WALLA WALLA — At 6:30 a.m. Friday, when it was still pitch black outside, most regular worshippers were already in St. Silouan Orthodox Church. The beginning of the service that is usually marked by many chimes was limited to just one bell.
An ancient icon was placed in the center of the church, and every newcomer immediately headed to it to pray. No bigger than 20 by 30 inches, decorated with silver and gold beads and hardly retaining the image of the Virgin Mary anymore, the icon seemed sublime.
The Kursk Root Icon, one of the most ancient and praised Russian Orthodox icons, was brought to the city Thursday and Friday. The 700-year-old icon of The Mother of God of the Sign has survived the upheavals of Russian history and has been associated with various miracles and divine intervention.
"After it was brought to New York in the ’50s, The Kursk Root Icon has become a sign of unity for all Russian immigrants in the West and a symbol of the resistance of religion against communist regime," said Reader Silouan Thompson of St. Silouan Orthodox Church.
"This is the first time something like this comes to our parish," Thompson said.
"People always ask me ‘Why are icons so important?’" Thompson said. "And I say: ‘We keep having miracles in the presence of the wonder-working icons. We don’t worship the icon, but we pray to Mother Mary, and Mother Mary prays very effectively for us.’"
On Sept. 23, the icon was brought back to Kursk for the first time after its exile in the 1950s, and more than 30,000 people walked the procession with the icon, led by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.
After its Walla Walla visit, the icon departs for Boise. It’s expected that this month the icon will visit every parish in the Diocese of Western America.
Dena Popova can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.