Today we celebrate the feast of the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign. This special, miraculous and wonder-working icon is the protectress of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. She intercedes especially to the Lord for all Orthodox in this land and in the diaspera. She is abundant grace to the faithful, healing to the infirm, a light to monastics and a beacon to all those who truly seek Her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we read the Gospels, we see that the very first miracle that Christ performed on Earth was at the wedding feast at Cana. And we also see that this miracle was performed by Christ at the behest of His mother. And it was even something so simple: “They have no wine.” And Christ responded and listened to the request of His mother. For we have in the Mother of God a very powerful intercessor to the Lord. And indeed, she is our own mother, our protectress, who looks after us and protects us under her holy veil.
We see the wondrous love the the Mother of God especially manifested at times in special ways. Sometimes in visions to saints. Sometimes in prayers answered. And sometimes in miraculous icons like our Kursk Root Icon.
In the pages of the Gospels, we read stories of lepers being healed, the blind being able to see, the lame walking and the dead brought back to life. We read these stories, and many people today ask, “Why don’t miracles like this happen today?” Some people may even scoff at these stories, since “of course,” they would argue, “we are men of science and of rational minds, and we don’t believe in such things anymore.” Yet these people have a veil over their eyes. It is not that they don’t believe because they don’t see. Rather, they don’t see because they don’t believe.
Of all the treasures of the Church, and of all the experiences of the faithful – of the collective Body of Christ – we focus today on this icon – this one treasure that we have – which has worked countless miracles for the people of God. Even if we don’t mention the icon’s miraculous discovery in Kursk. Even if we don’t mention the Mother of God’s healing little Prokhor Moshnin through her icon – little Prokhor, who would one day become the venerated St. Seraphim of Sarov. We need not mention her protection against enemies, her miraculous preservation over the years, and the icon’s many and countless blessing bestowed upon the faithful throughout the history of Russia. Even if we don’t mention any of these wondrous things, and instead simply listen to the personal accounts of many people alive today – many people whom we know personally – and who’s lives have been touched by this icon – people who have witnessed miracles – then we would have more than enough to present to those who don’t believe, and therefore can’t see – those who say, “Miracles just don’t happen today like they did in Biblical times.” For it is one thing to read the history of the Kursk Root icon and of all the miracles surrounding her, and it is quite another to hear these stories with your own ears and to see the miracles with your own eyes.
It would be far beyond the scope of this brief homily to innumerate the many miracles connected to this icon in our own time, but I will name a couple which I’ve heard recently. The most recent account was recalled by Bishop Michael (Dahulich) of the OCA. This account was told to him by a parishioner at a scholarship awards ceremony at a parish. And at the ceremony, a man began to tell Bishop Michael a story about their son. Years ago, their young son was involved in a tragic auto accident, which put him in a coma. His condition was so bad, that for months his doctors were debating as to weather or not to pull the plug on him and to end his life. During this trying time, their pastor had heard that the Kursk Root icon was coming to visit the area. So, they offered an akathist at the bedside of this boy, and they blessed him with the icon. And immediately, his eyes began to move for the first time, and slowly but surely, he was healed. This boy, who was miraculously healed by the Mother of God, was the very boy which Bishop Michael awarded a scholarship that morning.
Another story was told to me a while ago by Fr. Serge Lukianov. During Fr. Serge’s visit to various parishes with the Kursk Root Icon in 2010, they went to a parish at which many believers – Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike – came to venerate the icon. In fact, there were so many people there, that the veneration of the icon went on through the evening and well after midnight. Tired and exhausted after a long day, Fr. Serge and his crew were ready to go home when somebody came up and asked them if they could take the icon to a local hospital where two people lay dying. One was an elderly woman and another young man who had been in an accident. The doctors said that both of these people would most likely not live through the night. So, agreeing to visit the hospital, Fr. Serge went to the rooms of these two people, first to the young man, and then to the elderly woman. In the room where the elderly woman lay comatose and unresponsive, the icon was lifted up over the woman, and in a loud voice, the priest called out her name. And like Lazarus coming out of the grave, the woman heard her name, opened her eyes and responded, and both the old woman and the young man – both of whom it was believed would die that very night – arose and went home the next morning.
This is real. This is reality. Science can’t explain this, but our faith can. And these are but just twoaccounts out of countless many. These miracles are not simply a magic trick or a show – signs and wonders to dazzle the gullible. No! This is a wonder that brings back people from the brink of death and gives them life! These are the wonders that we read about in the Gospels, and which are still alive today. Christ is the giver and bestower of life, and through the intercessions of His mother, the Theotokos, and through her miraculous and wonder-working icons, He still gives life and works wonders today, just as he did so in days gone by and will continue to do so until the end of ages. But if we do not believe, we will not see. If we harden our hearts, we will not believe, neither will we be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead. (Luke 16.31) Yet this is our faith, and this is our God – the God Who works wonders! Our faith is a living faith. Our God is a living God. He bends down from the heavens to meet us where we are, and He gives us a heavenly mother, the Theotokos, who intercedes for all in every corner of the earth.
As we make our preparation into the Nativity season, let us give thanks for such a heavenly help and protector that we have in the Theotokos, and let us venerate her icon with love, for it is through the Theotokos that God became man and Christ became incarnate in the world. Even today, through her miraculous icon, the Theotokos brings the light of Christ into the world and points the way to the Kingdom of Heaven. And on this blessed feast which we are all here blessed and honored to take part, let us all say with one heart and one mind: Most Holy Mother of God, save us! Amen.
Let us come to ourselves like the prodigal; let us, like him, speak firm words of resolve to our own souls: “I will arise and go to my Father”; and the Gracious God will perfect our small intention.
He knows that we do not know the way to Him, or the manner in which to traverse it; but, hearing us say: “Ready is my heart, O God, ready is my heart”, and seeing us begin our journey towards Him, He will then rush out to us, falling on us, and kissing our neck: He will send His All-Accomplishing Holy Spirit upon us, and guide us into all truth, not only in our understanding, but in all our deeds, all our life.
Yesterday, Christ was born; today, He is baptized. Yesterday, God immersed Himself in our flesh; today, our flesh is immersed in the Most Holy Trinity. Yesterday, the Timeless Son of the Virgin-Father was begotten in time of the Virgin-Mother; today He gives birth to us as sons of God forever.