The Kursk Root-Icon

The tale of the Kursk Root Icon


On 8 September, 1295, on the day of the Nativity of the Most-Holy Mother of God, a small force of hunters from Rylsk came to hunt at the Tuskora river, 27 versts from Kursk.

The river Tuskora today

One of the hunters, an honorable and pious man, seeking prey in the woods, found a small icon lying face down on the root of a tree. He had barely lifted it to inspect it when the spot upon which the icon lay burst out with a strong spring of pure water. The icon turned out to be of the type referred to as the “Sign” of the Mother of God. The hunter who found the icon knew that this was no ordinary occurrence. He called his companions and together they built a small wooden chapel, into which they placed this icon (today on the site of the wooden chapel, is the cathedral to the birth of the Mother of God in the monastery Kursk Root Pustyn’). The residents of Rylsk, hearing of the newly-appeared icon of the Mother of God, began to visit it for veneration, and many miracles began to appear from it.

The Kursk Root Pustyn’ monastery today

In 1383 the Kursk region was again swept by the Tatars. They tried to burn down the chapel and its Icon, but the wooden structure would not burn. The priest who lived by the chapel, Fr. Bogolep, explained to them that the reason for this miracle was the Icon itself. The incensed Tatars hacked the Icon in half and tossed the pieces in different directions, then burned the chapel.

They took the priest, Fr. Bogolep, prisoner and forced him to the Crimean peninsula where the Tartar horde had their capitol. Some time later he was ransomed by emissaries of the Muscovite Grand Duke Bogolyub who were on the way to the Golden Horde, and he returned to the place where the chapel had been. After a long search, while praying and fasting, he found both halves of the holy Icon, placed them side by side, and they grew together seamlessly, exhibiting only something “like dew”.

In the year 1597, the tsar of Russia Feodor Ioannovich, ordered to bring the holy Icon to Moscow for the people to venerate, and meanwhile rebuild the city of Kursk after the Tartars attacks. After having prayed in front and venerated the holy Icon, Tsar Feodor and Tsarica Irina commissioned a restauration of it from the tsars iconographers. Further an icon frame was made from cypres around the icon, with the Lord Sabaoth and the nine prophets of the old testament depicted on it. An “oklad” from silver, precious stones and pearls was also made as a gift to the holy Icon. In 1598 the icon was brought back to Kursk from Moscow, and put inside the new built cathedral.

Tsar Feodor Ioannovich. Parsuna from the XVI century.

In the year 1603, False Dmitry (Grishka Otrepyev) took the holy Icon to the town Putivl’, and thereafter took it to Moscow where the Icon was kept at the tsars palace. In 1611, the Kursk Root Pustyn’ monastery was completely destroyed by the crimean tartars, and was then rebuild by the year 1615. The citizens of Kursk longed after the holy Icon, and they sent the deacon Polykarp of the Znamensky Cathedral  with a supplication letter to the Tsar Mihail Feodorovich, asking for the Icon to be returned to Kursk. Tsar Mihail returned the Icon to Kursk, where a new Znamensky Monastery was built. The monastery was built by the citizens of Kursk as a promise given to God as a symbol of gratefulness for the miraculous protection of the city during the terrible four month long siege by the polish army of Hetman Zholkevsky. By building the monastery, the citizens fulfilled their promise to God, and the holy Icon was brought to the Znamensky monastery from Moscow with a procession of the faithful venerating the Icon.

The Znamensky Monastery in Kursk. Photograph from the XIX century.

In 1676 the holy Icon traveled to the Don River for the blessing of the Don Cossack troops. In 1684 Tsars Ivan and Petr Alekseevich sent a copy of the Icon along with the orderto the warlords and boyars, that it accompany Orthodox troops into battle. In 1687 the holy Icon was sent to the tsars “Great Army.” In 1689 copies of the holy Icon were given to the armies in the Crimean campaign.

Flag of the “Great Army” in the year 1654.

Since 1726, the Icon was kept in the Cathedral of the Znamensky Monastery in Kursk. Only for two weeks during the year, the Icon was brought with a church procession for veneration to the place of its discovery: The Kursk Root Pustyn’ monastery.

In the year 1806, Tsar Alexander I postulated an order stating, that the holy Icon must be brought to the Kursk Root Pustyn’ monastery every year and be kept there from the 9th week after Pascha (Easter) until the 12th of september.

In the year 1769, during a church procession, by the righteous prayers with true faith in front of the Kursk Root Icon of Mother of God of the “Sign”, the 10 year old young boy Prokhor Moshnin received a miraculous healing from a serious illness. Prokhor Moshnin eventually became the famous Great Holy Father of Russia: Saint Seraphim of Sarov.

The boy Prokhor Moshnin (Saint Seraphim of Sarov) being healed by the holy Icon.

In 1812 a copy of the holy Icon was sent to Prince Kutuzov and the battling troops against Napoleon.

On the night of 7-8 March, 1898, conspirator revolutionaries-atheists tried to blow up the Miracle-working Icon with a hellish bomb, but the Lord Jesus Christ glorified His Most-Pure Mother yet more, for despite the terrifying destruction in the cathedral surrounding the Icon, it remained untouched. The man responsible for the terrorist act, was named Ufimcev as last name. He succumbed to the demonic temptation to blow up the Znamensky Monastery by putting a bomb inside the Cathedral. He planned to blow it up during the all-night vigil and kill many of the faithful. But, the bomb blew up during the night on the 8th of march after the service. The monks were woken up by the terrible explosion which shook the walls and windows in all of the cells of the monastery. The monks led by the most reverent Bishop Juvenaly of Kursk, hurried to the cathedral. When entering the cathedral they were met by a suffocating smell and the building was filled with thick black smoke which made it impossible to breath, putting out all candles and vigil lamps. Wood and broken glass from the highest windows of the dome, was to find everywhere on the floor. The massive northern door of the cathedral was destroyed and bent outward. The northern niche where the holy Kursk Root Icon was kept, was the most damaged part of the cathedral. However, the Icon didn’t suffer any damage, nor did the glass in front of it.

The niche with the Kursk Root Icon

On 12th of April 1918 during Lent, the holy Icon was stolen from the cathedral of the Monastery of the Sign of the Mother of God and stripped of its ornamentation, but on the 2nd of May it was found in a water well sewn into a bag, and returned to its place.

In 1919 when the White Army of General Denikin were leaving Kursk, the faithful people brought the holy Icon in their hands to the city of Belgorod, where it was placed in a train wagon with priests and monks heading for Taganrog. From there it was brought to Rostov on Don and Ekaterinodar, and finally to the city of Novorossijsk. On the 1st of march 1920, the Icon left Russia accompanied by the most reverend Bishop Theofan (Gavrilov) of Kursk and Oboyan’ on the steamer “Saint Nicholas”. They went from Novorosijsk to Constantinople, from Constantinople to Greece, and from Greece to Jugoslavia (Serbia). In september 1920 it again, at the behest of General Wrangel, visited Russia at the Crimean peninsula and remained there until the final evacuation of the Russian Army and the Russian refugees on the 29th of October 1920.

In 1921 after a long and problematic journey, the Icon returned to Serbia where it was kept for a while in the monastery Jazak on Fruška Gora in Voevodina.

Jugoslavia. In the center: General baron P.N. Wrangel, Mitropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), Archbishop Anastassy (Gribanovsky), baron Wrangels wife.

Jazak monastery. Fruška Gora.

From the end of 1927 the Icon was kept in the russian church of the Holy-Trinity in Belgrade, where the war banners and flags of the Russian Army under the command of General baron Petr Nikolaevich Wrangel are kept to this day. The church is also the last resting place of the most reverent Mitropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia (ROCOR).

The Russian church of the Holy Trinity in Belgrade, Serbia.

In november 1944 the Icon was moved to Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) along with the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia led by the most reverent Mitropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), when they evacuated from Belgrade. During this time the Icon was kept in the orthodox church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Karlsbad. In 1946 they evacuated to Munich in Bavaria.

The church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Karlovy Vary.

On the 5th of February 1951, the first Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia, the most reverent Mitropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), moved the holy Icon to the United States of America, to the State of New York with the goal of building a new Kursk Root Pustyn’ monastery there. The monastery was then called “New Kursk-Root Icon Hermitage”.

The New Kursk-Root Icon Hermitage, Mahopac, NY, USA.

Since the year 1957, the miraculous Kursk Root Icon of the “Sign”, as the “Odigitria” (guide to the right path) of the Russian Diaspora, resides in the Znamensky Synodal cathedral in New York, dedicated to it.

The Znamensky Synodal cathedral, Manhattan NY.

During his visit to the church of Saint Nicholas in the city of Seattle on the 2nd of July 1966, Saint John (Maximovich) Archbishop of San-Francisco and Shanghai reposed in the Lord during prayer in front of the holy Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God.

Saint John (Maximovich).

On the 12th of september 2009, after 90 years on foreign soil, the Kursk Root Icon visited Russia for the first time. From the 12th to the 23rd of september the Icon stayed in the rebuilt cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, and thereafter in Kursk. On the 2nd of october, the Icon returned to New York. Since 2009, the Icon yearly visits the place of its finding in Kursk with a delegation of clerics from the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia, where the faithful venerates the icon and a large church procession is held.

First Hierarch of ROCOR,

The most reverend Hilarion,

Mitropolitan of Eastern America and New York.

Church procession with the holy Icon in Russia.

The Znamensky cathedral in Kursk in our times.

 The holy Icon regularly travels to all the dioceses of the Russian diaspora.