On this day we venerate and celebrate the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God. This icon has an incredible history and has stood as a beacon of hope and healing and consolation for Orthodox people throughout many centuries.
It is unknown when the icon was originally created, but in the year 1295, in the region of Kursk, a hunter happened to notice an object lying on the ground next to the roots of a tree. He picked up the object and discovered that it was an icon of the Mother of God. The icon’s first recorded miracle took place right at that moment, for as the hunter picked up the icon, a spring of pure water began to flow from the place where the icon had rested.
The hunter constructed a small wooden chapel at the site where he had found the icon and placed the holy icon in reverence in this chapel. Residents of the surrounding areas soon began to visit the little chapel and news of miraculous healings began to spread forth. Prince Vasily Shemyaka of Rylsk ordered that the icon be brought to the city of Rylsk and the icon was indeed brought there in solemn procession. The prince himself declined to attend the festivities welcoming the holy icon and was immediately struck with blindness. He repented and his eyesight was immediately restored. In light of this miracle, he constructed a large church in honor of the Nativity of the Theotokos and enshrined the Kursk icon there.
But something interesting began to happen… The icon mysteriously vanished from the newly constructed church and was discovered back at the small chapel where she had originally been discovered. Several times, the people brought the icon back to the city church and each time, she would disappear, only to be found at the small chapel at the roots of the tree where she was discovered. The people finally submitted to the clear will of the Mother of God and left her there.
In the year 1383, the province of Kursk was invaded by the Tartars. They attempted to set fire to the chapel where the icon was, but it refused to burn – even though they piled up fuel all around it. They accused the priest who was the guardian of the icon with sorcery, but he attributed the miracle to the Mother of God and her icon. They then ceased upon the icon and cut it in two, casting the pieces off to two sides. The chapel then did indeed catch fire and they carried the priest, Fr Bogolev, off as a prisoner.
Throughout his captivity, Fr Bogolev held firm to his faith and prayed daily to the Mother of God. When he was freed, he went straight away to the site where the chapel had been and searched for the two pieces of the icon. He found them and, placing the two sides together, they miraculously fused back into one piece.
Throughout the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the Kursk Icon has inspired, consoled, and been the conduit of healing for thousands of people throughout the Russian land. St Seraphim of Sarov, as a child, was healed through the intercessions of the Mother of God in her Kursk Icon.
The miracles associated with this icon are too numerous to recount in a short homily such as this. Throughout tumultuous times, the Kursk icon has stood firm… there have been many occasions where the enemies of God have tried to destroy the icon – which they saw as a symbol of the people’s faith in God. In 1898, a group of anarchists, attempted to blow it up with a bomb. The bomb went off and brought tremendous destruction to the church where the icon resided. Windows were blown out, huge metal candlestands were hurled into the walls, a door of cast iron was knocked off its hinges and smashed against the wall. And, there amid all this chaos and destruction, the icon of the Mother of God remained intact and even the glass within the frame was unharmed. In attempting to destroy the icon, the anarchists only brought greater glory to it and further strengthened the faith of the people!
In the 20th century, as chaos and murder fell upon the Russian land, the icon accompanied Bishop Theophan of Kursk and others fleeing the Bolsheviks. The icon was brought to Serbia, where the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia resided. Then it was taken to Munich and finally brought to the USA, where a hermitage was constructed in her honor… becoming her place of residence until today. Throughout those war torn years of the 20th century, the icon would be brought to pious Orthodox souls for their consolations and encouragement. I have spoken with many people who remember the Kursk Icon being present in Europe during World War II. Buildings and churches would be bombed and devastated, but wherever the icon was, nothing would be touched.
The Kursk Icon has been the Protectress and Patroness of the Russian Church Outside of Russia for all these many years. It is a miraculous and humbling thing to stand before this icon, which has witnessed and stood as a beacon through so many centuries. I remember when I was a priest in Los Angeles, I was blessing homes with this icon and had the great fortune of having the icon at my home over night. I placed it in honor in the icon corner in my bedroom and spent a sleepless night sitting up in prayer and awe – to realize that this holy object had been around since the 13th century, that great saints and kings had prayed before it, that countless miracles have shone forth from it – and there it stood in my home! I was awestruck to have this tangible miracle right before me.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is indeed a great consolation to have such obvious miracles in our life. But what can we say of the countless blessings and miracles that surround us throughout our lives… most of which we don’t even see, let alone appreciate. May God grant that the eyes of our soul are opened to recognize the care and intercession of Christ, His Most Pure Mother, and of all the saints. Saint Nectarios of Aegina once said: ‘Miracles are a consequence of the Creator’s love for His creatures.’ Christ assures us of the steadfast love of God which is everywhere present and fills all things… may we rejoice in this greatest miracle of all.