10 December 2009

'Rejoice, blessed directress!'—The Kursk-Root Icon

Today, 27 November on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the Kursk-Root Icon of the Sign, the ‘Directress’ of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. As a faithful sheep in the flock of the Russian Church Abroad, the veneration of the Kursk-Root Icon is very dear to my heart. One can read a detailed account of the icon’s history reproduced from Orthodox Life here, at the website of Bishop Alexander of blessed memory, and another by Fr Andrew Philips here. I shall offer a brief account taken from the website of the Sourozh Diocese:

The Kursk Root icon of the Mother of God is one of the most ancient of the Russian Church. At the time of the Tatar invasion in the thirteenth century, when the whole of the Russian population was suffering extreme distress, in the neighbourhood of the town of Kursk which had been ravaged by the horde of Batu, this icon was discovered by a certain hunter. It was lying among the roots of a tree (hence the appellation ‘Root’), face to the ground. The newly discovered depiction was similar to the ‘Znamenie’ (Sign) icon.

It was here that the first miracle occurred. As soon as the hunter picked up the icon, a spring of pure water broke forth in the very place where the icon had lain. The finding of the icon took place in 1259. The hunter built a small wooden chapel at the site of the discovery and there he placed the icon of the Mother of God.

Soon the inhabitants of the nearby town of Rylsk got to know about this. They began to visit the site to venerate the new holy object. The fame of the icon became so widespread that in 1597 a new church was built at the site of the discovery and the Kursk Root Hermitage was founded by the command of Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich.

The special help of the Mother of God through this icon is connected with important events in Russian history: the war of liberation of the Russian people during the Polish and Lithuanian invasion in 1612; and the Patriotic War in 1812. Many copies of this icon were made and these too were glorified.

Under the protection of the Kursk icon the Russian people overcame the effects of famine during the reign of Tsar Boris Godunov and repelled the incursions of the Crimean Tatars, the Lithuanians and the Poles. Over the course of centuries the icon was the protector and defender of the land of Kursk. In 1919 the wonderworking Sign icon was removed to Serbia. Since 1957 it has been in the Synodal Cathedral of the Mother of God of the Sign belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in New York. It is rightly called the Directress of the Russian diaspora.

According to Fr Alexey Young, now Hieromonk Ambrose (The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia: A History & Chronology [San Bernardino, CA: The Borgo Press, 1993], pp. 42-3):

This 700-year-old miracle-working icon had played a significant role in Russian history, but since the formation of the Church Outside Russia, it had been the patron icon or ‘Directress’ of the Synod of Bishops, presiding over every sobor. To this day, bishops are consecrated before it, metropolitans die in its presence, and new ones are chosen and enthroned before it. Although its permanent home is at the Synod Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign in New York City, it often travels to other dioceses, parishes, and even private homes, where it continues to comfort and console the flock in the ‘wilderness’.

The icon has visited our parish here in Oklahoma City a few times (here are some photos from the visit in 2005). When I venerate it, one of the things I often recall with awe is that the great St Seraphim of Sarov was healed as a young boy through venerating this icon (see Little Russian Philokalia, Vol. 1: St Seraphim of Sarov, trans. Hieromonk Seraphim [Rose] [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996], p. 13). More recently, a close friend of mine and fellow parishioner received the means to undergo an expensive surgery to save his eyesight just after he venerated the icon.

In conclusion, here are Ekos 1 and Kontakion 10 of the lovely ‘Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos Before Her Wonderworking Icon Known as The Kursk Root Icon of the Sign’ (Book of Akathists to Our Saviour, the Mother of God, & Various Saints [Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1994], pp. 177-8, 188):

Ekos 1

The angels marveled, beholding Thee going before us in Thine icon, as in a pillar of fire, in our great exodus from a land enslaved by the iniquitous, O Lady. For it is not Moses, but Thee Thyself Whom we have as a guide in our sorrowful journey. Wherefore, we cry out to Thee in gratitude:

Rejoice, blessed directress!
Rejoice, Mother of the true Way!
Rejoice, Thou that dost accompany us through the desert of this world!
Rejoice, Thou that most gloriously dost vanquish the spiritual Amalek!
Rejoice, Thou that dost gush forth springs of Grace from Thine icon!
Rejoice, Thou that engravest the law of Thy Son, Christ our God, on the tablets of our hearts!
Rejoice, Grace-bearing quenching of the heat of burning passions!
Rejoice, most powerful strengthening of the disabled!
Rejoice, most peaceful sweetening of troubled hearts!
Rejoice, divine comfort of wanderers and orphans!
Rejoice, Thou that preparest the promised land for us!
Rejoice, Thou that openest the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem unto us!
Rejoice, O Lady, Who dost ever reveal unto the world signs of Thy mercy!

Kontakion 10

Pray Thou fervently that the world be saved, O Theotokos, for it requireth Thine aid, the snares of the evil one being spread over all the face of the earth, the nations raging and storms of temptations rising up against the Church of God. Wherefore, as once in Cana of Galilee, speak Thou a word to Thy Son and God, that He transform the water of temptations and sorrows into the wine of compunction and divine gladness, that we may continually chant unto Him: Alleluia!


orrologion said...

I've venerated this icon numerous times. Last year my infant son and I did so and received prosphora from then Fr. John Shaw on the eve of his consecration as Bp. Jerome. I received a blessing during Vigil for this feast at Synod from then Met. Vitaly, as well.

One question no one has ever been able to answer for me - and which is, I hope, logismoic enough for you :) - is about the prophets surrounding the Theotokos in this icon. First, which prophets are depicted? Second, what portions of their prophecies are they holding? I have been told they represent prophesies of the Virgin and the Virgin birth, the Incarnation, but the details are nowhere listed (and I don't read Slavonic to tell on my own).

Incidentally, Vigil for this feast worried me. We go to a Greek church most of the time, and a traditional OCA church a few other times. I got my son to venerate the icon and a few of the relics of the saints at Synod (e.g., St, Elizabeth the New Martyr, secondary relics of Sts Xenia of Petersburg and John of Kronstadt), but he then got very upset and started crying. I would step outside, and he would stop crying. I would step into the nave and he would start again. I was worried I had begotten a grecophile and a russophobe. Thank goodness, he has since been able to participate in Russian worship. Whew.

aaronandbrighid said...

Christopher> Actually I think that is a very Logismoic question, and in fact, I really should have addressed it in the post, shouldn't I? I'll have to do some research on the scrolls, but as for the Prophets, these are easy enough to read in the Slavonic inscriptions on my own copy of the icon. Starting from the top, on the left side are: Prophet King David, Prophet Moses, Prophet Isaiah, & Prophet Gideon. Starting from the top on the right are: Prophet King Solomon, Prophet Daniel, Prophet Jeremiah, & Prophet Elijah. At the very bottom is Prophet Avvakum (Habbakuk).

That is a relief to hear about your son. Of course, I myself am approaching Grecophilia these days, but I remain sentimentally attached to all things Russian. It's ironic that while I was received through the Greek Church, at that time I was far more interested in the Russian Church, and now the situation has largely reversed! Of course, it's really Mt Athos & the monuments of Byzantium (like Osios Loukas) that attract me, and not really the Greek Church itself. But I do adore Byzantine chant to no end.

aaronandbrighid said...

I do believe King Solomon's scroll says 'Wisdom hath builded her house'!