The shortest flight from New York to New Zealand is 18 hours, with a layover in Los Angeles. It was there that Eastern American Diocesan vicar Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan traveled after the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora – the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God. It is well known that the Mother of God travels wherever she wills, but since late 2010, Bishop Nicholas was appointed guardian of the wonderworking icon, and accompanies the holy image on more than half of its travels, throughout both the Diocese and the whole world.
– Your Grace! Last December, after a meeting of the Synod and the patronal feast day of the Synodal Cathedral of the Sign in New York City, Bishop George of Canberra departed for Australia with the wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God…
– The icon visited the Diocese of Australia & New Zealand for almost three months. To the joy of the local clergy and faithful, she spent the feasts of Christ’s Nativity, Theophany, Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, Three Hierarchs, and the Meeting of the Lord. At the end of April 2019, the icon visited New Zealand, and I flew there, in order to return with the icon to Synod.
– Your Grace, was this your first trip to New Zealand?
– It was my third, but these visits had always been short. We traveled there the first time in 2002 with Metropolitan Laurus. We visited Australia in July, where we celebrated the patronal feast day of Sts. Peter & Paul Diocesan Cathedral in Sydney, where the All-Diaspora Youth Conference was being held. This was Metropolitan Laurus’ first visit to Australia and New Zealand as First Hierarch. We visited Sydney, Cabramatta, and Melbourne. On our way home, we stopped for two days in New Zealand, in Auckland. There we have a church dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ. That evening we served a moleben, the next morning we met with the parish, and then we departed for New York.
The second time was in late November into early December 2011. The Kursk Root Icon visited the Diocese of Australia &New Zealand. Now a deacon, I was assigned to accompany the icon. We spent almost a week in-country that time: we visited the main church and deanery in Auckland, the capital city of Wellington, St. Nicholas Church in Christchurch, and the church in Le Bons Bay.
This time, with the blessing of Metropolitan Hilarion, I brought the icon from New Zealand back to New York, so that the holy image would be in Synod and visit diocesan parishes throughout Great Lent.
– What impressions did you have of New Zealand? Even over these short visits?
– It is a very beautiful country, very green. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to see the sights, because all the days were all taken up with services, and between those we visited parishioners with the icon.
If you take a look a Church life, it must be said that our parishes are growing and thriving. Archpriest Vladimir Boikov, who has been dean of the New Zealand parishes for over 10 years, tries to visit the churches often and support the faithful.
Our Church Abroad enjoys very good relations with the Serbian Church in New Zealand. Our church in Auckland is small and cannot fit all those who wish to pray, and thus on major feasts and for special memorials, our clergy serves in the Serbian Church of St. King Stephen Milutin. During our visit to Auckland, on Saturday and Sunday, we also served with the Serbian clergy there, so that all those who wished to do so would come and pray. I thanked the Serbian Archbishop Siluan (Mrakic), who blessed the rector, Fr. Savva, to concelebrate with us and join us in praying before and glorifying the Mother of God.
Our current church was built by the first émigrés. There is currently hope that we can create a new parish in Auckland, purchasing land or even obtaining an extant Catholic or Anglican church building, where we can build a new and more spacious church. Fr. Vladimir believes that the latest visit of the wonderworking icon to the diocesan churches will inspire parishioners for this undertaking.
– Who makes up the majority of parishioners in the New Zealand parishes?
– Among them are old émigrés, but today there are more of those who have arrived recently from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. There is a parish Saturday school in Auckland, where they study the Law of God, Church history, Russian history, and the Russian language. The parish rents a space in which to hold the classes, because the church itself is too small. The parish organizes luncheons, and receptions with interesting people. Parishioners interact with one another and try to learn more about the Faith, and our priests help them in this endeavor.
It was nice to see how the faithful at the churches in Auckland, Wellington, and other cities greeted the Kursk Root Icon with the singing of the troparion, and always remained in the church in order to accompany the icon. Everyone understood that a very sacred object was with them during this time, and all of their attention was concentrated on it. Fr. Vladimir served a moleben and Liturgy every day.
There were services in other cities, as well. And this is understandable: parishioners in New Zealand often feel themselves isolated. Even getting to the nearest other Orthodox churches, which are in Australia, takes a three-hour flight. So, such visits by the icon, or by the Metropolitan or other bishops, let them feel that they are not forgotten.
This time, I served in Auckland on Meatfare Sunday, and there were many communicants. After the service, at lunch, parishioners asked many questions about the icon, about Church life in Synod. They were all anticipating Metropolitan Hilarion’s arrival in the Diocese, where he would spend Great Lent and greet Pascha. On the 5th Sunday of Lent, Metropolitan Hilarion will visit New Zealand.
On parishioner of the church, a university student named Alexandra, who does benevolent work and even took classes in Moscow led by Bishop Panteleimon (Shatov), helps people who cannot make it to church themselves. That Sunday, she organized an itinerary for the icon to visit the elderly and old-age homes where our parishioners live. It was very nice to see how attentively the faithful treat the arrival of the icon and the opportunity to pray to the Mother of God before her holy image, which will not be able to visit the country again for the next several years.
There is a Russian embassy in the capital city of Wellington. Praying at the divine services were the Russian ambassador, Georgii V. Zuev, and his wife. After the service, I was going to tell him about the history of the icon, but it turned out that he had read all about, and told me about the icon himself. It was wonderful to speak with such a man.
From Wellington, I returned to Auckland, and on March 6, after the morning service, I left for the airport.
– Which cities and dioceses will receive the Kursk Root Icon this year?
– On the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent, dedicated to St. Gregory Palamas, the holy image will visit Protection of the Mother of God Church in Rochester, NY, and then, with the blessing of the Synod of Bishops, the icon will depart for England and Ireland, and from there will return to Synod for Pascha.
The icon is always traveling, visiting every corner of the globe, bringing joy and comfort to the faithful, although it spends most of the time at home, in Synod.
After Bright Week and until Pentecost, the icon will visit Canada; in July, I plan to visit NORR and SGPA camps with her. And at the end of August, after Transfiguration, the holy image will visit Saratov, where the Patriarch Tikhon Russian-American Music (PaTRAM) Institute will be holding one of its events. The icon will remain there until the feast of the Dormition, and on August 29 will return to America.
Two weeks later, we will travel with the icon to Tashkent, and later, in keeping with tradition for the 11th year now, to the Kursk Metropolitanate, and then to Kazakhstan. For the feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos, the icon will return to Synod. Such is this busy year, which began at the "world’s edge."
Interview with Bishop Nicholas conducted by Tatiana Veselkina.