A day after the Church celebrated the summer feast of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, we belatedly kept the feast in Cheltenham, celebrating the Divine Liturgy in Prestbury, mindful of the wonderful visits the Wonder-Working icon has made to our little community over the years.
Though we only had our customary small congregation, most of those present were with us in the same chapel the last time the icon visited us in March 2021. We also remember the very special visit of the icon with our late Metropolitan Hilarion, of blessed memory.
Rather than preach a homily, at the end of Liturgy, a little time was spent talking to the children about the icon, its pictorial scheme and how miracles have been granted through its physical presence at the heart of our Church and in our scattered communities.
Given that we only have one Liturgy a month, we are generally starting late, as nearly all worshippers wish to confess and commune, so we will discuss amending the service time – though I worry that this will simply result in people coming for confession later. I will discuss this with parishioners when making home visits over the next few weeks.
We would like to thank our devoted parishioners who had been busy before the Liturgy, as always: prosphora-baking, cooking and cutting flowers, and then fulfilling the various obediences for our monthly mission Liturgy, with a wonderful Lenten lunch, with mama Galyna’s pickles and mama Lyuba’s baking!
The last few days have been a great blessing from the Mother of God, through the visit of her ancient, wonderworking Kursk-Root icon of the Sign, and have been filled with prayer and devotion: during the icon’s travels, in parish homes, in church in Cardiff and Cheltenham, during the day and the night, and in the final joyful-sorrow of the handing-over of the image to its next custodians in this Marian journey.
The moleben services in Chippenham, Cardiff and Cheltenham brought the faithful together, not simply from our own parishes, but from other Orthodox communities, and it was a great joy to meet and talk with brothers and sisters from Birmingham, Bristol, Poole and Swindon – all of us united as children of the Most Holy Theotokos.
It was also a joy to go to parish homes that had not been previously graced with a visit from the icon, and we look forward to visiting more homes in the future.
I would like to thank all who came to pray with such zeal and devotion, and all who worked so hard: the members of the kliros and altar-team; matushka Alla for such superb floral arrangements; our sister Xenia for sweet herbs for the faithful to take as an evlogia from Cheltenham; oltarnik Oswald for coordinating Cheltenham set-up; Isaiah from the Swansea parish for his excellent photographs (to be seen here soon) and Deacon Mark for being an able coordinator and chauffeur.
Deacon Mark and I would like to thank parishioners for such warm hospitality in their homes, in welcoming the icon and honouring the Mother of God, and in the generosity shown to those caring for the icon on its journey.
We parted from the icon at the gates of the church in Telford, and the icon will be in Wallasey for the weekend, before visits to Norfolk, St Leonard’s and Oxford, as well as time in London.
Above all, our thanks are due to the Most Holy Mother of God, for the great and grace-filled icon that she gave to the world as a consolation and blessing in 1259, granting countless blessings to the people of God over the subsequent centuries – especially in the most troubled and dangerous times.
The Wonderworking Kursk-Root icon of the Most Holy Mother of God will make its journey to Wales on Friday, and will make a station Chippenham, where a moleben will be served so that the faithful from Wiltshire and Bath will be able to pray and venerate the icon.
Having proceeded to Cardiff, with several further stations, the icon will arrive at St John’s Church shortly before 19:00. Please be in church in time to welcome the icon.
Having welcomed the icon to St John’s, we will serve a moleben and sing the Akathist to the Mother of God, in honour of the Kursk-Root Icon, and we look forward to welcoming the faithful from various parishes and communities, some from beyond Cardiff to be part of this offering of prayer.
The following day the clergy will celebrate a moleben in Prestbury United Reformed Church, Deep St, Cheltenham, GL52 3AW, at 09:00 on Saturday, allowing the local faithful some time for private prayer before the Cardiff clergy take the icon to our ROCOR parish in Telford.
For both services, please prepare commemoration lists for the living, to be presented before the moleben, so that the clergy are able to make your commemorations in the presence of Our Lady’s icon.
We had hoped to make home-visits in the Cheltenham and Gloucester area, but were then given the task of driving the icon to Shropshire by 13:00, so home-visiting will sadly not be an option this time.
I look forward to being with you in honouring the Lord and His Most Pure Mother by welcoming the Kursk-Root Icon of the Sign, which has consoled the faithful since its discovery in the 13th century.
We will join a countless multitude of saints and sovereigns, hierarchs, clergy, monastics, ordinary folk and needy souls who have brought their joys and sorrows, petitions and thanksgiving, worries and hopes to the Lord and the Mother of God, venerating this wonderworking icon with faith and love.
Yesterday, brought the wonderful news that the Wonderworking Kursk-Root icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, will be brought to Cardiff on Friday 18 March, with the hope that it will be possible to make a Wiltshire stop en route.
The following morning, it will visit the faithful in Cheltenham, before continuing to Telford, and thence to Wallasey.
Given the shortness of the visit and limited time, home visits will be for those who have not previously welcomed the icon into their homes, and will be limited to Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.
Those who would like to welcome the icon for the first time are asked to contact the parish clergy, so that a preliminary plan may be made, allowing the clergy to ascertain the length of time required.
An evening service will be celebrated in Cardiff on 18 March, with the details confirmed once the availability of St John’s or one of the other city churches is known.
Please mark these important dates in your diaries, so that you are able to honour the Mother of God through the veneration and welcoming of her precious icon.
Revealed on September 8, 1259, the wonderworking icon has been a constant channel of miracles, and after finally leaving Russia in 1920, it became the sign of the protection of the Mother of God, leading the exiles who fled the Soviet Union – a miraculous protection in the dark years of the Second World War, a consolation for the thousands of displaced persons, and the Hodegetria of the Russian Orthodox Diaspora – in Constantinople, in Greece, Serbia, then Austria and Germany, and now in every corner of the world.
We look forward to welcoming the icon to Cardiff, once more, and honouring Our Lady, the Theotokos.
Troparion, Tone 4: Having obtained thee as an unassailable rampart and wellspring of miracles, O Most Pure Mother of God, thy servants quell the assaults of enemies. Wherefore, we pray to thee: Grant peace to our land, and to our souls great mercy.
“On the right excellent day of our feast let us strike the spiritual harp; for the Mother of Life is born today of the seed of David, dispelling the darkness: the renewal of Adam, the restoration of Eve, the Well-spring of incorruption, our release from corruption. Because of her we have been deified and delivered from death. And we, the faithful, cry out to her with Gabriel: Rejoice, thou who art full of grace, the Lord is with thee, granting us great mercy for thy sake!”
Theotokion of the litia of the feast
Dear brothers and sisters,
After a short visit to our London cathedral to celebrate its altar-feast, this is my first chance to greet you all and congratulate you with the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God.
On one level, this feast centres on something so mundane and ordinary – the birth of a baby – and how many others were born on that same day that Anna was delivered of the daughter who was the fulfilment of so much prayer on her part and that of her husband, Joachim?
But, whilst those who shared the day of their birth with the Mother of God lived, died and are now forgotten, her name is remembered from generation to generation, as prophesied by the Virgin Mother, herself, in the words of the Magnificat, “Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”
There was nothing random in this birth, and – though the product of a human union – the conception of the Mother of God did not follow the usual course of nature, given the advanced age of her childless parents. The gift of a child as an answer to their years of fervent supplication was itself a sign that this conceiving and birth of this child was not accidental, nor ordinary.
On this day, we also celebrate the discovery of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, with the inner-icon of the Holy Mother later surrounded by the prophets who look to her, with Immanuel – not yet born – superimposed upon her. She was the Sign, of which the prophets spoke, and Isaiah preached,
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
We also see this on the ancient icon-screens of our Russian temples, where at the highest level, the prophets turn in contemplation and waiting to the Mother of the Divine Incarnation, the Virgin of the Sign at the centre of their vision.
Thus, the birth of the Mother of God was that of the long-awaited Virgin, for whom the prophets longed, as they awaited the Messiah’s birth.
Though the place of the Mother of God in His Incarnation began at her conception, it is in this feast that this mystery was made manifest, when we chant of the joy that this Nativity brings, as salvation draws near through the birth of the Theotokos.
“Today the gateway of the barren woman is opened, and the divine Virgin portal cometh forth! Today grace beginneth to bear fruit, revealing to the world the Mother of God, through whom those on earth are united to those in heaven, for the salvation of our souls.”
“Today is the pronouncement of universal joy! Today the winds have blown which herald salvation, and our nature is released from barrenness! For the barren woman is shown to be the mother of her who remaineth virgin even after giving birth to the Creator, from whom God taketh to Himself that which is alien to Him by nature, and Christ, the Deliverer of our souls, Who loveth mankind, dot accomplish salvation for the lost by means of flesh.”
“Today barren Anna giveth birth to the divine Maiden who was chosen beforehand out of all generations to be the dwelling-place of Christ our God, the King and Creator of all, in fulfilment of the divine dispensation. Thereby, O ye mortals, have we been fashioned anew and restored from corruption to life without end.”
“Today God, Who resteth on the noetic thrones, hath prepared for Himself a holy throne on earth. He Who hath established the heavens by His wisdom hath in His loving-kindness created an animate heaven. For the God of wonders, the Hope of the hopeless, hath caused His Mother to spring forth as a Life-bearing plant from a barren root. Glory to Thee, O Lord!”
Stikhira of “Lord, I have cried…”
In this Nativity, the human race offers the Mother of God, as the “heavenly Ladder, by which God came down” and the “Bridge leading from earth to haven.”
This feast is, in many ways, the forefeast of all of the other Great Feasts of both the Saviour and the Mother of God. It is a cosmic turning point, which changes the course of human history and the spiritual path of the human race.
Let us contemplate the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God with St Andrew of Crete –
“Today the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages… Therefore, let all creation sing and dance and unite to make worthy contribution to the celebration of this day… Let everything, mundane things and those above, join in festive celebration. Today this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for Him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.”
… And, let us join in festive celebration, celebrating how the world was raised up and given light and hope in this sacred feast, and the Incarnation drew nigh through the birth of the Mother of our Saviour, the Deliverer of our souls.
May God bless you all, and may these festive days be full of joy, light and hope for each and every one of us!