The glorious journey of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign" within the city of Norwich, East Anglia, UK on the 9-10 April, 2019
Natasha opened the door of her home in Hellesdon, Norwich, and froze in amazement. Archpriest Andrew Phillips (rector of the Church of St John of Shanghai in Colchester, England) with his family stood on her doorstep holding an icon in his hands. Thus began the glorious journey of the miraculous Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God within Norwich.
Natasha was the first parishioner of the Church of St Alexander Nevsky in Norwich to have the good fortune to see this icon and pray before it. For just an hour the icon was in her house and, according to Natasha, she will never forget this. Then the icon went to its main destination - the Russian Orthodox church of St Alexander Nevsky in Norwich (http://www.norwichorthodoxchch.org.uk/).
Kleri Balcer: I am talking to Father Spasimir Ivanov, the priest of this church, after the holy icon left the church. He seems to me very tired, but unusually spirited, as if a special enlightment emanates from him. Soon I will understand why.
K.B.: Father Spasimir, the Kursk-Root Icon "of the Sign" visited your parish on the 9th and 10th of April. Please tell us how it was and how you feel now after the holy icon left the church.
Father Spasimir: Joy, indescribable joy that we all experienced. It seems that somehow our church has changed - it has become more beautiful and lighter. Seeing this joy the meaning of my ministry becomes more clear.
K.B.: And how did it happen that such a great miracle-working icon visited your church in Norwich?
F.S.: This icon is known for traveling around the world, visiting all the dioceses, all the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad.
This year, this honour fell on the churches of Great Britain.
We have a small and young parish .We served the first Divine Liturgy on the 10th of September, 2016. In May 2017, our parish was visited by Bishop Irenei of Richmond and Western Europe together with the Iberian Hawaiian Icon of the Mother of God. Father Andrew performed the service and now again, thanks to the invaluable assistance of Father Andrew, our church was officially included in the list of churches that the Kursk Icon would visit.
K.B.: When did you hear about this event?
F.S.: I found out about this in early March.
K.B.: How did you receive this news?
F.S.: With indescribable joy. I want to say that I was officially honoured to be personally responsible for the icon, to receive it, to take care of it for two days and then pass it on to the next priest.
K.B.: Can you describe in more detail the path of the icon in Norwich?
F.S.: Yes, as I said, Father Andrew brought the icon to Norwich. On the way, he stopped at Natasha and David's home.
K.B.: Yes, she told me about it.
F.S.: Shortly before 6 pm, he brought the icon to the church. We waited impatiently. The church was in festive attire - ready for a meeting with the Great Guest. We bowed to her and began a prayer with akathist reading.
K.B.: Is that all?
F.S.: Of course not. After the service, people did not want to go home, they continued talking, shared their impressions and approached the icon again and again. We were pleasantly surprised how many people came to the church, including our parishioners and believers from all over the region. Fifteen people came from Cambridge. Here you were Orthodox people from different countries: Greece, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, England of course and even from America. The church could not accommodate all the people. We had to make room. Some of them could not enter and stood outside the door. There were people of different professions and ages.
K.B.: But surely not everyone could come?
F.S. Of course not. But the icon came to them. That evening I brought it to several young families. One family recently given birth to a baby Emma. In the other - a young woman is waiting for a child.
Then we returned home, prepared a festive dinner, read prayers and akathist in front of the icon. We spent the whole night in a vigil so as not to leave the icon alone.
The next morning at the church, people were already expecting a miraculous image, although the service was scheduled for 6 pm. In total, there were 48 hours of uninterrupted vigil and prayer, 48 hours of light and joy! Despite the fact that these were cold, cloudy days, the sun did not set for us all this time. In prayers before the icon, I read for blessing more than 2,000 names of people and some parishes of England, Romania, Belarus, Israel and other countries. I am proud and happy that I could do it. In the evening I again brought the icon to another young family: the husband Alexander is Croatian , the wife Eugenia is from Moscow.
K.B.: Yes, now I understand why you are so tired.
F.S.: On Thursday, the icon was given to Deacon Mark, but its mercy and grace remained forever in the church. Thank God for everything! With God's help and the hard work of our parishioners, we already have everything that is necessary for our proper existence. Not long ago, my wife, despite all the difficulties of transportation, brought from Ukraine a baptismal font that weighs more than 90 kg. Icons, candlesticks - all church utensils brought from Kiev-Pechersk Lavra in Ukraine. We have a stock of 6000 candles. For our altar, we purchased cloth and sewed robes. Do you see these red silk fabric double sided curtains in front of the altar? All this is done by the hands of our parishioners. And everything that I am talking about and showing you has been done only in a year. We have many hopes and plans that we hope to accomplish with God's help.
May God grant our church with the visit of the bishop himself, with other holy icons, sacred relics.
K.B.: And how do you feel yourself after the icon visited your church, your home?
F.S.: One word: Grace. This was such a heavenly joy. The icon was two nights in our house. Can you imagine: to be in the presence of the icon for two nights! We know how people in Russia await to worship it for hours and days. For thousands of people it remains a dream. And we are in England, in a small parish...
The icon itself decided to come to us. I understand and accept the visit of the icon, as the great mercy of God, as a great sign that we exist and work. After all, there is nothing accidental, everything happens according to the will of God.
Yes. Many would like to see it, but the icon came to us.
The Kursk Icon proved its greatness and ability to work wonders many times. They accompany all its centuries-old history. It disappeared many times and many times miraculously returned to us. The icon left Russia in 1920. Since that time, all Orthodox people who left Russia still consider the icon to be their patroness to this day. And somehow in some incredible way the holy icon shows the way to many people.
As for me personally, during the time when the icon stayed with us all the small, but essential for me, dreams came true right before my eyes. This is incredible!
K.B.: Thank you Father Spasimir, thank you, I say, and I continue to think about the icon, about these two wonderful days in Norwich.
But of course, we, modern people, do we really believe in miracles?
Well, what is a miracle?
Christina is a young woman from Lithuania. For example, she thinks that a part of the icon will stay with her forever. That when she becomes a grandmother, she will pass to her grandchildren the memory of this most important day of her life.
Oksana from Ukraine is confident that the icon has helped her overcome a long and unexplained illness.
The English Orthodox, William, Andrew and Joe, found that visiting the icon confirms their belief that the Orthodox religion is the beginning of all religions and that through it they return to the source, to their roots.
The Bulgarian Veselin feels that the icon helps his son returns alive and well from his North Pole expedition.
Yes, everyone has their own personal miracle.
But it seems to me that the most important thing is that the icon gathered in this small parish many people of different nationalities, made them brothers and sisters, made them one family. It showed them the way how to live with love and in peace. Despite the fact that they did not have a common language between them, (some did not know Russian, others did not speak English), the language of love was well understood. They will never forget it. For them, the icon was not only a guide. It became our Lady of unification in the name of goodness and love.
Is it not one of the most wonderful miracles of them all?