The Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon
of Our Lady of the Sign
the champion leader and good directress who guideth us to the heavenly
Kingdom, come ye, let us who here have no continuing city all bow down,
beseeching her all-powerful aid, recalling the miracles that from times
past to this day have been wrought through her Icon; and let us cry out
with a loud voice: Rejoice, O Sovereign Lady, who dost ever reveal signs
of thy mercy unto the world!
the grace of God is present in the world around us is clear to all believers,
here in England as in all lands. Yet there are also special events which
bring grace. Such are the interventions of the Mother of God in human
affairs. Such is the extraordinary appearance of the Kursk Root Icon of
the Mother of God over 700 years ago in faraway Russia.
In the late thirteenth century Russia was devastated by the Tartars. Thus
the site of the town of Kursk (300 miles south of Moscow) had become a
wilderness. Now it happened one afternoon in September 1295 that a man
out hunting there noticed an icon lying face down at the root of a tree.
Surprised, the hunter picked it up and saw that it was an image of the
Mother of God of the Sign. From the place where the icon had been picked
up a clear spring of healing water gushed forth. This happened on the
8th September, the Feast of the Birth of the Mother of God. With the help
of friends the hunter built a small chapel and placed the newly-found
icon in it. When news of this spread, many came to this chapel to venerate
the icon and pray about their sorrows and needs. There the Mother of God
healed all who came to Her with faith.
local prince, hearing of the Icon, demanded that it be brought to him.
With great solemnity it was carried to the town gates and a huge crowd
gathered to greet it. Only the prince was missing, since, lacking faith,
he did not consider it necessary to greet the Icon and was struck blind.
Acknowledging his wrongdoing, the prince ran out to meet the Icon and
publicly confessed his sin. He was healed immediately and promised to
build a church in honour of the Birth of the Mother of God, which was
done. However, it soon became obvious that it was not the will of the
Mother of God that the Icon remain there. Each time it was in the new
church, it was miraculously transported back to the now deserted chapel.
As the years passed, veneration of the Kursk Icon of the Mother of God
grew. Thus a pious local priest often used to visit the chapel and hold
services there, especially on the Feast of the Birth of the Mother of
God, the anniversary of the Icon's discovery. In 1385 Tartars again invaded
the area. Finding the chapel in the woods where the priest was praying,
they tried to set fire to it. Three attempts to burn it down were made,
but to no avail. The Tartars were sure that the priest was putting out
the fire by some sort of magic. When the priest explained that the reason
for their failure was the miraculous power of the Icon, the Tartars took
the Icon from the chapel and chopped it in half. One part they threw into
bushes nearby, the other they carried a mile deeper into the forest and
threw away. Then they proceeded to burn down the chapel and took the priest
While in captivity, the priest did not lose heart. He resisted the efforts
of the Tartars to make him renounce his faith, relying on the prayers
of the Mother of God: his prayers were not in vain. Once, while the priest
was tending sheep and singing hymns to the Mother of God, a group of Orthodox
Christians overheard him and, paying his ransom, they took him home.
At the first opportunity the priest began to search for the Icon. To his
great joy he found both halves of it close to the site of the burnt chapel.
Placing them side by side, he was amazed to see that they immediately
grew together, leaving only a fine line where the split had been. He hurried
to spread the news and the Icon was triumphantly returned to the church.
Yet again it miraculously travelled back to the place of its discovery.
This happened several times and it was decided to restore the chapel in
the woods, where the Icon remained for some 200 years.
Its fame spread far and wide in Russia and it became known as the 'Kursk
Root Icon', as it had been found at the root of a tree. In 1597 it was
solemnly brought to Moscow and met by a great multitude. The Icon was
placed in a special gilt frame on which were depicted the Lord and the
Old Testament prophets, holding scrolls in their hands with prophecies
of the future conception and birth of Christ by the Holy Virgin Mary and
prefigurations of the Holy Mother of God. Then the Icon was returned to
Kursk and a large sum donated for a hermitage to be built on the site
of its discovery. This was called the Kursk Root Hermitage.
On account of the dangers of renewed Tartar invasions, the Icon was transferred
to Kursk. There it remained until 1615. In its absence, in 1611, the Tartars
completely destroyed the Hermitage. The Icon was then taken to Moscow
for safekeeping. A year later Kursk itself was besieged, this time by
Poles. The townsfolk prayed fervently to the Mother of God, vowing to
build a monastery in honour of the Miraculous Kursk Icon of the Sign in
their city in case of victory. Their prayers were heard, for several townsfolk
and captive Poles clearly saw the Mother of God with two radiant monks
on top of the town wall. She sternly chased away the besiegers and as
a result the siege was lifted. A monastery in honour of the Icon of the
Sign was built and the people of Kursk urgently pleaded for the return
of the miraculous Icon, for it was still in Moscow. In 1618 the Tsar agreed
and also the Kursk Root Hermitage was rebuilt.
Many pages of history are associated with the Kursk Icon. Cossacks were
blessed by it in 1676. By special decree copies of the miraculous icon
accompanied armies and in 1812 people prayed before such an icon during
the invasion of Russia by atheist revolutionaries.
In 1898 others tried to destroy the Kursk Icon by placing a huge bomb
in the Cathedral of the Sign. They wanted the bomb to go off during the
Vigil Service, thus killing many. However, the bomb went off during the
night instead. Worried monks ran to the church and were shocked at the
devastation. The gilded canopy above the icon was destroyed and the marble
steps leading up to the Icon smashed. A massive cast iron door was torn
off its hinges and thrown outside, where it had cracked an outside wall.
All the windows were shattered. Yet, despite this, the Icon was untouched,
even the glass in the frame was intact. The anarchists' intent had been
to ridicule the Icon, but in fact it was glorified all the more for this
double miracle: the Icon had been preserved and no one had been hurt.
After the 1917 Revolution the Kursk Icon left Russia, surviving intact,
and it accompanied those Orthodox who were fleeing the greatest persecution
and martyrdom the world has ever seen, in which millions were slaughtered
for their Faith. The Icon was carefully carried from place to place until
1927, when it was placed in Holy Trinity Church in Belgrade in Serbia.
During the Second World War Belgrade was bombed mercilessly. Whole quarters
of the city were flattened and many were killed. Yet houses visited by
the Icon of the Sign were miraculously spared. Air raids occurred during
services, yet the Church of the Holy Trinity containing the miraculous
Icon of the Mother of God was safer than any air raid shelter.
Sister Barbara, a nun from the Orthodox convent in Normandy in France,
recounted this example of an amazing occurrence, told her by a Serbian
soldier in 1941:
"Among us the Kursk Icon is greatly venerated. When this Icon visited
our town, a miracle happened and was written down by members of the clergy.
A great multitude had come to venerate the Icon. A wealthy man came in
his car not to pray before the icon, but simply out of curiosity. Seeing
the crowds of people, he laughed and said: 'Such ignorant and uneducated
people. They think that a mere piece of painted wood can work miracles!'
"He continued on his journey. The road went through the mountains,
and was winding and precarious. On a particularly difficult curve, the
rich man lost control of his car which slipped off the road and headed
towards a precipice. Suddenly, before this faithless person, the image
of the Kursk Icon appeared, as if alive. The rich man cried out in despair:
'O Queen of Heaven, save me!'
"It seemed as if an invisible hand stopped the car which was about
to be thrown over the cliff. The man carefully put the car into reverse
and guided it safely back onto the road. He immediately returned to the
village where the Icon was, fell down before it and with tears repented
of his former unbelief. He placed a large candle before the Icon and began
to tell everyone of the miracle which he had experienced."
After the Second World War the Icon was taken to Germany, where it remained
for five years, comforting the Orthodox flock all over Western Europe,
wearied by the tribulations of the War. Then it was taken to America.
Initially it was kept at a hermitage, but later it was moved to the purpose-built
Orthodox Cathedral of the Mother of God of the Sign in New York City.
Many believe that if this Cathedral and the area around it were spared
in the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, it was because of the presence
of the Icon there.
Today the Icon is taken from Orthodox parish to parish all over the world
and its fame is international. It is known for countless miracles, healings
and for assistance in misfortunes. It is significant that St John the
Wonderworker (+ 1966), who was the Orthodox Archbishop in London in the
1950's and was recently canonised by the Orthodox Church, passed away
before this very Icon. How we should venerate this great and remarkable
Icon! It is a well-spring of miraculous grace which is offered to us through
God's mercy by the Mother of our Lord, the Mother of all faithful Christians.
For seven centuries faithful people have prayed before the miraculous
Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God and received help according to their
faith. That its feast-day is the same as that of our own beloved Felixstowe
Icon of the Mother of God can only draw us even nearer to cry out from
the depths of our hearts:
Holy Mother of God, Save us!
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.
thy people celebrate thy venerable Icon of the Sign, O Mother of God,
whereby thou dost grant thy people a wonderful victory against their enemies.
Wherefore we cry unto thee with faith: Rejoice, O Virgin, thou boast of
Kontakion Tone 6
ye faithful, let us radiantly celebrate the wondrous appearance of the
most precious Image of the Mother of God, and drawing grace therefrom,
let us cry out with compunction: Rejoice, O Mother of God, Blessed Mary,
Mother of God!