“Brothers Gathered at the Convent to Serve the Mother of God”
The tradition of making a procession of the cross with the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God "of the Sign” is 400 years old this year. The first such procession with the icon, which was discovered at the root of an elm tree, took place in 1618 by decree of the first Russian Tsar of the Romanov Dynasty, Mikhail Feodorovich, called “the Meek.” The traditions has never been interrupted—even during the godless days of Soviet rule, the faithful quietly came to the monastery with their own icons to venerate the image of the Mother of God. Today, the prayerful procession which starts at the Kursk-Root Hermitage and concludes at Znamensky Cathedral in Kursk, gathers tens of thousands of people. This year is the tenth anniversary of the Kursk Icon being brought from America by a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to participate in the procession.
2009: Dreams Come True
Interview with Hegumen Serafim (Kotelnikov), Prior of Kursk-Root Hermitage of the Mother of God.
-Fr Serafim, do you remember how the icon was first brought back to its historic homeland, and what was the atmosphere among the brethren?
I remember well that spiritual celebration, a great event for the monastery, the Kursk land and all of Russia. But I will start at another point. When we opened our monastery in 1989 after it was returned to the Kursk Diocese, the Ruling Bishop at the time, Vladyka Yuvenaly (Tarasov) recruited some very experienced and wise monastic clergymen. There were hegumens, archimandrites, and schema-archimandrites. The monks gathered at the monastery to serve the Mother of God. They all prayed that it be revealed to them if the icon of the Mother of God will return to its home, having been taken abroad after the Civil War, and becoming the main holy relic of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, or not. One of the brethren had a vision that when the monastery’s Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God would be rebuilt, the holy icon would visit. In 2009, this vision came true. It took 20 years to renovate the monastery, but the architectural reconstruction of the cathedral took place fairly quickly—in only three years, which the entire world contributed to. Money came from the federal and regional budgets, and a great many people, from volunteer groups collecting donations to private individuals, and the cathedral is now bright, finely articulated and magnificent.
I must point out one fact: at some time before this celebration, an agreement was reached with archpastors of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: if the monastery’s cathedral would be rebuilt, they would bring the miracle-working icon for its consecration.
Yes, this was one of the main conditions. The monks of Kursk-Root Hermitage prayed in 1990, and the revelation given to them was manifested in 2009. The crowning of all our efforts and hopes took place in September of that year. We felt such piety and trembling: the Lord, by the prayers of Metropolitan German of Kursk and Rylsk and the first brethren of the renascent monastery, performed a miracle! For the first time after 90 years abroad, our main icon was brought to the Kursk land. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, who accompanied it from Moscow, said during the consecration that he was surprised to see such a grand cathedral in the provinces. He also said that in our days, churches are not built from wealth, not from an overabundance of means, they are reestablished during times of crisis and economic instability. Nothing, said His Holiness, can stop the will of our people in recreating holy sites, for through these efforts spiritual life of the people is renewed and the heavenly is bound to the earthly.
What spiritual joy and elation Patriarch Kirill experienced at the beginning of his patriarchal visit when he saw the entire courtyard in Kursk filled with people holding flowers, lit candles, thousands kneeling and weeping with joy!
-Batushka, you became one of the youngest priors in a Russian monastery. At the age of 29, in the rank of hegumen, you were appointed to head the Kursk-Root Hermitage. But in 2009, what rank did you hold and what obediences did you have in preparation for the great event?
At the time I was a hierodeacon, I prepared the cycle of services, and before the long-awaited arrival of the miraculous icon and the visit of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I was tasked with preparing the interior of the cathedral for its consecration. I had to prepare the floral decorations; the other monks helped me, as well as florists from Moscow and local experts. The flowers were brought in an enormous van, and they were used to decorate the cathedrals in Kursk and the monastery. We made a path of flowers from the central entrance to the “kiot of the Mother of God,” as Metropolitan German, the Abbot of the monastery, called it.
-Weren’t you exhausted?
We hadn’t slept in three days. We had to prepare the vestments for the consecration ritual, and the liturgical items. Obviously, we had a lot of help, and with God’s help everything was made ready in time. Though exhausted, it was a grace-filled, joyous exhaustion. The greeting of the Kursk Icon was very ceremonious and prayerful, as were the consecration of the cathedral and the procession of the cross. We deem in Divine Providence that the 10th anniversary of the visit of the icon at the end of September was also the 400th anniversary since the first procession.
-Now you greet the miracle-working icon as the prior of this ancient monastery. How do you feel about that?
My feelings are the same: piety and trepidation. I must say that our brethren are a close-knit community. When we have a meeting, we distribute responsibilities equally. Over the last 10 years, with Divine aid, we have developed a specific plan to make sure the greeting of the icon always go smoothly. As the prior, I thought to myself: whenever some holy icon visits, there is disorder, commotion, quarrels, but when it arrives in the cathedral, we know that everything will go according to the wishes of the Queen of Heaven. Thousands of pilgrims, trapeza luncheons, but there is an abundance of everything, our mood is elevated. My troubles are eased knowing that the Queen of Heaven takes everything under Her veil. I make this comparison: when a cloud blocks the sun, one’s mood sinks. When it passes and the sun reappears, sunlight floods the world. It immediately become warm and happy. The same with the icon. In our monastery, everything is going well, there is Divine grace here, and yet in the presence of the Kursk-Root Icon, grace is particularly abundant for all who come with love and faith to the Mother of God. We feel the sunlight!