Kirov, June 4, 2019
Thousands of Orthodox faithful gathered in the Vyatka Metropolia yesterday for the start of the Velikoretsky (“Great River”) Cross Procession, held annually from June 3 to 8.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Kirov Region, 27,000 pilgrims attended the opening of the 110-mile holy march with an ancient copy of the Velikotretsky Icon of the St. Nicholas the Wonderworker to the banks of the Great River, to the place where the icon appeared, reports the press service of the Diocese of Vyatka and Sloboda.
The procession was preceded by the Divine Liturgy in Holy Dormition Cathedral of Trifonov Monastery in Kirov, headed by the primate of the Estonian Orthodox Church, His Eminence Metropolitan Eugene of Tallinn and All Estonia, concelebrated by the local hierarch His Eminence Metropolitan Mark of Vyatka and Sloboda and four other hierarchs, as well as numerous clergy of the Vyatka Metropolia.
Following the Divine Liturgy, an akathist was read in front of the Velikoretsky Icon on square in front of the cathedral. The Governor of the Kirov Region Igor Vasiliev then addressed the pilgrims with words of farewell and Met. Mark blessed all the participants in the procession.
The evening before, Met. Mark had traveled to the village of Velikoretsky, where he led a moleben to St. Nicholas and consecrated a memorial cross.
The main celebrations of the cross procession will take place on June 6 on the banks of the Great River, where the wonderworking icon of St. Nicholas first appeared. Met. Mark will lead the Divine Liturgy and the moleben with the blessing of waters that day. 55,000 faithful attended the Liturgy last year.
The procession will end on June 8.
The Velikoretsky Procession of the Cross is one of the longest and most ancient processions in Russia.
The icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was discovered in 1383. A peasant named Semyon Agalakov from the Krutitsy village discovered the icon on the bank of the Velikaya River, hence its name, Velikoretsky [“of the ‘Velikaya,’ or ‘Great’ River”].
In about 1400, the icon was sent to the town of Khlynov which was later renamed Vyatka (and in 1934 renamed Kirov). Khlynov residents vowed to bring the icon to the site of its appearance every year. Until 1777, the procession of the cross was arranged by water—on boats and rafts along the Vyatka and Velikaya Rivers, and then it was held by land.
In the 16th century, by order of Tsar Ivan IV, the icon was brought from Khlynov to Moscow. Sick people were healed and other miracles occurred en route. At the tsar’s command, one of side chapels of the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed, which then was under construction, was dedicated in honor of the “Velikoretsky” icon of St. Nicholas. From that time on the veneration of the miraculous icon began to spread all over Russia. The icon was brought to Moscow for the second time by order of Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich in the 17th century. The feast in commemoration of the icon (June 6 according to the new calendar) was established in 1668.
In 1935, when the cathedral in Kirov was destroyed, the miraculous icon was lost. The Velikoretsky Cross Procession was officially prohibited in the 1930s and was not resumed until 1989. Today, pilgrims carry one of the copies of this icon instead of the original in the procession.
In 2000, His Holiness Patriarch Alexey II assigned the Velikoretsky Procession the All-Russian status.
Met. Mark of Vyatka participated in the entire procession for the first time in 2015. In 2017, the procession was led by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.