His Grace was co-served by parish rector Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov, Archpriest Alexander Belya (dean of New York City), Archpriest George Kallaur (rector of “Unexpected Joy” Church in Staten Island, NY), Archpriest Liubo Milosevich (rector of Holy Trinity Church in Vineland, NJ), Archpriest Mark Burachek (rector of Our Lady of Kazan Church in Newark, NJ), Archpriest Petro Kunitsky (cleric of Holy New Martyrs & Confessors of Russia Church in Brooklyn, NY), Archpriest Boris Slootsky (cleric of neighboring St. George’s Church in Howell), Priest Seraphim Chemodakov (parish cleric), Priest Serge Ledkovsky (deputy rector of neighboring St. Vladimir Memorial Church in Jackson), and Protodeacon Michael Soloviev (cleric of Nativity of the Mother of God Church in Albany, NY).
Our Lady of Tikhvin Church in Howell became the first church in the Eastern American Diocese in which the newly consecrated Bishop Nicholas celebrated the Hierarchal Divine Liturgy. Greeting His Grace, Fr. Valery wished him God’s aid in his service to the Holy Church, and that in his Archpastoral service he might never forget his glorious forebearers ‒ the hierarchs of the Russian Church Abroad.
Many of the church’s parishioners, as well as faithful from Brooklyn and across New York City, came to mark the parish feast day of Our Lady of Tikhvin Church and to honor the wonderworking Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God. This icon, preserved in Howell, is renowned as the “Royal Icon:” in 1972, it was donated to what was then St. Alexander Nevsky Church by Lakewood resident Olga V. Astori-Astafiev, whose mother received the icon as a gift from the Holy Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in 1913.
Upon completion of the Liturgy, the clergy and parishioners performed a procession around the church.
Addressing the faithful with a sermon, Bishop Nicholas reminded them of the story from the Gospel of Matthew of the Roman centurion who, learning that Jesus Christ had come to Capernaum, approached Him and asked that the Lord might heal his ailing servant by His word; he also reminded the faithful of the fact that ‒ almost without exception ‒ only icons of the Most Holy Theotokos are wonderworking:
“Rarely do we see wonderworking icons of the Savior, of the Apostles, or of the venerable monastics. Yes, all icons have spiritual power, and they all reveal to us the Heavenly Church Triumphant, but only icons of the Theotokos are wonderworking. The Holy Fathers explain the reason for this: God pours out special grace on the Mother of God, and works wonders through her icons, so that we might truly comprehend that the Mother of God is our mother, and so that we might run to her with all of our heart, our mind, our soul. In the troparion to the Dormition of the Mother of God, we hear these words: ‘in thy dormition thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos.’
“Greeting us when we visited the Far East last year with the Kursk Root Icon, Metropolitan Benjamin of Vladivostok & Primorye described it thus: if we look at the stars in the sky, and their great multitude ‒ that is how many icons exist of the Most Holy Theotokos. Among these stars are the Kazan Icon, and the Smolensk Icon, ‘Joy of All Who Sorrow,’ and our Kursk Root Icon, as well as the Tikhvin Icon that we honor today… All of these icons adorn our churches, our homes; the Mother of God covers the entire Orthodox world with her omophorion. Truly she is our Mother. And the Roman centurion is an example for us of how we ought to give ourselves over not only to Christ the Savior, but also to the Mother of God… Let us pray to the Mother of God, that she might intercede for us before her Son. If we will call out to her with our all our heart and soul, with humbled thoughts, she will hear us, forgive our sins, and by her prayers heal us from spiritual and physical infirmity.”
As Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan’s spiritual father, Fr. Valery reminded the faithful of how the future hierarch was raised in their midst, and of his humility and quiet character, which came to him naturally. Fr. Valery wished His Grace good health, that his heart might always be full of joyous spring, and that this joy might settle upon all those whom he might meet on his path. On behalf of St. Alexander Nevsky & Our Lady of Tikhvin parish, the rector presented Bishop Nicholas with a set of lesser Paschal vestments ‒ the omophorion, epitrachelion (stole), and cuffs. In a brief reply, Bishop Nicholas assured the clergy and parishioners that he will commemorate them in his prayers before God’s Altar.
A bountiful festal luncheon was prepared in the parish hall, where His Grace continued to receive kind and heartfelt words of congratulation on the occasion of his consecration to the episcopate.