St. George Teen Youth Make Pilgrimage to Synod

Seeking spiritual guidance from the wonder-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, a group of 17 youth and chaperones from St. George parish in Cincinnati, Ohio made a pilgrimage to the icon’s home in her cathedral at the Synod of Bishops in New York City. The idea for the trip began with an invitation from His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas, during his visit to St. George in 2022. Vladyka explained that all the faithful of ROCOR should consider Synod to be their spiritual home and that everyone was welcome to visit.

The group prayed a moleben for travelers before departing in the afternoon on the feast of the Meeting of the Lord, seeking help from the Lord and His Most-Pure Mother before the festal icon and the holy Kursk-Root Icon, ‘The One Who Shows the Way’ – a fitting blessing for pilgrims! The group departed in a bright red 15-passenger van and one minivan, stopping in Erie, Pennsylvania for the night.

Friday morning brought the pilgrims to the Old-Rite Church of the Nativity of Christ, where the rector, Fr. Pimen Simon, greeted them. A fascinating discussion followed, covering church history, theology, and church singing. Fr. Pimen recounted his personal journey from being the leader of a priestless old-rite community, to now being rector of the same community as a part of ROCOR. He also demonstrated the traditional Old-Rite znamenny chant, singing from English text marked with special symbols which indicate rhythm, pitch, and melody, known as ‘kryuki.’ The discussion took place inside the parish church, wonderfully frescoed by Fr. Theodore Jurewicz and including several antique icons which the community has preserved for hundreds of years. Hymnography, iconography, and Church history were to become themes of the pilgrimage.

Following a meal provided by the parish, the pilgrims set out for New York City, arriving after sunset. Saturday morning began with a few inches of snow and a liturgy in the Cathedral of St. Seraphim of Sarov at the historic Novo-Diveevo Convent. Sung primarily by a single chanter, the liturgy demonstrated the piety of a simple, every day, monastic service The participation of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God in our pilgrimage was especially noticeable here in the church dedicated to St. Seraphim of Sarov, since he – the one-time spiritual father of the nuns of the original Diveevo Convent in Russia – was healed by the Kursk-Root icon in his youth. Fr. Artem Siss recounted the fascinating history of the convent and explained the many historic and unique icons and spiritual treasures it holds. From a cross rescued from the Ipatiev house to relics of St. Seraphim and priceless icons and relics, the blessings were many. One of the monastery’s great treasures, the only portrait of St. Seraphim painted of him during his lifetime, was absent due to restoration work, though a copy stood in its place. A walk through the snow-covered Orthodox cemetery, the largest in North America with over 9,000 graves, indicated the historical importance of this monastery. White Army officers lay beside members of the Russian royal family and notable figures of ROCOR, such as Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy, the author of the classic “Law of God.”

The afternoon found the pilgrims walking up to the historic St. Nicholas Cathedral on 97 th Street in New York City. The main representation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the United States, this church was built in 1901-2 through the labors of two saints: the future Patriarch and Confessor Tikhon (Bellavin), who at that time was the bishop of Aleutians and North America, along with Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky, who later served at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow and was martyred in 1937. Our pilgrims received a detailed tour from Matushka Alla Vyzhanov, wife of the rector, Fr. Igor. This cathedral, built with the direct support of the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas, the Russian government, and countless faithful both in America and Russia, testifies to the growth of the Russian Orthodox Church on this continent. Great missionary efforts were made to attract Uniates and all Orthodox Christians in the area. In sharp contrast to the parish in Erie, the iconostasis and frescoes in St. Nicholas exhibit ‘soft-style’ iconography.

After a short five-block walk, the pilgrims arrived at their ultimate destination: the Cathedral of the Sign at the Synod of Bishops on 93 rd Street. Matushka Nadia Mokhoff, a parishioner of the parish since her youth, offered an intimate tour of the church and Synod building. She explained the influx of refugees following WWII and the great mercy of Serge Semenenko in donating the former Baker mansion to ROCOR so that it could serve as its administrative and spiritual center. The wealth of spiritual blessings impresses: from the silver reliquary with the arm of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr to a rich collection of antique icons. Wonderfully, St. Seraphim again blessed the group through the newly restored portrait of him which temporarily resides there until it is returned to Novo-Diveevo. The group also explored some of the less visible areas in the building, including the mansion’s original kitchen and the space which once housed the Synodal candle factory and where Matushka Nadia fondly remembered laboring.

The group attended the Saturday evening service in the St. Sergius chapel on the first floor of the Synod building. A large English-language community gathers here under the guidance of Hieromonk Zosimas (Krampis). All the pilgrims were able to confess before the end of vigil, when Metropolitan Nicholas hosted the group for some New York style pizza, bringing the Kursk-Root icon into the Synodal trapeza to bless the gathering. Archpriest Andrei Sommer, Vice President of the Synodal Youth Department, and Protodeacon Serge Arlievsky also joined the group. After eating, Vladyka graciously answered a variety of questions from the pilgrims concerning everything from the spiritual life to personal concerns.

The following morning the red van was once again parked in the courtyard at the Synod building so that the pilgrims could attend the last service of their spiritual journey in the presence of the Kursk- Root Icon. Two of the pilgrims were invited to serve in the altar for the festive hierarchical service, a special blessing. The prayers of the pilgrims arose amidst the accomplished singing of the Synodal choir. From the znamenny chant of Fr. Pimen in Erie to the court chant of the Cathedral, the pilgrims had experienced the broad expanse of Russian choral singing. With the blessing of Metropolitan Nicholas, Fr. Serge Arlievsky read the Sunday gospel about Zacchaeus in both English and Slavonic. To seal the labor of the pilgrims, all partook of the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. With the joy of the day in their hearts, the pilgrims enjoyed a festal trapeza hosted by Metropolitan Nicholas. At the end of the meal, the pilgrims received a final blessing from our First Hierarch and once again venerated the wonderworking Kursk-Root Icon.

The pilgrims left Synod and walked 14 blocks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There they enjoyed the museum’s galleries of Byzantine art and a special exhibit entitled, “Africa & Byzantium.” Incredible, pre-iconoclastic encaustic icons brought from St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai and several ancient icons of St. George – showing his universal veneration – were among the highlights seen. With this final blessing from our parish’s patron, the pilgrims departed New York City, safely arriving home the next day. Thanks be to God!!!

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