In keeping with an annual tradition in the church life of the village, the wonder working Vladimir Mother of God Icon was brought to my parish. We met the Heavenly Queen with a procession and carried her about the village. Every single dwelling, even the poorest hut, was visited by the Mistress of Creation. In each house, before Her holy face, I served a molieben. Everyone in the village had prepared beforehand to meet the wonder working Icon; they had tidied up and cleaned, and all were decked out in their finest, whitest and brightest. For each family the day of the Icon's visit was a day of festal joy.
This year, just prior to the Icon's arrival, there bad been a fire in the village. Seven homes had been totally consumed, leaving only their smoke-blackened stoves standing as lonely survivors.
Quietly, as though floating on airy spring clouds, the Icon was carried from house to house, accompanied by a large crowd of people suffused with happiness. When the procession neared the desolate, charred remains of the recent conflagration, I presumed we would simply pass them by, thinking that no one would be interested in prayess there now, I was wrong. Like every other household in the village, the former inhabitants of the fire-ravaged dwellings were there waiting for the Most Holy Mother of God. In the site of each ruined cottage stood a table covered with a white cloth on which had been set bread and salt [according to the custom of hospitality]. Even in the midst of their trial, these people had prepared from the fullness of their hearts to receive the Mother of God in whom they placed their hope.
On these cinder plots I served, as everywhere else, a molieben with an akathist and blessing with water. As the victims of the fire stood on their knees and prayed, in my spirit I sensed their prayers ascend to heaven. And I saw then something rare to behold: the faces of these unfortunate ones shone with certain faith and a meek and patient hope; the tears they shed were not tears of grief, but tears of joyful expectation.
The day was bright with a soft, azure crystal sky and an ineffable holiness, mercifully looking down upon those engrossed in prayer was their constant and faithful Mediatress. And each soul present before Her experienced an imperturbable joy.
(Translated from "The Reminiscences of a Priest" in Nadezhda No. 13; Possev, 1986)
Notes of a
The patron icon or "Directress" of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is the Kursk Mother of God, This miracle-working "Icon of the Sign" has a recorded history of 700 years (see OA #55), but is probably older. Permeated with the prayers and tears of countless generations, the Icon bears a consoling grace experienced by many fortunate to come in contact with it. For centuries it was an object of pious pilgrimage for people from all over Holy Russia. But for two generations, now, it is the Mother of God who-through this precious Icon--has gone on pilgrimage to her faithful children throughout the free world, Traveling ceaselessly to one parish after another, she is taken to the homes of parishioners and to the sick in hospitals, where special services of intercession are served.
In my own life, both as a layman (since 1970) and as a priest (since 1979), theKursk Icon has frequently appeared at critical moments of difficulty or times when important decisions had to be made, as if to say, "I, the Queen of Heaven, am always with my children, guarding, guiding, and comforting; I am the Directress," This is an experience many others have shared.
This fall I was privileged to be with the Icon for about ten days. It began in St. Louis at the parish of St. John Chrysostom, where a clergy conference for our diocese had been convened. All of our discussions and deliberations took place before this holy Icon, as did all divine services, including the moving tonsure of the pastor, Fr. Constantine, to the Small Schema (he is now Hieromonk Xallistos), In the days immediately following, the Mother of God continued to bless the parish through the tonsuring of two Readers and the investment of two women with the "apostlenik" (the monastic veil worn by female novices).
With the Icon at his side, we also received instruction from our Archpastor, Bishop Alypy, who reassured us that in spite of all the difficulties occurring throughout worldwide Orthodoxy. our Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad does not judge any other jurisdiction as being without grace or in heresy. This was, for us, an important clarification at a time of much confusion, disorder, and rumor,
From St. Louis, the Kursk Mother of God was brought to Colorado by Hieromonk Gregory of Dormition Skete. After a few days, during which the Mother of God presided over the Skete, the Icon came to our parish of All the Saints of Russia in Denver. Even before the Icon's arrival, many of us felt that the Mother of God would bring, through her Icon, an outpouring of blessings--and indeed, she did. From the moment the Icon arrived on Saturday, parishioners began to make quiet pilgrimages to the church to pray, to pour out their hearts, to spend some time alone in the divine tranquility and spiritual warmth that radiates from this Icon. Small groups came even late at night, in order to sing an akathist. During the regular vigil service that night and Divine Liturgy the next morning, it was as though the Mother of God herself served with us, majestically presiding, a great but loving Abbess.
In the course of five days Fr. John Ivanov (one of our deacons) and I were able to bring the Kursk Mother of God to no fewer than twenty-five homes where we witnessed, time after time, the age-old piety of Holy Russia still burning in the hearts of her offspring. More than once the Icon was greeted at the door by tears and prostrations, as old and young welcomed the Queen of Heaven with a humility and awe seldom encountered in this sophisticated and decadent world of ours.
I remember in particular visiting the home of two of the founding members of our parish. The husband was in his late 80's and had been in failing health for some time. As ill and feeble as he was, when we arrived he struggled to rise from his chair in his desire to show respect to the Mother of God. A few days later his long life, which had begun in Russia and had known much adversity and sorrow, came peacefully to its close, having been wonderfully blessed in its last days by this visit of the Mother of God.
At the end of our too-short time with the Icon, I was privileged to fly with it to Cleveland, its next stop. The Icon, which is quite heavy, never seemed lighter, nor a journey safer. And there, at our Saint Sergius Cathedral, as a guest of Bishop Alypy and the rector, Hieromonk Averky, I was present as the Mother of God again presided at a monastic tonsuring, Riassaphore-nun Paisia (Reid), a contributor to "Orthodox America," received the Small Schema from the hands of our Bishop just in front of this Icon of the Queen of the Heavenly Host, with the name Michaila (for Archangel Michael). There was not a dry eye in the cathedral. Clearly, the spiritual significance of all this was lost on no one.
The Holy Fathers say that there is a certain knowledge that is not to be found in books but only in direct experience, and which is capable of transforming one's whole being. Such knowledge warms the soul. To stand before a wonder working Icon such as the Kursk Motherof God--with all of one's being concentrated and gathered into a single, living, and focused prayer--is to ascend to such knowledge. To understand this from the Outside is impossible. But anyone who has had such an experience himself will agree that there is more greatness in the act of a weary, old lady laboriously making her way to church in order to heartfully venerate an icon, then there is in man setting foot on the moon.
Fr. Alexey Young[OA/_private/oabot.htm]