BISHOP NICHOLAS (OLHOVSKY): THE FIRST VISIT OF THE KURSK-ROOT ICON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD WAS A WONDROUS HISTORIC EVENT
The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates one of her most holy relics on November 27/December 10—the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God "of the Sign". This wondrous image, before which St Seraphim of Sarov, St John of Shanghai, General Mikhail Kutuzov and others worshiped, and heroes along with millions of people prayed, has been the Hodigitria, or Guide, of the Russian diaspora for a century now. General Wrangel and Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) took the icon with them as the departed Russia together with the last wave of emigres from Crimea in 1920, so that it would be a consolation in their unforeseeable life abroad.
Since then, the Kursk Icon has traveled throughout the world, wherever Russian believers live. But it returned to Russia for the first time after a long hiatus only in 2009.
Bishop Nicholas (Olhovsky) of Manhattan, who has for many years served as the caretaker of the holy icon of Kursk, accompanied it on the visit. He told Pravoslavie.ru about it, and about how the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Laurus (Skurla), prayed for Russia and strove to reconcile with the Moscow Patriarchate:
From the moment of the reconciliation of the two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church almost 15 years ago, we are in communion, our bishops participate in the Councils of Bishops in Moscow, some of them are invited to sessions of the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Still, one cannot help but note one other most important moment related to the unification of the Churches: now the Kursk-Root Icon visits Russia every year.
For the first time after almost 90 years of absence, the icon visited, and I was among the clerics who accompanied it during this pilgrimage. This wondrous historic event became possible thanks to the reconciliation within the Russian Church. Our Hodigitria had visited the entire Orthodox world, but it could only return to Russia, which it left in 1920, almost 90 years later, after the reunification of the two branches of the Church.
I remember well how all of us members of the delegation, and our brothers and sisters in Russia, were excited about the visit of such a holy image. We held joint prayers, common trepidation before the icon. Hundreds of thousands came to venerate the Mother of God, one felt the overall sense of endearment. I remember the faith with which the people of God approached the icon. It was very touching.
Since then the icon has visited Russia annually, until 2020, when the pandemic forced us to change plans. God willing, we hope to resume these pilgrimages next year, but the decision on concrete scheduling will be made later.
Actually, another trip to Russia was for me personally important. In 2001, for the first time I visited the homeland of my ancestors. Then I was part of a small pilgrimage led by Vladyka Laurus.
We visited Moscow, Petrozavodsk and Solovki. Vladyka was traveling incognito, quietly visiting these places. He was dressed in a cassock and wore a simple cross, like a common priest. People probably understood that this was a bishop, but no one troubled us.
In Solovki we stayed for 2-3 days in a hotel, prayed at the monastery, visited Anzer Island, where many New Martyrs met their end.
Of course, I was overwhelmed with impressions and new experiences, and I felt within myself a great love for the Russian people. Though I was born and raised in America, my parents reared me to be Russian: the faith, culture, language, traditions—everything was Russian. That is why my first trip to our Homeland made such a powerful impression on me. In my heart and soul I sensed that I was finally in Russia.
A few years later, in May, 2004, I accompanied Vladyka Laurus during his first official visit to Russia. It was very important that the invitation come from the Moscow Patriarchate. Vladyka did not go alone, but with other bishops, priests, protodeacons and deacons of our Church; it was a big delegation. He was happy to pray at sites that are dear to any Russian person. Over the course of two weeks, we were able to visit Moscow, St Petersburg, Kursk, Ekaterinburg and other wonderful cities. We saw how the Church was being born again. We didn’t just feel it, we saw it before our very eyes. For us it was time to become acquainted with Russia and her Church.
Maybe I didn’t understand quite well enough how important this was for the Church. But now I thank God for the fact that He gave me the opportunity to participate in the process of reunification. I remember the love with which we were received everywhere, and we responded in kind. We had a common understanding that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
I think that Vladyka Laurus prayed for Russia his entire life, especially when he became a bishop. He performed divine services with dignity, as a hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, and prayed that the two branches of one Church would make peace and support each other, to celebrate services together, both in Russia and abroad. Everything he did in life he did with prayer.
Without a doubt, our Metropolitan, along with Patriarch Alexy II, were the major driving forces behind the reunification of the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR. I was a young deacon then, and of course could not offer advice to my bishop, but I fully supported Vladyka Laurus and prayed for him.
At the same time, he never undertook anything alone: all the key decisions he made were made by the Council or the Synod, and he took this seriously. Vladyka always discussed everything with his brother bishops, but the Synod or Council made all final decisions.
Vladyka Laurus always told me and other young people that despite our distance, we must love Russia, pray for Russia, preserve the Russian faith, culture, language, and pass it along to others. I think that this approach of his was very important, and for the Russian Church to once again be whole.
10 December 2021