In the life of the sixth century saint, Mary of Egypt, we find a beautiful illustration of the proper, pious, and humble veneration of the Mother of God, depicted on a holy icon as well as the power of God, which worked through the Theotokos and through her icon:
…And so I stood weeping when I saw above me the icon of the most holy Theotokos, and I prayed to her, “O Lady, Virgin and Theotokos, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word, I know – how well I know! – that it is no honor or praise to you when someone so impure and depraved as I am looks upon your pure icon, for you kept your body and soul in purity, O ever-virgin. Before your virginal purity it is right that I inspire only hatred and disgust. But I have heard that God, who was born of you, became man only because He wanted to call sinners to repentance. Help me, for I have no other help! Order the entrance of the church to be opened to me. Allow me to see the venerable tree on which your Son suffered in the flesh and on which He shed His holy Blood for the redemption of sinners, and for me, unworthy as I am. Be my faithful witness before your Son that I will never again defile my body by fornication, but as soon as I see the tree of the cross I will renounce the world and its temptations and go wherever you lead me.”
Thus, I prayed and as if I obtained some hope in firm faith, and feeling some confidence in the mercy of the Theotokos, I left the place where I stood to pray. I went again and mingled with the crowd that was pushing its way into the church. And now no one seemed to thwart me; no one hindered my entering the church. I began to tremble, and was almost in a trance. Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before – as if the same force which hindered me cleared the way for me – I now entered without any difficulty and found myself within the holy place. Throwing myself on the ground, I worshipped that holy earth and kissed it with trembling. Then I came out of the church and went to her who had promised to be my security, to the place where I made my vow. And bending my knees before the [icon of the] Virgin Theotokos, I prayed to her in words like these: “O loving Lady, you have shown me your great love for all men! Glory to God who receives the repentance of sinners through you.”
Through the intercessions of the Theotokos depicted on a holy icon, the prayer of Mary of Egypt was heard; she was granted entrance to the Church to venerate the Holy Cross of Christ. A penitent sinner before an icon, she was received and brought into a relationship with Christ.
Miracles like this are not uncommon. Rev. Dr. Patrinacos explains that this is the case because God’s Grace continues to abide in both Holy Relics as well as in their icons.
The Lord keeps, not only all the bones, but also the images of the saints, not allowing them to corrupt and perish, through carelessness and neglect, but miraculously renewing them, as we know from accounts of the appearance of wonder-working images, above all those of the immaculate Mother of God, our Lady. So dear to God is the image of man, particularly that of a holy man, as a vessel of grace. Through such images He works miracles, and bestows invisible powers of healing and consolation.
Saint John of Kronstadt says more succinct, “God rests in the saints, and even in their names and their images. It is only necessary to use their images with faith, and they will do miracles.”
Within recent years, the Church has been adorned with numerous icons that have streamed myrrh. For whatever reason, God has chosen to manifest His love to the faithful through particular icons possibly on account of the faith of the keeper(s), the needs of a parish or region, and or to affirm His pleasure with a glorified saint or the great piety of the faithful. In any instance, the faithful have responded in like manner; they have flocked to the icons to venerate the Holy Ones, to give thanks to God, to witness a miracle, and to be anointed with myrrh, if it gushes forth.
A partial list of myrrh-streaming icons include the following:
• The 19th century, Surety-of-Sinners Icon of Moscow, which exuded myrrh with which the sick were anointed and received healing.
• In 1960, the Lithograph Icon of the “Mother of Sorrows” shed tears in the apartment of Mr. & Mrs. Peter Catsounis in Island Park, Long Island
• A lithograph icon of Panagia Portaitissa shed tears in the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Koulis on April 14, 1960.
• A second icon of the Mother of God of Perpetual Help commenced tearing on May 7, 1960 in their home.
• In approximately 1998, an icon of the Theotokos and Christ, referred to as the Korsun icon of Canada began of to stream myrrh
• On December 6, 1986, an Icon of the Theotokos at St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church in Chicago began to weep.
• The Iveron Icon of the Mother of God of Montreal, Canada began to stream myrrh on November 24, 1982.
• The Miraculous Icon of St. Nicholas began to weep Myrrh on December 6, 1996.
• Several icons of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas began gushing myrrh in Russia in 1999.
• In 1999, a lithographic icon of the Mother of God “Softening of Evil Hearts” begins to stream myrrh.
• An Icon of St Anne, the Mother of the Holy Virgin Mary, located in the Russian Orthodox Church of “Our Lady Joy of All Who Sorrow” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania began to stream myrrh on May 9, 2004.
• The Holy Myrrh-streaming “Hawaiian” Iveron Icon was recognized as miraculous and genuine by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in June of 2008.
• Liquid is seen dripping down from a painting of St. George, at a church in Ramle, central Israel on Tuesday, June 9, 2009.
• An icon of St. Anna streamed myrrh in Arizona in 2010.
Although these are some of the most recent occurrences of myrrh-streaming icons that have been documented or at least reported, God’s activity in His Creation through miracle-working Christian icons spans almost 2,000 years. There is an inherent difficulty in studying miracle-working icons as Professor Alexei Lidov suggests in his article, Mother of God, Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art, a publication of the Benaki Museum in 2000:
A study of the stories about miracle-working icons could become a special sphere of research requiring the joint efforts of historians, art historians and philologists. Promising research areas are the study of the structure of these stories and of the interrelationship between archetypal, legendary, literary and real historical motifs. One of the difficulties is that archetypal models are sometimes not invented by the author, but are an integral part of the actual event.
Again, it can’t be overstated that it is not the wood or the paint that works miracles; it is instead God’s Grace that resides in the saints depicted in Holy Icons. When we cooperate with God through an ever abiding and sincere faith, God works in His Creation, through His Holy Ones, and in some instances through the matter of icons. I close with a quote from Fr. Patrinacos who offers a beautiful explanation:
Miraculous happenings, especially cures, connected by the faith of the people concerned with certain icons have been attested in the past and are still attested by means of objective medical and juridical investigation. But here again, it is not the icon that performs the miracle but the Grace of God, which, as with the Incarnation, can act in the experience of man through matter, which, in the Orthodox cosmotheory, is not intrinsically evil and therefore rejectable as a channel through which God can manifest His Will about man. It is not, then, the icon which is responsible for the miracle but the faith of the individual channeled through a material object of sacred meaning and significance, the faith that can move mountains and which, in this case, views the icon as an experiential link between human and divine.