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Bishop Paul guest of Russian Church for Feast of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God

CHICAGO, IL [MW Diocese Communications] — From July 4 through 12, 2016, His Grace, Bishop Paul was among the guests of the Russian Orthodox Church who celebrated the Feast of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God in Tikhvin and St. Petersburg, Russia.

Bishop Paul guest of Russian Church for Feast of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God
Bishops Paul and Mstislav with reproduction of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God.

Bishop Paul was accompanied by Archpriest John Adamcio, Dean of Chicago’s Holy Trinity Cathedral; Archpriest Alexander Garklavs, Rector of Holy Trinity Church, Parma, OH whose father, the late Archpriest Sergei Garklavs, had been the icon’s guardian from the late 1940s until its return to Russia in 2004; and Deacon Alexander Koranda.  Also present from the US for the celebration was His Eminence, Archbishop Peter of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

On Friday, July 8 — the Eve of the Feast of the Tikhvin Icon — Bishop Paul concelebrated at the All-Night Vigil at the Cathedral of the Dormition at the Dormition Monastery of Our Lady of Tikhvin.  Among those who welcomed Bishop Paul was His Eminence, Metropolitan Varsonofy of Saint Petersburg and Ladoga and His Grace, Bishop Mstislav of Tikhvin and Ladeinoye Polye, who is slated to visit Chicago in October 2016.

The following morning, Bishop Paul concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with Metropolitan Varsonofy, Archbishop Peter, Bishop Mstislav, and numerous other hierarchs in the open air in front of the monastery cathedral.  The Tikhvin Icon was present throughout the two-day celebration.  A Service of Thanksgiving was celebrated before the icon after the Liturgy.

Founded in 1560, the Dormition Monastery held the wonderworking Tikhvin Icon, which had been discovered by fishermen on Lake Ladoga in 1383 — 70 years before the fall of Constantinople.  Tradition holds that the original icon was the work of the Evangelist Luke.  In the fifth century it was moved from Jerusalem to Constantinople, where it was enshrined in the Church of the Virgin Mary in the city’s Blachernae district.  The icon remained in the Dormition Monastery until it was closed — and subsequently destroyed — by the Soviet authorities in the 1920s.  During World War II the icon was taken to Latvia in the face of Nazi advances into northern Russia.  In 1949, His Grace, Bishop John [Garklavs] of Riga [later Archbishop of Chicago] brought the icon with him to the US, where for many years it was enshrined in Chicago’s Holy Trinity Cathedral.  After Archbishop John’s death in 1982, his adopted son, Father Sergei, was the icon’s guardian until it was returned to the Tikhvin Monastery in 2004.  See related story.

At the conclusion of the festal Liturgy, Metropolitan Varsonofy read greetings from His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, in which he recounted the numerous occasions throughout history when the Mother of God interceded for the Russian people, especially during the years of severe tribulation.  “The Mother of God showed her love and care for us through the centuries,” he recalled.  “Thank God this image has returned to Russia!  We can kneel and open our hearts before the Heavenly Queen, to pray to her, to recite hymns and to sing troparia.  What she has done for us serves our salvation.”

“Today the city of Tikhvin is rejoicing,” Bishop Mstislav added.  “Today an assembly of bishops, a great many priests and hundreds of worshippers venerate the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God.  Present here with us today are our guests from Chicago – Bishop Paul, Archbishop Peter and Archpriest Alexander, a son of Archpriest Sergiy Garklavs, the long-time guardian of the Tikhvin Icon.

Bishop Paul guest of Russian Church for Feast of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God
Bishop Paul celebrates Akathistos with Frs. John Adamcio and Alexander Garklavs.

“The icon has returned to the place in which it was found many centuries ago,” Bishop Mstislav concluded.  “In our prayers before the icon, we ask the Mother of God to help the monastery, the whole Church of Russia and all our people,” adding that Bishop Paul had brought with him a piece of soil from the grounds of Chicago’s Holy Trinity Cathedral.  “The cathedral was built by the first holy martyr of the Petersburg region — Saint Archpriest Ioann Kochurov — with the blessing of Saint Bishop Tikhon, the future Patriarch,” Bishop Mstislav explained.

On Sunday, July 10 — the Sunday of All Saints of the Saint Petersburg region — Bishop Paul presided at the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in Saint Petersburg’s landmark Holy Trinity Cathedral in the Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra — the oldest monastic community on the Neva River.  In addition to Fathers John and Alexander and Deacon Alexander, many of the monastery’s clergy also concelebrated.

“On behalf of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon of All America and Canada and the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, I am honored to be with you today,” Bishop Paul said at the conclusion of the Liturgy.  “Today the Lord has made it possible for me to celebrate the Divine Liturgy with you, which is a cause for me to rejoice.  This is my first visit to Russia.  Returning to America, I will always remember you and your sincere faith, and in turn, I ask your holy prayers.”

A photo gallery of the trip can be viewed here.

Upon his return to Chicago, Bishop Paul wrote the following reflection on his visit.


Thoughts of a Greek, who is a Bishop in the Orthodox Church in America,

and who is visiting Russia for the first time

I am writing to you from St. Petersburg, Russia.  I arrived here on Tuesday July 5th (along with Fr. Alexander Garklavs, Fr. John Adamcio, and Deacon Alex Koranda) and will be departing on Tuesday July 12th returning God willing, to Chicago.  At the invitation of Bishop Mstislav of Tikhvin, I have visited St. Anthony of Dymsk Monastery and the Tikhvin Monastery of the Dormition, both celebrating their feast days on the Old Calendar July 7th and 9th.  I have to admit my visit has been a great paradox.  I have never been so disconnected and connected at that same time since being here.  I am an American Greek who has forgotten much of his Greek, knows no Russian, visiting with people who I can only communicate with through a translator.  What on earth am I doing here!?

Despite feeling so out of place, thus far, I have found something here that I can truly describe as wonderful!  Both St. Anthony’s Monastery and the Tikhvin Monastery are currently undergoing renovation after decades of neglect through Communism, and other factors; buildings are in the process of being renovated, and icons are in serious need of restoration.  But most importantly, monks and nuns are back living in these holy places and bringing a living faith and witness to the gospel of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bishop Paul guest of Russian Church for Feast of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God
Bishop Paul blesses faithful at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy at Holy Trinity Cathedral in St. Petersburg’s St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra on July 10.

How do I know this?  I saw it in the faces of those who came in pilgrimage to these places the last few days.  They worshipped in places still in need of serious restoration.  At St. Anthony of Dymsk Monastery, we worshipped in an altar and nave stripped down to the bare brick.  The original icons are gone.  Yet I found a great beauty gazing at the bricks because of what I saw in the faces of the people there gathered in worship.  Their faces were focused; their gaze displayed a hunger and thirst for the word of God.  The ears were glued to Bishop Mstislav as he spoke to them at the end of liturgy.  The church was packed on a workday with kids, and adults both young and old.  What I saw transcended place, culture and time.  Through this experience I came to see what has been lacking in me.  Their hunger and faith is something I lacked.

One of the reasons for the visit was the miraculous Tikhvin Icon that from the 1930s to 2004 was under the guardianship of Archbishop John of Chicago and his adopted son Fr. Serge Garklavs, both of blessed memory, at Holy Trinity Cathedral.  In 2004 this icon was returned to the Tikhvin Monastery that had been its home since as early as the 1380’s and as late as the early 16th century.  Before returning to the monastery, the icon processed through the city of Moscow before 350,000 people and another 30,000 when it reached its final resting place at the Monastery of the Dormition in Tikhvin.  Since that time the hunger and desire to see and pray before this icon, to ask for the intercession of the Mother God, continues to be steady and strong.  Hundreds of people visit this icon daily to venerate it, pray an Akathist before it, or ask intercession of the Holy Theotokos.  (For more information click on the following link: http://oca.org/saints/lives/2016/06/26/101821-appearance-of-the-tikhvin-icon-of-the-mother-of-god.)

Saturday morning as we walked to the church for liturgy, people were literally running after me seeking a blessing from me.  I had never experienced this before.  This was common throughout my stay there.  Sunday I had the honor of serving Divine Liturgy (without another bishop) at the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg.  To serve here with all its history was truly overwhelming.  Later in the day we visited Tsarske Selo and the recently rebuilt St. Catherine Church.  We venerated the relics of St. John Kochurov of Chicago.

Through this experience I ask, why don’t we have this kind of hunger and desire I saw in the faces of people here, in our Orthodox Churches in America today?  Could it be in our struggle to figure out what it means to be Orthodox in modern America with all its challenges that we have become too preoccupied with this issue?  Has it become a worldly pursuit and now an obstacle to seeking His Kingdom and righteousness?  Our Lord said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of Heaven” (Luke 9:62).  Our faith is an incarnational faith, but it is also one that is to be transcended.  Double mindedness gets us nowhere.

Gazing into the eyes of those who came to St. Anthony Dymsk and the Tikhvin Monastery this past week challenged me to look into the spiritual eyes of my own soul and to see what was lacking in me.  May the Lord be merciful unto me a sinner.

The unworthy + Paul
Bishop of Chicago, Diocese of the Midwest

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