40,000 Pilgrims on the Velikoretsky Way of St. Nicholas

This amazing pilgrimage, began in 1668 after the miraculous icon of St. Nicholas was found in 1383. It continued even after the 1918 Revolution. Even though the icon itself disappeared during the 1930s, pilgrims continued to come, bearing St. Nicholas icons, though they were harassed, arrested and some even martyred. When persecution increased after World War II, the pilgrimage still continued into the 1950s with over 6000 pilgrims. Krushchev's renewed religious persecution was particularly directed against Velikoretsky. The procession was banned and the church destroyed. Despite police presence and arrests, small groups of 3-5 people still came. This continued until 1989 when a shorter procession was allowed. The tradition survived decades of prohibition and persecution before the pilgrimage was fully reinstated in 1990. The great popularity of the Velikoretsky icon and the many miracles attributed to it were important to the development of the prominent place St. Nicholas holds in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Vyatka Icon
Velikoretsky St. Nicholas icon

In 1383 a peasant named Semyon Agalakov was passing through the woods near the Velikaya River and saw a great light in the woods, as if from many candles. Afraid, he continued on his way. Upon his return he again saw the radiant light and felt drawn toward it. Making the sign of the cross, he drew near and found the source of the light. It was an icon of Saint Nicholas with scenes of his life.

The farmer took the icon to his home and kept it in secret. A villager who had not been able to walk for twenty years dreamed of St. Nicholas and the farmer who had the holy image. In the dream he was commanded to go to the icon. He went, knelt before the icon, prayed for health and venerated the image. Immediately he was felt a new strength and could walk.

Finding the Wonder-working icon
Paintings in the refectory of the Holy Transfiguration Velikoretsky Nicholas Monastery
Healing man who couldn't walk

After hearing the story, the villagers built a chapel on the site where the icon was found, placing the holy image there. Known as a wonder-working icon, many people came to pray before the icon and were healed. As word spread it became a place of pilgrimage for the Vyatka region.

Velikoretki wooden chapel
Wooden chapel on site of icon's discovery

Because of the pilgrimage the hamlet of Velikoretskoye was founded in the 15th century near the place where the icon was found. It is now the site of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery of St. Nicholas.

The monastery was established in 2004. The complex contains St. Nicholas Cathedral Church, Transfiguration Church, the bell tower with the Church of Elijah, a shopping mall, hotel, and a wooden chapel on the site where the wonder-working icon was found. Divine Liturgy for the feast day was held for the first time in the Transfiguration Church in 2007.

Velikoretsy Monastery St Nicholas Cathedral
St. Nicholas Cathedral, Holy Transfiguration Monastery Velikoretsky Nicholas Monastery
Velikoreckoe Monastery
Holy Transfiguration Monastery Velikoretsky Nicholas Monastery
left to right: Church of Elijah, Transfiguration Church, St Nicholas Cathedral

The citizens of Khlynov or Vyatka (now Kirov), the regional capital, took the icon to their church for safekeeping, promising to return it to the Velikaya River bank each year. The icon is now kept in the Cathedral Church of the Holy Dormition, Trifonov Monastery in Kirov. On June 3rd, the icon is taken from the church and carried to the bank of the River Velikaya where it was originally found. The journey there and back is 105 miles (170 kilometers).

Procession gathering at Cathedral
Outside the Cathedral in Kirov

The five-day pilgrimage begins on June 3rd with a 6 am Divine Liturgy and the Akathist Prayer to Saint Nicholas at Holy Dormition Cathedral in Kirov. The Blessing of the Waters and Akathist to St Nicholas the Wonderworker takes place at 9 am in cathedral square of the Holy Assumption Cathedral at Trifonov Monastery which is also in Kirov. The procession of Cross, icons and banners begins at 10 am., leaving from the Holy Dormition Cathedral.

Cross at beginning of procession
Priest carrying banners

Thousands of pilgrims make the pilgrimage on foot; others come by busload from Kirov.

Pilgrims filling street

The anniversary procession of the icon's discovery lasts from June 3 to June 8 and has taken place for over 600 years. Pilgrims come from all over Russia and beyond—40,000 in 2013.

Pilgrims cross fields
Crossing countryside

The historical route has been followed since 1992. Each day covers from 25 to 50 kilometers, three pilgrimage days to Velikoretskoye and two days back to Kirov, for a total of 170 kilometers. The road goes through field and forest with some on paved asphalt.

Vyatka Icon of St. Nicholas carried in procession

Pilgrims journey with a prayer, helping others and persevering through difficulty. The number of pilgrims has steadily grown with people coming from all over Russia and beyond.

Banners in field
Pilgrims as far as the eye can see

Day two: the Cross progresses to Bobino, Prayer and Akathist held in Zagare, and continues on.

Child running ahead
Pilgrim in muddy field
Vyatka Icon

The pilgrimage is so important that the regional authorities work to coordinate safety of the pilgrims. Road repair, cleaning of forest and field routes and bridges. Food, accommodation, medical support, sanitary facilities, fire safety and public order are all concerns. There is no alcohol on the pilgrimage.

Tents for pilgrims
Communal food
Pilgrim with Nicholas icon

Day three: the procession arrives in Gorohovo on June 5th and continues to Velikoretskoye. Prayer to St. Nicholas in the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Velikoretskoye at 6 pm, followed by all-night vigils on the banks of the river and in the Church of the Transfiguration.

Day four: Divine Liturgy is held at 2 am and 5 am in the Church of the Transfiguration and at 6 am and 10 am on the river banks. Procession to the source at 1 pm with Consecration of the Waters and the river. At 2 o'clock the icon is processed to the monastery Church of the Transfiguration.

Liturgy at the river
Blessing of the Waters

The pilgrims pray before the image in the place where it was found, drink water from the holy spring, and bathe in the Velikaya River.

Water from the spring
Interior of the St. Nicholas Icon Chapel

After the prayer service and Akathist to St. Nicholas in the Church of the Transfiguration pilgrims left by bus or returned to camp sites to rest before beginning the trek back to Kirov.

Day five: Prayer and Akathist to St. Nicholas in the monastery Church of the Transfiguration at 1 am. The icon is processed to Medyany, then to Murygino where there is again Prayer and Akathist to St. Nicholas.

Day six: the procession continues back through Girsovo, Luhansk until arriving at the Holy Dormition Cathedral of the Trifonov Monastery in Kirov at 5 pm. Prayer and Akathist and Blessing of the Waters occurs along the way.

Video from, Velikoretsky Procession of the Cross from Russia Beyond The Headlines on Vimeo.

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  • "Thousands Of Russian Orthodox Christians Take Part In Five-Day Pilgrimage, with beautiful large photos, RadioFreeEurope / RadioLiberty
  • Vyatka Eparhia, including photo 6. Permission pending.
  • "Velikoretsky Procession -2009," by Vladimir Astapkovich LiveJournal, including photos 7,8,9,11,13,17,18,19,20. Permission pending.
  • "The Ninety-Three Mile Procession of St Nicholas’ Icon", A Reader's Guide to Icons.
  • "Velikoretsky Procession," Wikipedia in Russian and in English.
  • "Velikoretsky Procession 2012" Pravmir.com, including photos by Vladimir Astapkovich 10,14,15,21. Permission pending.
  • "40 thousand people participated in the main worship Velikoretsky procession," by Pavel Petrov, Ekklezia.Ru, including photos 22,23,29.
  • "An 800 Kilometer Litany In Honor of St. Nicholas of Velikoretsky," by John Sanidopoulos, Mystagogy.
  • Rozamira, including photos 2,3,4,24,25.
  • "Nikolo-Velikoretsky Monastery," OrthodoxWiki.

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