THE STORY OF THE ANCIENT KURSK IKON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
That the grace of God is present in the world around us is clear to all believers, here in England as in all lands. Yet there are also special events which bring grace. Such are the special interventions of the Saints and in particular the Mother of God in human affairs. One special sign of the love of God for mankind, occurred through the miraculous appearance of the Kursk “Root” Ikon of the Mother of God over 700 years ago in Russia.
In the late thirteenth century Russia was devastated by the Tartars. Thus the site of the town of Kursk (300 miles south of Moscow) had become a wilderness. Now it happened one afternoon in September 1295 that a man out hunting there noticed an ikon lying face down at the root of a tree. Surprised, the hunter picked it up and saw that it was an image of the Mother of God of the Sign. From the place where the ikon had been picked up a clear spring of healing water gushed forth. This happened on the 8th September, the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God. With the help of friends the hunter built a small chapel and placed the newly-found ikon in it. When news of this spread, many people came to this chapel to venerate the ikon and pray about their sorrows and needs. The Mother of God healed all who came to her with faith.
A local prince, hearing of the ikon, demanded that it be brought to him. With great solemnity it was carried to the town gates and a huge crowd gathered to greet it. Only the prince was missing, since, lacking faith, he did not consider it necessary to greet the ikon myself and, for his impiety, was struck blind. Acknowledging his error, the prince ran out to meet the ikon and publicly confessed his sin. He was healed immediately and promised to build a church in honour of the Nativity of the Mother of God, which was done. However, it soon became obvious that it was not the will of the Mother of God that the ikon remain there. Each time it was in the new church, it was miraculously transported back to the now deserted chapel.
As the years passed, veneration of the Kursk Ikon of the Mother of God grew. Thus a pious local priest often used to visit the chapel and hold services there, especially on the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, the anniversary of the ikon’s discovery. In 1385 Tartars again invaded the area. Finding the chapel in the woods where the priest was praying, they tried to set fire to it. Three attempts to burn it down were made, but to no avail. The Tartars were sure that the priest was putting out the fire by some sort of magic. When the priest explained that the reason for their failure was the miraculous power of the ikon, the Tartars took the ikon from the chapel and chopped it in half. One part they threw into bushes nearby, the other they carried a mile deeper into the forest and threw away. Then they proceeded to burn down the chapel and took the priest prisoner.
While in captivity, the priest did not lose heart. He resisted the efforts of the Tartars to make him renounce his faith, relying on the prayers of the Mother of God: his prayers were not in vain. Once, while the priest was tending sheep and singing hymns to the Mother of God, a group of Orthodox Christians overheard him and, paying his ransom, they took him home.
At the first opportunity the priest began to search for the ikon. To his great joy he found both pieces, after much searching. Placing them side by side, he was amazed to see that they immediately grew together, leaving only a fine line where the split had been. He hurried to spread the news and the ikon was triumphantly returned to the church. Yet again it miraculously travelled back to the place of its discovery. This happened several times and it was decided to restore the chapel in the woods, where the ikon remained for some 200 years.
Its fame spread far and wide in Russia and it became known as the ‘Kursk Root Ikon’, as it had been found at the root of a tree. In 1597 it was solemnly brought to Moscow and met by a great multitude. The ikon was placed in a special gilt frame on which were depicted the Lord and the Old Testament prophets, holding scrolls in their hands with prophecies of the future conception and birth of Christ by the Holy Virgin Mary and prefigurations of the Most Holy Mother of God. Then the ikon was returned to Kursk and a large sum donated for a hermitage to be built on the site of its discovery. This was called the Kursk Root Hermitage.
On account of the dangers of renewed Tartar invasions, the ikon was transferred to the city of Kursk. There it remained until 1615. In its absence, in 1611, the Tartars completely destroyed the Hermitage. The ikon was then taken to Moscow for safekeeping. A year later Kursk itself was besieged, this time by Poles. The townsfolk prayed fervently to the Mother of God, vowing to build a monastery in honour of the miraculous Kursk Ikon in their city in case of victory. Their prayers were heard, for several townsfolk and captive Poles clearly saw the Mother of God with two radiant monks on top of the town wall. She sternly chased away the besiegers and as a result the siege was lifted. A monastery in honour of the ikon was built and the people of Kursk urgently pleaded for the return of the miraculous ikon, for it was still in Moscow. In 1618 the Tsar agreed and also the Kursk Root Hermitage was rebuilt.
Many pages of history are associated with the Kursk Ikon. Cossacks were blessed by it in 1676. By special decree copies of the miraculous ikon accompanied armies and in 1812 people prayed before such an ikon during the invasion of Russia.
The Kursk Ikon features in the life of the much loved Russian saint, St Seraphim of Sarov. He was born in Kursk in 1759. When he was nine years old, he was very sick and the doctors were quite unable to find a cure for his malaise. I happened that a religious procession carrying the Kursk Ikon was passing his family home. His mother took the child out to venerate the ikon and, through to solicitude of the Mother of God, he was cured.
In 1898 atheist revolutionaries tried to destroy the Kursk Ikon by placing a huge bomb in the Cathedral, where it was kept. They wanted the bomb to go off during the Vigil Service, thus killing many people. However, the bomb went off during the night instead. Worried monks ran to the church and were shocked at the devastation. The gilded canopy above the ikon was destroyed and the marble steps leading up to the ikon smashed. A massive cast iron door was torn off its hinges and thrown outside, where it had cracked an outside wall. All the windows were shattered. Yet, despite this, the ikon was untouched, even the glass in the frame was intact. The anarchists’ intention had been to ridicule the ikon, but in fact it was glorified all the more for this double miracle: the ikon had been preserved and no one had been hurt.
After the 1917 Revolution the Kursk Ikon was rescued from Russia by the leader of the White Russian army, the great General Wrangel. Surviving intact, and the ikon accompanied those Orthodox Russians who were fleeing the greatest persecution and martyrdom the world has ever seen, in which millions were slaughtered for their Faith. The ikon was carefully carried from place to place until 1927, when it was placed in Holy Trinity Church in Belgrade in Serbia.
During the Second World War Belgrade was bombed mercilessly. Whole quarters of the city were flattened and many were killed. Yet houses visited by the Kursk Ikon were miraculously spared. Air raids occurred during services, yet the Church of the Holy Trinity containing the miraculous ikon was safer than any air raid shelter.
After the Second World War the ikon was taken to Germany, where it remained for five years, comforting the Orthodox flock all over Western Europe, wearied by the tribulations of the War. Then it was taken to America. Initially it was kept at a hermitage, but later it was moved to the Cathedral of the Mother of God at the headquarters of the Synod of the Church outside Russia in New York City.
Today the Ikon is taken from Orthodox parish to parish all over the world and its fame is international. It is known for countless miracles, healings and for assistance in misfortunes. It is significant that St John the Wonderworker (of Shanghai & later of San Francisco, where his shrine of located in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow), who was recently canonised by the Orthodox Church, died before this very ikon. We should venerate this great and remarkable ikon! It is a well-spring of miraculous grace which is offered to us through God’s mercy by the Mother of our Lord, the Mother of all faithful Christians. For at least seven centuries faithful people have prayed before the miraculous Kursk Ikon of the Mother of God and received help according to their faith.
Preluare:Parintele Liviu Barbu si Parintele Andrew Bond
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