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"The Icon Chose My Arms & Legs to Take It Around the World" – An Interview with Eugene Korolev

An icon of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos containing a piece of the omophorion of the Mother of God is visiting the churches and monasteries of the Eastern American Diocese. Brining the icon from Moscow is the general director of the Russian National Creative Workshop "Art-Project," LLC, and director of the International Foundation for Mutual Development & Strengthening of Spiritual Unity and the Religious & Historical Values of Russian Orthodoxy in the Homeland & Abroad "Under the Protection of the Theotokos," Eugene (Evgeny) Korolev. Mr. Korolev first visited the Diocese in December 2015, when a monument to the Reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church was dedicated at the Diocesan Center in Howell, NJ.

– Two years ago, on September 30, a monument to the Reunification was first installed in the Kursk Root Hermitage not far from the city of Kursk, while a second, similar monument was installed in Howell in the United States on December 4.

Originally, two monuments were prepared, with only a single distinction: on the monument in Russia, Patriarch Alexey II and Metropolitan Laurus are holding the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God, while on the American monument they are holding the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. For the decennial of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the Russian Orthodox Church in the homeland and abroad, a third monument – an exact copy, but twice the size of its predecessors – was installed at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, and blessed by His Holiness, Patriarch Kyrill.

– Tell us about your Foundation, within the program of which the icon of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos is currently traveling around the world.

– The Foundation for Mutual Development & Strengthening of Spiritual Unity and the Religious & Historical Values of Russian Orthodoxy in the Homeland & Abroad "Under the Protection of the Theotokos" was founded in early 2017, and was originated on the basis of our Creative Workshop, which works to create the monuments.

Our workshop has created a monument to Dimitry Donskoy (installed in Moscow), Venerable Sergius of Radonezh (Astana, Simferopol, Minsk, Kulikovo Field, Sergiev Posad), Venerable Seraphim of Sarov (Kurchatov), St. George the Trophy-Bearer at the entrance to Kazan; in the Moscow Kremlin, we restored the Votive Memorial-Cross, originally created by Vasnetsov, which stood on the spot where the Grand Duke Serge A. Romanov, Governor-General of Moscow, was killed in 1905, and which was prepared at the request of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth.

The Muscovite iconographer Alexis Toporischev painted the icon of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos for our Foundation; and in difficult times of division, this icon is summoned to gather Orthodox Christians round the world beneath its aegis.

On the night of May 24-25, the eve of the feast of the Lord’s Ascension, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, blessed this icon in Moscow. Right after its blessing, at the beginning of June, the icon traveled to Kursk.

On September 2, in the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker near Paveletsky Station in Moscow, Priest Theodore Konyukhov served a moleben "Before the Beginning of Any Good Work," and suggested having the icon circumnavigate the earth. Thus, after this moleben, the holy icon began its global travels. The icon contains a small reliquary with a piece of the omophorion of the Mother of God, which was gifted to the Foundation by a benefactor, Anatole N. Kuznetsov, who had also funded all of the Reunification monuments. Very soon the people gave the icon the name "Circumglobal."

We, of course, plan the icon’s travels, but noticed that the icon itself seems to choose the places it visits. Thus, for the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of Cyprus’ Tamassos Diocese, Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos & Orinis blessed the icon’s visit to Cyprus. On September 8, the feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, the icon arrived in the city of Episkopio, visiting the Church of the Holy Apostle Andrew & All the Saints of Russia.

From Cyprus, we had planned to travel to the U.S., but found ourselves instead in the Holy Land, where on September 11, in the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem, the holy image was present for the divine services at the site of Christ the Savior’s Birth. We later traveled with the icon to Jerusalem, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where the icon abided in the Ædicule during the midnight Liturgy.

– Where else in Russia has the icon traveled?

– To St. Petersburg, and to Sophia Cathedral in Tsarskoe Selo.

Later, with the blessing of Metropolitan Platon of Theodosia & Kerch, we visited Crimea, where in the city of Kerch the icon visited the very spot from whence the last steamship with Russian émigrés departed. In Kerch, the icon visited St. John the Baptist Church, and later went on to the Livadia Palace, the launching point for its trip around the world, seen off by Cossacks.

– Where will the icon travel to after visiting America?

– The icon has already visited the Diocesan Center in Howell, NJ, in Holy Protection Skete in Buena for the feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos, and in the Cathedral of the Sign at Synodal Headquarters in New York City, where it "visited" the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God, and where Metropolitan Hilarion presented us with a case from the Kursk Root Icon for our icon. In the days commemorating the death of Brother Jose Muñoz-Cortes, the icon visited Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, where it "visited" the myrrh-streaming Montreal-Hawaiian Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos.

The icon will travel on to Australia, and from there to the Far East, most likely returning to Russia via Japan. Upon our return to Russia, we will seek out an opportunity to visit Ukraine and Belarus.

– And what will the holy image’s route be after Ukraine and Belarus?

– People are already contacting us and asking us to come once more to the places the icon has already visited during its travels around the world. The icon chose my arms and legs to take it around the world. And so, only after completing our trip around the world will we begin laying new plans.

– What future plans do your workshop and Foundation have in store, besides the global pilgrimage of the Protection icon of the Most Holy Theotokos?

– There are plans to install a monument to Venerable Seraphim of Sarov at the New Kursk Root Hermitage in the U.S. I myself am from the city of Kurchatov near Diveevo – this is the origin of my love for the holy elder Seraphim.

Also, at the start of next year, we are planning to install a bust of Emperor Nicholas II in the Synodal Headquarters, using the mold of a marble bust of the Tsar-Passionbearer sculpted during his lifetime and evacuated from Eupatoria, where we suppose it had been kept in the vaults at the Livadia Palace. Identical busts will be installed in Australia and Tobolsk.

There is also a plan to install a monument to Emperor Nicholas II and the Royal Family. The future location of the monument is still being determined: it will be either the Livadia Palace – the estate of Nicholas II’s family – or in Tsarskoe Selo outside of St. Petersburg – the place from which the Royal Family was taken away to exile in Tobolsk.

There is a good idea to hold telecasts with special educational historic and cultural programing for children and young people in Russia and the Russian Diaspora.

I would like to note that our activities are unrelated to politics. We want the icon to travel the whole world, in order to gather Orthodox Christians together under its aegis, and to protect our people from misfortune. This will all serve to help unite Orthodox Christians around the world.

Interview by Tatiana Veselkina

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