St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
Kursk Icon

We were once “darkness” – that is, we were once immersed in the darkness of sin.  But now we have become “light” – that is, we are filled with the light of Christ.  This is how the Apostle Paul addresses us today.  He then tells us to “have no fellowship with the works of darkness” – that is, to separate ourselves from the way of life that is born out of sinfulness, out of indulging our self will and our passions which leads us away from Christ.  Rather we are instructed to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise…” and to be “filled with the Spirit”.  St Paul tells us all of this in order to point us toward the Christian life.  Here he gives us the first steps towards becoming saints.  We don’t become saints overnight, but rather it is the result of a lifelong process, a journey that we embark upon and then walk, step by step, every day of our lives.  We don’t become experts at this journey overnight, but instead we begin as infants, as little children, working to make each step and growing into it more and more each day.  St Paul points us in the right direction with his instruction here – avoid sin, the “works of darkness” and walk with wisdom (choosing our steps according to the life of the Church), being “filled with the Spirit” (making our choices so that we might “acquire the Holy Spirit” as St Seraphim says). 

 In this journey, we need guides, we need help, we need someone to follow.  And, of course, this need is anticipated and provided for by our Lord Himself. We have His life, related to us in the Gospels; but that isn’t all.  He also gives to us the choir of the saints, a whole multitude of guides, who, having themselves followed the path into the Kingdom of God, now show us the way to join them.  Pre-eminent among the saints is the Mother of God, the Ever-Virgin Mary.  She stands at the front of this choir and reaches out to each one of us as if she were in fact our own mother.  She relates to each of us, her children, in the way that is most beneficial to us.  This multi-faceted embrace is demonstrated by the fact that there are so many different icons of the Mother of God, each with its own character and “personality”.  Each different facet, each different image of the Mother of God is in its own right a guide, a helper on the path of salvation, a light going before us as we ourselves journey into the Light.

 Today we celebrate the feast of the Kursk/Root Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign.  This particular icon is also known as the “directress” or guide of the Russian Church in the Diaspora.  The Mother of God, through this miraculous icon, has kept her watch and hand on the helm of the Russian Church as it spread throughout the world and as it went through many difficulties and trials.  This icon has been with us as a sign and a pledge of the Mother of God’s unwavering love for her children and as beacon leading our Church through the difficult and sometimes indiscernible byways of the world.  The Mother of God is truly a beacon of light for us to follow through the darkness of the secular world.

 We have had the honor of having this miraculous and wonder working icon visit our parish in the past, and God-willing it will come again in the future.  Those who have been able to see and venerate this icon will always recall the sweet fragrance that always surrounds it; the sense of peace and the rich spiritual atmosphere that emanates from it.  This icon has been a consolation for the Orthodox people, both in Russia and abroad, for centuries.  When it was first revealed and discovered by a peasant in the forest near the city of Kursk, a healing spring burst forth from the ground in the place where the icon lay.  All who drank of this water received the blessing and help of God, both for the healing of physical illness, as well as the consolation of spiritual struggle.  To this day there is a constant stream of miracles, healings, and answers to prayer associated with this icon – too many to count or even to begin to recount here.

 During the time of the Tartar invasion, the icon was taken and seemingly destroyed, split in half by a Mongol axe and the halves thrown in opposite directions.  But still the Mother of God watched over her people and by her help the priest of the chapel where her icon was housed, who had been taken prisoner, was released.  And when he returned to the ruined Church, he searched for and found the two halves of the icon.  When he pressed them together, they grew together and bonded instantly and the icon miraculously became one – as if it had never been split apart (even today only a hairline crack in the wood where the icon was split can still be seen as a reminder of this miracle). 

 The anarchists sought to blow up the icon with a bomb – and although the Church was ruined by the blast and the heavy marble around the icon was shattered, the icon itself remained untouched.  When the red army was advancing, the icon always mysteriously and miraculously remained in the hands of the faithful Orthodox Christians and was brought by them out of the reach of the atheists by many miraculous circumstances.  During WWII the icon was in Berlin during the air raids, but the places where it was kept remained undamaged by the bombs despite the destruction around it.

 All of this serves as a constant reminder of the care and protection of the Mother of God which does not fail us and which cannot be overcome by any worldly power or event.  Just as the icon was split in two and then miraculously restored and rejoined, so also the Mother of God, through her prayers and care for her spiritual children guards us against schism and rupture in the Church.  Just as the icon survived the fury of bomb blasts and explosions, so also the Mother of God is not deterred by the violence of the world, the fury of our passions and the forces of the evil one, but she is always with us, guiding us, protecting us and praying for us through every trial and tribulation.  Just as the icon avoided capture by the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Church, so also the Mother of God protects us from our enemies, from the demonic forces whether spiritual or physical, which seek to capture our souls.  Just as the icon exudes a sweet fragrance and palpable sense of the spiritual life, so also the Mother of God provides for us the fragrance of the virtues and the spiritual help and presence to help us on the path of salvation.

 We have forsaken the darkness of sin and have turned our faces and hearts toward the light of Christ.  We have set our feet on the path of salvation.  And on this path we have a great helper, a guide to lead us and who will not forsake us, a protectress and guardian against the violence of the world and of our spiritual enemies.  This helper and protectress is of course the Mother of God.  One of the avenues by which we experience her help is through her miraculous Kursk/Root icon. 

 The Holy Apostle Paul enjoins us to “walk circumspectly…as wise, redeeming the time…understanding the will of the Lord” and to be “filled with the Spirit”.  We, in the Russian Church Outside of Russia, have as our special guide and guardian the Mother of God as she is shown to us in her Kursk/Root icon.  Today as we all celebrate the feast of this icon together with all of the Churches throughout the world, let us raise our voices without hesitation to call upon her for help and together to sing the praises of our guide, our protectress and directress who is indeed, “more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim”, she “who without corruption beareth God the Word,” and who is “the true Theotokos,” the Ever Virgin Mary.  Most Holy Mother of God, save us!

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