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Kursk Root Icon In Starhill

Kursk Root icon, in Starhill (Photo by Rod Dreher) [1]

Kursk Root icon, in Starhill (Photo by Rod Dreher)

Amazing time tonight at our mission parish. The Kursk Root icon visited. It dates to the 13th century, and has an incredible history. [2] It is one of the great treasures of Russian Christianity, and it is here in the United States because an Orthodox bishop smuggled it out in 1920 to keep it safe from the Bolsheviks.

Many miracles are associated with this icon. Tonight our little parish church was full as we worshiped God and venerated the icon. People came from all over. I met some ladies from Biloxi, and a bus full of Greek pilgrims came in from New Orleans. I even met some readers of this blog. It was a powerful time.

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Never have so many candles burned in our church at the same time!

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It was such a blessing to have this icon visiting our little country mission parish. When it returned for the first time to Kursk after the reunification of the Russian Church in exile and the Moscow Patriarchate, 200,000 people came to venerate it and welcome it home (see below). We had 150 or so — not bad for a little Russian mission church on the bayou:

23 Comments (Open | Close)

23 Comments To "Kursk Root Icon In Starhill"

#1 Comment By Chris 1 On May 17, 2016 @ 11:41 pm

What a blessing to your parish, and to you!

Christ is risen!

#2 Comment By Charles Cosimano On May 17, 2016 @ 11:46 pm

Ok, it’s not a root, it’s an Icon found near a root. That makes more sense.

Admittedly when one sees Kursk, the first thought is not an Icon but rather large numbers of tanks blowing each other up.

Of course looking at all those candles I’m sure everyone is wondering where you locked up the fire marshall and the fact that the church is still standing and not burned down undoubtedly should count as another miracle.

(Candles actually frighten me because of a childhood trauma. You would not have gotten me within a mile of the place and if I walked in unknowingly I would have immediately said the Cosimanian Orthodox prayer, “Feets don’t fail me now!” and found a way out as fast as I politely could.)

#3 Comment By Ben On May 18, 2016 @ 12:06 am

The Kursk Root Icon is visiting our little mission next Monday!

#4 Comment By Richard Parker On May 18, 2016 @ 12:12 am

I just watched the video. I’m reminded of one of the greatest paintings of all time:


#5 Comment By EJ On May 18, 2016 @ 12:30 am

Seeing the glorious Kursk Root icon is such a nice improvement over the blasphemous rainbow flag crucifix in your previous blog entry.

#6 Comment By Darth Thulhu On May 18, 2016 @ 5:37 am

Were the pitch-black voids of the 12 saintly bodies part of the initial design of the cover, or were they the result of prior paint and/or other material wearing off over time?

Either way, the effect is striking and beautiful.

[NFR: I think those 12 saints were added later. The blackness of the icon must be from candle smoke over the years. I’m sure they would never try to clean it. — RD]

#7 Comment By Darth Thulhu On May 18, 2016 @ 5:40 am

Charles Cosimano wrote:

Candles actually frighten me because of a childhood trauma. You would not have gotten me within a mile of the place

So the great Cosimano would literally be driven back in mortal fear by a mob wielding a sufficient quantity of very-small-torches? Let the speculation of “mad scientist, vampire, or both?” begin! 😉

#8 Comment By It Only Takes a Spark On May 18, 2016 @ 7:09 am

The difference between icons and idols grows ever fuzzier. Veneration of inanimate objects is so pagan.

Re the candles, cf St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. Bonfire? Insurance scam? Both? That’s some newly available prime Manhattan real estate now.

Maybe it’s true: God helps them what helps theyselfs.

#9 Comment By Priest Raphael On May 18, 2016 @ 8:09 am

How cool!

I would love to get her to our little parish in Maryland….

#10 Comment By Rick67 On May 18, 2016 @ 10:37 am

I am thankful for the chance to go up there again to see the icon, and to meet and chat with you again, along with two other excellent members of your family. Apparently I share with your son an interest in the Soviet space program.

#11 Comment By Charles Cosimano On May 18, 2016 @ 11:20 am

Darth having fun wrote, “So the great Cosimano would literally be driven back in mortal fear by a mob wielding a sufficient quantity of very-small-torches? Let the speculation of “mad scientist, vampire, or both?” begin! ?”

There is speculation? I thought everyone knew.

The mob would have to be inside. Outdoors, candles don’t bother me a bit which is a good thing because I like to barbecue dinner and, as all know, the official weapon of Cosimanian Orthodoxy (aside from heavly lasers) is the flame thrower, which is an excellent tool for dealing with angry mobs of peasants and barbecuing them for dinner at the same time.

#12 Comment By Peter S On May 18, 2016 @ 11:21 am

The faces are not black; it is just that the cover, or *riza*, of the icon is elevated a bit over the painted icon beneath, so the shadows in the photo and the angle it was taken do not allow one to see the faces of each of the prophets. The cover was added later, but those shown on the painted icon are the original work. Also, it is almost certainly carefully cleaned as needed. Just to clarify.

#13 Comment By Andrew On May 18, 2016 @ 12:55 pm

As a historical relic, it’s fascinating. As an item that has anything to do with the Christian life, not so much.

I often enjoy the conversations between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants/Evangelicals here. So speaking as one of the latter … I am so glad that I don’t venerate an object. I just can’t possibly imagine how it has anything to do with loving or following Jesus Christ. At best, it’s a distraction. At worst, it’s an idol, although indeed a very beautiful one.

#14 Comment By Will Harrington On May 18, 2016 @ 1:14 pm

It Only Takes a Spark

meh, it only seems pagan to those who haven,t been taught the theological basis for it. It is actually both scriptural going back to the design of the original Tabernacle and an expression of the incarnation of God as man.

So much of what we percieve is based on what we are used to. My thoughts on walking into protestant churches without Icons is that they seem very Muslim. Most protestant churches do have icons, but they are usually colored glass and serve as memorials for those who donated them rather than as aids to prayer.

#15 Comment By M_Young On May 18, 2016 @ 1:16 pm

“Admittedly when one sees Kursk, the first thought is not an Icon but rather large numbers of tanks blowing each other up.”

I had the exact same thought!

#16 Comment By Will Harrington On May 18, 2016 @ 1:21 pm

Thinking about it further, I think part of the reason many western Christians don’t understand the difference between worship and veneration is because Protestants have mostly lost the centrality of the Eucharist and have forgotten what worship is. Worship is a corporate experience of sacrifice. In the Liturgy, and in the Mass, the sacrifice is the Eucharist. Christs eternal sacrifice. For us, its pretty obvious that veneration and worship are not even close to the same thing. For English speakers, it is maybe a little harder because the word worship is used interchangeably with adoration. No one would look at you crosseyed if you said you worshipped the ground your spouse walks on. No one would think that this is pagan idolatry, but it does add to the confusion.

#17 Comment By Stubbs On May 18, 2016 @ 2:10 pm

So beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.

#18 Comment By Oakinhou On May 18, 2016 @ 3:11 pm

Not trying to be a troll or anything, but this is an area of special interest of mine. What is the legal status of that icon in the USA.

Whatever else it is, the icon is an object of priceless cultural and historical value, that belongs to the Russian people. I can understand the motivation of those who smuggled if in the Russian Civil War, but surely the Orthodox Church in Russia is no longer in any danger, quite the opposite.

Shouldn’t it be time for it to go back home?

[NFR: The icon is in the possession of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). ROCOR reunited to the Moscow Patriarchate (that is, the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia) a few years ago. So, the Russian church literally has possession of it again. It is up to them to decide whether or not to return the Kursk Root again to Russia. — RD]

#19 Comment By Anne On May 18, 2016 @ 4:43 pm

I’ll leave it to Rod or other Orthodox here to explain icons, but the practice of venerating saints and their relics began with the practice of visiting the graves of martyrs and asking them to pray for those still living that they too be accepted into the presence of the Lord upon theirs deaths as it was believed all martyrs had been. Since they were in His presence and enjoying a close relationship with the Lord, the general assumption was that the saint/martyrs had His ear, so to speak, and could lobby on behalf of their brothers and sisters still living. To this day, we count on and refer to this relationship as “the communion of the saints.”

Saints, or individuals believed so holy in life they were acclaimed at death to have passed directly into heaven, soon took their places beside the martyrs as popular advocates for their earthly brethren.

Still, early church authorities sometimes did frown on the practice of venerating the dead, primarily because of its resemblance to the popular practice at the time of families holding banquets at the graves of their loved ones. In fact, by the 3rd century that’s exactly what the popular Christian practice had evolved into, with families visiting cemeteries, often on the Lord’s day, to picnic with their own dead and call on the martyrs and other designated saints to pray for their needs on earth. (Sarcophagi had holes drilled at one end, through which wine could be poured as part of the shared meal.)

Relics, mostly body parts and bits of clothing worn in life by prominent saints and martyrs soon became known for their miraculous powers. Constantine himself was credited with bringing to Constantinople the holy remains of Andrew, Luke and Timothy, no less.

The historian Sozomen wrote of a procession for St. Babylas, a bishop martyred under Decius’ persecution, held to escort his relics into a suburb of Antioch,

“the Christians, getting together, dragged the sarcophagus several miles…to a point within the city bounds where it is today, and so gives its name to the site. Men and women…youths and maidens, the old people and little children, dragged the coffin, urging each other on and singing hymns the whole way.”

Later, in 380, a shrine was built. John Chrysostem himself came to preach. The bodies and relics of several other saints were carried there, turning it into one of the largest centers for pilgrimage during the early days of what became known as the cult of the saints. (See The Second Church, Popular Christianity AD 200-400 by Ramsay MacMullen, 2009.)

#20 Comment By Karen On May 18, 2016 @ 6:16 pm

I have been a long time reader of your work, commenting only once before, but I have to thank you again for this experience and your hospitality last night.

It was truly a blessing to visit your parish and to venerate the Kursk Root icon last night. It was undoubtedly worth the drive from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We enjoyed meeting you, your family, and others in the congregation. My experience last night will be an important memory for a long time.

[NFR: Thank you for coming! That was a very long drive, but I’m glad it was a blessing to you. It sure was to us, as was your presence. After everyone left, we who remained were exhausted but glowing with gratitude for having had such a great turnout from our Orthodox brothers and sisters from all over the region. A bus full of Greeks from New Orleans! That was awesome. — RD]

#21 Comment By route66news On May 19, 2016 @ 10:52 am

It’s a beautiful and historic thing. But this sort of quasi-worship of inanimate objects makes me really queasy, as in violating-one-of-the-Ten-Commandments queasy.

[NFR: It’s not worship, it’s veneration. Worship is reserved to God alone. — RD]

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 19, 2016 @ 11:19 am

It’s beautiful, but…

It is one of the great treasures of Russian Christianity, and it is here in the United States because an Orthodox bishop smuggled it out in 1920 to keep it safe from the Bolsheviks.

Come on. The Bolsheviks would have sold it to Armand Hammer, for whatever it would bring in coal, potatoes, guns, tool and die machines…

#23 Comment By Alan On May 19, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

Will, great comment. At the 7th Ecumenical Council, the entire Christian world gathered together and condemned the iconoclasts. When Protestants come unglued over icons, they are rejecting their own history. Of course most Protestants think Christian history starts in 1517.