This great blessing began with a surprise phone call to parishioners at Holy Protection Orthodox Church: four weeks hence we were to pick up the Kursk-Root Icon in Wichita, Kansas, celebrate an Akathist here in the Kansas City area on November 3, and then convey the icon to Columbia, Missouri. Because our small mission meets in a modest chapel, Father Aleksandar Bugarin graciously offered to host the service at St. George’s Serbian Orthodox Church. We telephoned all area Orthodox priests to invite them and their flocks. Father Aleksandar discussed the upcoming visit at meetings of the Orthodox Christian Clergy Brotherhood of Greater Kansas City.
Father Anthony Nelson in Oklahoma City kindly e-mailed us a pamphlet relating the icon’s history, which we modified before making 300 copies. Through the help and advice of Father Anastasy Yatrelis and Father Serge Lukianov, both of the Eastern American Diocese, we obtained the complete protocol (explaining procedures for transport, security, and liturgics), a bilingual Molieben plus Akathist (which we photocopied for the celebrant and the singers), 100 small high-quality icon prints (for distribution), and several handsome blue commemorative booklets containing both the Akathist and pictures of the icon’s visit to Russia (gifts for the priests serving). From this booklet, Father Aleksandar printed up enough English texts of the Akathist for the faithful to hold during the service. Calls went out to church singers.
Thus prepared, on a late Tuesday afternoon after work, two of our number set out for Wichita, Kansas, some three hours westward, racing a spectacular sunset through the Flint Hills. We entered the tall frescoed Cathedral of St. George (Antiochian), which was filled with superb chanting in Arabic and English while the faithful venerated the icon. After the service, Bishop Basil greeted us kindly and suggested we take with us the blue flowered frame for use in Kansas City. Then, with clergy chanting and censor preceding, we all processed through the west door of the church, where Father Anthony entrusted to us the surprisingly heavy icon, clad in its blue velvet carrier.
The next morning the icon was brought to the Kansas City area. Before the evening service, the icon visited Mother Seraphima, formerly of Blanco, Texas, and now resident in a local nursing home. Father Paisius Altschul of St. Mary of Egypt Serbian Orthodox Church, a few of his parishioners, and Mothers Bridget and Nicole from St. Xenia’s Skete met us at the nursing home for a short service. Mother Seraphima cannot travel easily, and now the Kursk-Root Icon had come to her!
The Akathist Service
We then drove the icon to St. George’s Church (Serbian), where the assembled priests greeted the icon and conveyed it to the tetrapod. St. George’s is a new building, the ceiling high, light and airy where small crystal chandeliers sparkle. The honey-brown wooden iconostas, beautifully carved in sections in Serbia and then assembled on site, includes a large icon of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. The traditional church architecture produces wonderful acoustics. People coming into the church picked up the blue history and the gold Akathist text at the candle stand. For 20 minutes before the 7 p.m. service, there was a steady stream of the faithful venerating the icon. Serving were priests Aleksandar Bugarin (St. George’s Serbian), Paisius Altschul (St. Mary’s Serbian), Timothy Sawchak (Holy Trinity OCA), Christopher Rowe (Holy Trinity OCA), and Elias Issa (St. Basil’s Antiochian). In the balcony was the vigorous St. George’s choir. On kliros were singers from Holy Trinity, St. Mary’s, St. Xenia’s Skete, and Holy Protection.
The church quickly filled to overflowing, with people standing in the aisles and narthex: men and women of every age, teenagers and toddlers, mothers with babes in arms, “elders with the younger.” The Molieben began with celebrant and kliros responding. Then the St. George’s choir thundered Kontakion 1, the “Champion Leader.” All five priests, each in turn, intoned Kontakion and Ikos, with Father Elias notable for Arabic melodies and Father Aleksandar for singing in Church Slavonic. The kliros began the Akathist in English to the usual Russian melody and soon had to slow down as some 250 Greeks, Arabs, Ethiopians, Serbs, Russians, Romanians, and Americans joined their voices in this rolling, sonorous, prayer that rejoices the heart. St. George’s choir ended each Kontakion with a mighty triple “Alleluia.”
At the conclusion of the Molieben, Father Aleksandar spoke a few instructive words. People again streamed forward to venerate the icon, and Father Timothy gave each family a small icon print that had previously been placed on the icon itself. The faithful venerated the Kursk-Root icon slowly, with profound reverence, bows, prostrations, and tears, sometimes moving on their knees to the side of the tetrapod and continuing to cling to it in prayer. This veneration continued for another hour after the service while St. George’s choir continued to sing hymns to the Theotokos.
The St. George sisterhood had prepared lenten snacks, and everyone was so joyful that they wanted to linger for fellowship instead of going home, despite this being a weekday, a work day, a Wednesday evening. Some people had driven two hours from Manhattan, Kansas, and some even farther from Omaha, Nebraska. Finally, after 10 p.m., parishioners from Holy Protection drove away from St. George’s, carrying the icon.
Very early in the quiet of the next morning, the icon was taken by parishioners to Holy Protection, and in the embracing warmth of the mission’s chapel the Paraklesis (Small Supplicatory Canon) was sung.
We at Holy Protection would like to express our profound gratitude to all those mentioned above. They made it possible for this small mission to receive the holy icon of Christ and His Mother with fitting dignity, honor, splendor and love, even here on the prairie, the heartland and geographic center of America.
Because Holy Protection had available only one driver to take the icon eastward, Father Timothy had arranged for two of his parishioners to accompany the icon’s driver to a pre-arranged transfer point. There they met Reader Gennady Barabtarlo and his wife from St. Mary of Egypt in Columbia, Missouri. He donned his sticharion, reverently received the icon, and drove away.
On the return journey to Kansas City, one of the passengers said, “I miss Her already.”