Friday, June 4, 2004
Religious icons can be mysterious
By Father DAVID L. EPPS
According to a Reuters report, several statues of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary in a hall near Brisbane, Australia, have apparently been bleeding and weeping rose oil. The Catholic Church, according to the report, has launched an investigation. Hundreds of people have flocked to the Vietnamese community hall near St. Marys Church following news that several statues, crucifixes, tablecloths, and a set of prayer beads were oozing rose-scented oil.
Father Adrian Farrelly, who has been appointed to investigate the incident, said, Its one of those matters where you proceed prudently. The objects, which began oozing the oil two weeks ago, have been placed behind glass in the hall until investigators can do their work.
Its not the first report of such things happening. In the spring of 1985, the monks at the Christ of the Hills Monastery (Russian Orthodox) in Blanco, Tex., several miles outside San Antonio, noticed what appeared to be tears streaming from the eyes of an Icon of the Virgin Mary. The aroma was remarkably similar to sweet myrrh and the Icon has continued to weep until the present day. A spokesman for the monastery said:
What the icon weeps is myrrh. Weve never had it scientifically analyzed. Typically, among the Orthodox, we dont do that because what happens is beyond the natural; its beyond the realm of the scientific. The church investigates. The church wants to make sure first of all that it's not a fake and second of all that its not occurring by some natural phenomenon. But once the church is satisfied that it is in fact a miracle, then thats all thats done. So whether chemically the substance that the icon weeps is myrrh or not I don't really care.
Now I have to admit that all this sounds a bit far fetched to a southern boy who was raised a conservative Protestant. I first heard about the Blanco icon five years ago and dismissed it as so much superstition. Then, while visiting San Antonio, I decided to make the 30-mile or so drive to a wide and dusty place in the desert called Blanco.
The monastery is located in an isolated area that the ancient Desert Fathers would have loved. I located someone and said that I would like to see the weeping icon. I was told that the monks were in prayer but, after that, someone would assist me. I spent some time in the small bookstore on the grounds and, eventually, a bearded man wearing a black cassock came to take me to see the icon.
As I was escorted into the room where the icon was kept under glass, the monk told me its history and gave me the monks interpretation of why the icon wept. The monks do not believe that the icon weeps because the mother of Jesus is happy. Rather, they see her tears as a sign of distress over how far we have all gone from Christ. They interpret the tears as a call to repentance, prayer, fasting, and change of life-from a worldly way to a divine one. He explained that it doesnt always weep and that I should not be disappointed if it did not. The room, not large at all, had a strong sweet smell to it. The monk explained that the fragrance came from the icon.
Sure enough, as I stared at the icon, oil seemed to leak copiously from the eyes of the Virgin Mary. Try as I could, I could not locate a hole in the wooden icon either before, during, or following the weeping. For his part, the monk just sat praying. A friend of mine went several months later to the monastery, after hearing my story, but the icon did not weep on that day. And no one ever asked me for a donation, so I dismissed the thought that the whole thing was a fundraiser.
Some 20 minutes later, as I turned to go, I was startled by the number of crutches, canes, walkers, and wheelchairs that were discarded in the back of the small room. I hadnt noticed them when I entered. I inquired of the monk as to what all those were about and he explained that, over the years, many people had come to the monasterys icon in wheelchairs or on crutches or with the aid of walkers. Those are what they left behind after they were anointed with oil from the icon and received prayer.
A monastery spokesman said, The word for oil that is used in the Greek is very similar to the word for mercy, so oil flowing from an icon demonstrates for us the pouring forth of Gods mercy.
So what do I think? I dont know what I think. I came away with a sense of wonder about it all. I do believe that there is mystery in the world (perhaps in Australia and in Texas, for example) and that things can and sometimes do happen that are not easily explained away. A Web search on weeping icons produced a great number of results on incidences from all over the world, so such reports are not infrequent. And, in this technological, bionic, and binary world, I rather like the idea of some mystery, wonder, and awe.
[Father David Epps is rector of Christ the King Charismatic Episcopal Church on Ga. Highway 34 between Peachtree City and Newnan. The church offers Sunday services at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. He may be contacted at www.ctkcec.org or at email@example.com.]