BOISE, Idaho - Tears spring easily to the eyes of Yelena Brooks, a member of the congregation of St. Seraphim of Sarov Russian Orthodox Church in Boise, when she talks about the Kursk Root icon.
"It's hard to explain the feelings. Especially for Russian people abroad. It's our defender," Brooks said.
Born in Russia, Brooks has been in the U.S. for 15 years.
Covered with gold, shining stone and enamel, the portrait of the Virgin Mary isn't much larger than a foot square. But it has survived a Russian anarchist bomb and the Bolshevik revolution. It has been split in half and reunited.
In 1295, its followers believe, the icon caused spring water to gush spontaneously from the Russian ground.
That's just one of its many miracles.
Currently on a journey to each parish in the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, the icon recently traveled through Russia.
Russian television crews charted its daily progress and documented throngs of worshippers who came pray before it - if even for only a few seconds.
Father David Moser presides over St. Seraphim of Sarov, which hosted the icon in mid-October. He said that while many icons are considered as significant as the Kursk icon by those of the Russian Orthodox faith, it is among a very small number of icons that travel.
The icon travels at all times with a human companion.
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"It's always with people. Icons of this caliber are never left alone," Moser said.
The Virgin Mary is the most important saint in Russian Orthodoxy. Icons act as windows for parishioners between the earthly world and God, he said.
Because Boise's Russian Orthodox congregation is small, only about 70 people, a mix of Russian immigrants and Russian Americans, parishioners get to spend more time with the icon than the fleeting moments seen when larger crowds are around.
On Oct. 16, after evening services at the church, a domed building redolent of incense, draped in more blue - the color of Mary - than usual in deference to the icon, Moser carried the icon to the homes of many of St. Seraphim's members for individual prayer sessions.
Once the icon has been inside a home, it's forever blessed, he said. The entire city of Boise is blessed by virtue of the icon's visit, he added.
The Kursk icon has traveled to Boise twice before. The last visit was nearly a decade ago. It came to Brooks' house at a time of great family struggles. Her daughter was involved with drugs.
Brooks believes the Kursk icon, the Virgin Mary, answered her prayers and healed her family.
"I would not have survived," Brooks said. Her daughter, now 26, lives in Russia, and has a simple life that Brooks admires.
The next day, the icon traveled to Salt Lake City, where the Russian Orthodox community there welcomed it for a Saturday evening vigil.