Between 2 and 9 April 2019, for the first time ever, all of a long-neglected region, that of Eastern England, was visited by the Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God. The faithful gathered in Kent, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, bordering on Lincolnshire to the north and Bedfordshire to the south. 1500 miles were covered in eight days, 38 molebens were served in our five churches in the region and in the homes of the scattered faithful and £2,210 was raised for the Synod of Bishops of the Church Outside Russia. If we had had longer we would have visited even more faithful in this forgotten backwater outside the Capital. (For photos see the ROCOR Diocesan website).
The Icon gave off Her very strong myrrh-like fragrance, wafting in waves, in churches, homes, hospitals and cars, even filling streets while being taken in Her carrying case just the few yards to the doors of houses and flats. This was the fragrance of the Mercy of Mother Mary, for then the long-abandoned felt valued, consoled by this scent from Paradise. The highlights were perhaps the evening moleben and akathist in St Matrona’s chapel of the Lithuanian Orthodox community in Wisbech, the Capital of the Fens, at the Sunday Liturgy of the Annunciation in Colchester, and especially in one home, where two faithful, long-suffering and isolated converted Orthodox were able to pray before Her, showing that they had embraced Orthodoxy with their hearts and not with their heads.
In the first case we felt how, although the people may have had little knowledge, their spirit was great and the Mother of God descended on account of their humility, for they are absolutely devoid of any pretensions. In the second case, we felt how the hundreds of people came from far away with many small children, with all their huge pain at all the past injustices, and cried out to the Most Holy One and She heard them and consoled them, giving them courage. We three priests could barely cope with all the confessions and over 200 communions. In the third case we saw the greatest sincerity, piety, humility, unseen anywhere else here, and intense suffering, and how the Mother of God came and comforted. We have all become Josephs, guardians of the priceless treasure of the Most Pure One.
After a hospital visit to a young married Romanian man who did electrical work in the altar of the church some years ago, but who is now dying of cancer, we saw him comforted by a wafting of fragrance, which all in the hospital ward felt. We saw an elderly Russian parishioner kissing the Icon and her two Romanian carers, who happened to be present, kneeling and joining her. After one akathist, two pious Greek priests who had attended apologized for the behaviour of their Patriarch. Will the autocephaly of Constantinople be revoked by a Council of the thirteen canonical Local Orthodox Churches? Then the Greek Diaspora can be taken under the care of the Greek Orthodox Church in Athens and return to Orthodoxy. Then all in the Church can once again be confirmed as truly One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, that is, in one word, Orthodox.
Our Mother in heaven sees everyone, righteous and sinners alike, our parishioners, Bulgarian and English, Moldovan and Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Russian, Greek and Turkish, French and Italian, Indian and Romanian, Australian and Kazakh, Polish and Latvian. She acts as a magnet to all, Her presence so strongly felt by all. For the unbeliever the Icon is haunted; we know better. Her fragrance is Her Mercy. In the absence of any others, the Mother of God is truly our champion leader. She is in this Her Icon of the Sign, Who Shows the Way. In the Eastern provinces the rejected are being accepted, the persecuted are being comforted, the despised are being recalled, the long-forgotten are being remembered and the long-neglected are being visited.
We have little money or importance in the eyes of the world, our churches have no gold or precious stones, no ancient icons or precious artefacts, we have no great theologians or brains, but we do have faith and hope. The region is waking, as the very long and very dark night ends in the glimmer and hope of the long-prayed for dawn, which we long to see before we die. We feel that in heaven our prayers have been heard and our decades of tears have been noted. Can it be much longer now? Her fragrance still fills our clothes, homes and cars even days after She left us. We live by faith in Christ and by hope for the better.