THE LOCAL LENS
By Thom Nickels
The news media likes to make light (and fun) of supposed miracles like images of the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast or on a McDonald’s Big Mac. The media will even extend coverage to farfetched abstract images of the Virgin Mary in French toast batter or dried house paint.
But what happens when something like the real thing occurs?
The media is not to be found, that’s what.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. If too many people knew where a real miracle was taking place the location would be so crowded they’d have to sell tickets. But that was not the case with the miraculous and healing myrrh-streaming icon of the Virgin Mary that was brought to Saint Nicholas EO church, 817 N. Seventh Street, in Northern Liberties recently.
There were no tickets to the event; news of the icon’s arrival, in fact, was limited to area parish news bulletins that circulated one week prior.
A little bit of history.
The internationally famous Holy Hawaiian-Iveron Icon of the Theotokos that was brought to Saint Nicholas church was not an image drawn on a piece of toast, although it is a modern picture of the Virgin Mary that was given to its owner in Hawaii sometime in 2007. The owner, a man named Nectarios, put this and another gift icon in the icon corner of his house and pretty much forgot about them. Nectarios, you see, collects a lot of icons, so he didn’t expect anything unusual to occur.
The icon of the Virgin Mary (Theotokos) began to give off a scent of roses or myrrh. At first Nectarios though the scent was “all in his head,” but when he came home one day and found his house flooded with the aroma, he knew that something extraordinary was happening. He was able to trace the scent to the two gift icons mentioned above, but especially to the Theotokos, which seemed to be oozing so much myrrh that you could take a cloth, apply it to the icon and the cloth would come up wet. A shocked Nectarios asked his wife if she had cleaned the icon earlier with anything liquid, but she answered in the negative.
The couple brought the icon to their parish priest, who placed it in the church on an Analogia or table while it continued to stream myrrh.
The stream of myrrh and the scent of roses would not stop. Soon people from all religions began to visit them. Nectarios stated: “The icons streamed quite hard; there was enough myrrh for everyone. They have continued streaming ever since. Many have come to see the icons. Russians, Greeks, Serbs, Roman Catholics, Protestants. All who approach the icons feel the Grace of God!”
When various miracles and healings started to happen, Nectarios knew that the image had been singled out for a special blessing.
To date, the Theotokos icon has been to over 250 churches in the United States and to nearly every country in the world. It is estimated that it has been venerated by nearly a quarter of a million people. For almost five years now the streaming myrrh has rarely abated. “There have been days when the icons have been completely dry, while on other days they are covered in myrrh. Yet whether they stream or not, they continually give off an extremely strong scent of roses. It is truly a great miracle. I sometimes wonder if it is a warning,” Nectarios has written.
When I heard that this famous icon was going to be in Northern Liberties, I made a point to see it. I headed over to St. Nicholas’ after work and waited inside the church, along with many others, for the icon’s arrival by car from another location. The wait was lengthy, but it was worth it; the extra time allowed the church to fill to capacity. At the entrance of the icon, the bells rang in a sustained powerful, staccato-like peel.
The ringing made me ponder the plight of people misled by amulets, crystals, divination cards, sage bundles, magic pendulums, gemstones or stones with words of encouragement written on them, occult oils, runes, Celtic Druidism, Cloudy Purple Floor washes or pop up Reiki.
Standing in the church, I also recalled a set of “healing” crystals somebody had given me years ago. The idea was to rub the crystals on any part of the body that was experiencing pain and then let the properties inherent in the crystals work their healing power. While I was never convinced that these crystals could do anything, an elderly relative of mine was. She would request that I bring them to the nursing home whenever I visited her. I think it was more psychological suggestion (and the placebo effect) that caused this relative to say, “Oh yes, I feel much better now. Don’t forget to bring them next time.”
Soon after the Theotokos icon was placed in front of the church, there was a floral fragrance in the air. This scent was not coming from the priest’s censer. The aroma got substantially heavier when I got in line to wait my turn to face the image.
During that half hour wait, altar boys distributed holy card images of the icon, as well as small zip lock baggies—the kind you see on the street left by those suffering from substance abuse---for a sampling of myrrh from the miraculous image.
As my turn approached, I noticed that the priests had small vials filled with myrrh that had been obtained from the image. They also used small Q-tips to anoint the foreheads and hands of those in line. (It is sometimes possible to dab the front of the icon with a cloth or cotton and get enough myrrh to anoint people, but at Saint Nicholas vials were used). The scent in the church was by now overwhelming.
When it was my turn at the icon, I noticed that the glass enclosure around it was foggy due to condensation.
Nothing happened to me after I paid my respects. I did not levitate five inches off the ground; I did not see stars; I was not able to divine the future. The far greater miracle was all around: the scent of roses, just as Nectarios described it, from this image of the Theotokos.
I placed my small baggie of myrrh in my satchel and headed to Front and Girard where I boarded the Route 15, my nostrils and body, awash in myrrh.
Even as I finish these last sentences, the baggie of myrrh on my desk continues to emit its mysterious aroma.
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