abroad also received written guarantees from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, and one signed by Georgy Sergeevich Poltavchenko, Representative of the Russian President in the Central Federal District. “We already have experience in bringing great Orthodox holy relics to Russian territory for their veneration by millions of Russians. For instance, we brought the right hand of St Mary Magdalene, Equal-to-the-Apostles, from Simonopetra Monastery on Mt Athos; over two million people venerated those relics. The reliquary traveled throughout the country, all the way to the Ural Mountains, and there were no problems. That is thanks to one thing: the Russian people not only know how to venerate Orthodox relics but how to carefully preserve them,” said Mr Poltavchenko as he presented the guarantees.

The Kursk-Root Icon is scheduled to arrive in Russia on September 12. During the course of ten days, the icon will travel throughout Moscow, and then, on September 23, it will be brought to the lands of Kursk by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Awaiting it will be a procession of the cross, assembled on Perekalsky Square, which will then proceed together with the icon to Znamensky Cathedral, where a moleben will be performed. Then His Holiness will meet with the clergymen of the Kursk Diocese and the region’s political leaders. On September 24, the icon will be brought to Kursk-Root Hermitage for the great consecration of the restored Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God. For almost two days, the icon will be at the site of its first finding, after which it will go back to Kursk, where everyone who wishes will have the opportunity to venerate it.

Vladyka German requested that Fr Serafim investigate the possibility of delaying the return of the icon another 3-4 days, since all those who wish to see the icon may not have the opportunity. Fr Serafim in turn promised to relay this request to the First Hierarch of ROCOR. (Since then, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion gave their blessing for the icon to be returned to the US on October 2—ed.)

The meeting of the Benevolent Council concluded with confirmation of a plan for the celebrations surrounding the icon’s visit, the composition of the organizing committee and the preparations for His Holiness’ visit to Kursk.

Orthodox Christians have long awaited the time when the miracle-working icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign” would visit the Russian land and the site of its historic discovery, Kursk-Root Hermitage. And now, by Divine mercy, this September, the holy monastery, restored to its former glory, will welcome the image of the Queen of Heaven. Let us appeal to the Most-Holy Mother of God for her intercession and protection, that She pray for the preservation of our land from all sorrows and dangers, and hope that this truly historic event will serve to further strengthen the unity and strength of the people in the Holy Orthodox Christian faith.

Svetlana Morozova