A friend of mine - Eva - invited me to participate in an exclusive visit to venerate a supposed myrrh-streaming icon of the Madonna and Child, located right in the very heart of Honolulu (of all places, it’s in an industrial area of downtown just a few blocks away from my place of work!). I had actually heard rumors of this mysterious event a few months back but I never pursued it because the image wasn’t housed in a Catholic church or home, but rather, in a Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, the icon - referred to as the "Holy Theotokos of Iveron" ("Theotokos" is Greek for "God-Bearer" and "Iveron" is the ancient name of the country of Georgia where this particular icon-depiction of Mary originated) - has been exuding fragrant myrrh (blessed oil traditionally used in religious rituals) intermittently since October 2007... and in June 2008, authorities of this branch of the Orthodox Church officially recognized the weeping icon of Hawaii as a genuine miracle. In addition, cures have been reported through the devotional use of the blessed oil that drips from it. Still, despite the official approval from its church, I remained cautious and really didn’t think much of it.
So last week, when my friend emailed the invitation to join her and a group of parishioners from St. George Catholic Church in Waimanalo in making a pilgrimage to the icon, I prayed about it for several hours, versus just excitedly jumping at the opportunity to see it. In the end, I felt very strongly that it was God’s will that I go. Plus Eva, who had previously visited the icon, assured me that it wasn’t a hoax and I trusted her judgement.
Who knows, I thought to myself? Perhaps the invitation from my friend was really Jesus’ manner of indicating that it was time for me to see and venerate this particular image of His Mother; to perhaps receive a special grace; all the while expressing ecumenical solidarity with our Orthodox brethren, who we have a lot in common with in regards to beliefs, including a deep reverence towards the Holy Mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. So tonight I went... and I am very glad I did.
Inside the church, it seemed larger than what it looked like from the outside. I’ve never been in an Orthodox church but it was beautiful and tastefully decorated with wooden panels and many icons of Jesus, Our Lady, and Orthodox Saints in varying sizes all over its walls; different from the interior of a Catholic Church, but the "vibe" felt familiar and comforting.
My friend led me to the center of the church where the icon was kept on a stand. The image was smaller than what I expected - according to church literature only 7" x 9" - and it appeared to be protected in a slightly larger, glass-faced outer case over which was a fitted covering of padded blue cloth. Streaks of clear oily moisture were evident on the smooth surface of the image and emanating from the frame was a beautiful scent of roses mixed with the pungent, but pleasing, aroma of incense and olive oil. I prayed quietly while paying my respect to Our Lady's image, before taking a spot near the door to await the start of the prayers.
After our prayers ended, the guardian of the icon - Subdeacon Nectarios - provided us with a brief history of the streaming icon, as well as gave us an impromptu sermon about what he believed this miraculous occurrence meant. In essence, the he expressed that the icon was a rare sign from Our Lady to lead us all closer to her Divine Son, Jesus Christ. And to add just a bit more about Subdeacon Nectarios, I sensed this soft-spoken man to be sincerely humble and completely dedicated to his role as the protector of the icon; the patience he displayed towards us and our many inquiries was also admirable.
|A small copy of the miracle|
icon and a piece of myrrh-
After the blessing and distribution of myrrh, Subdeacon Nectarios carefully lifted the icon out of its box to place our written prayer intentions under it (we were encouraged to write them down on small slips of paper). He took the opportunity to show the few of us, who were closely gathered around, the back of the image before replacing it in the larger case. The icon's reverse side was dry and free of holes or any type of mechanism that could cause the oil-weeping phenomena. Again, I was very impressed. I left that little church feeling renewed and strengthened in my faith in God... and in the miraculous; plus a deeper respect for our Orthodox brethren. I think the other pilgrims who were there, too, left with the same positive sentiments.
The dripping oil can be seen in the streaks near the Virgin's face.
Not sure about everyone else out there, but in my personal walk with Jesus Christ, my faith sometimes wanes during periods of spiritual dryness or very difficult personal challenges, despite my best efforts. But it’s always at my lowest points that God sometimes surprises me with a little “boost” to help me pick myself up again. Tonight’s visit with the streaming Holy Theotokos of Iveron was my latest spiritual boost, and boy did I really need it. Even as I sit here in my living room, finishing-up on this recent post, I am still enjoying the scent of roses all around me. It's simply amazing. Our God is truly a God of wonders!
Thank you, Jesus and Mary!