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Monday, November 3, 2014

A historic Russian icon is coming to McKeesport church, Pennsylvania

A historic Russian icon is coming to McKeesport on Sunday as part of a downtown church's celebration of 97 years of service to God. 

Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, 330 Shaw Ave., will welcome an archpastoral visit by the Right Rev. Nicholas Olhovsky, bishop of the Eastern American Diocese, Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
The greeting of the bishop and Divine Liturgy will begin at 9:15 a.m.

The church's rector, Father Dimitri D. Ermakov, said the bishop will bring with him the Kursk Root Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

“The history of the Kursk Root Icon begins in the 13th century, when it was discovered by hunters near the city of Kursk, Russia,” Ermakov said. “On Sept. 8, 1295, the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, one of the hunters noticed the icon, a copy of the ‘Znamenie' (‘Sign') Icon, lying face-down on the ground against the root of a tree. As he lifted the holy icon, a strong spring of pure water surged up out of the ground at the place where it had been lying.” 


Ermakov said that spring continues to flow to this day, despite efforts by the government of the former Soviet Union to plug it up, in what came to be known as the Kursk Root Hermitage. 

“With the help of his friends, the hunter built a small chapel and placed the newly found icon within it,” Ermakov said. “Residents of the nearby city of Rylsk began to visit the icon, where miracles of healing often occurred.” 

According to church histories cited by Ermakov, the icon was moved to a new church in Rylsk dedicated to the Nativity of the Theotokos (“Birthgiver of God” and the Greek title for Mary), but later it vanished and returned to its former place in the woods. 

Over the years the icon was transferred between the cathedral in Kursk and the Hermitage.
“In 1612, the presence of the Kursk Root Icon was credited with saving the city (of Kursk) from being sacked by Polish invaders,” Ermakov said. 

The icon was hacked in half by Mongols in 1383, during what was known as the Tatar Yoke. Its guardian, Father Bogolep, was imprisoned as well but later regained his freedom and recovered the two pieces of the icon. 

“The icon miraculously fused back together,” Ermakov said. “In 1898, anti-tsarist anarchists placed a bomb under the icon during a service, hoping to kill the faithful at worship and destroy the wonderworking image. Instead, the bomb did not explode until late at night, and despite severe damage to the cathedral, the icon remained fully intact.” 

The icon was stolen again after the Russian Revolution of 1917 but recovered at a local well.
During World War II it was said that bombs never fell on the homes of residents who visited the icon. 

The icon was moved to Germany after the war, then to New York in 1951, where it was placed in the Synodal Cathedral of the Sign.
It has traveled around the world ever since, including a 1966 visit to San Francisco during the funeral of St. John Maximovitch and a return to Russia in 2009. 

“It visited Moscow and Kursk, where over 1 million people came to venerate it and offer up their prayers to Christ's mother,” Ermakov said.
A dinner will follow the Divine Liturgy. 




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