From the new promising new blog, Toward Transfiguration, by Nathan, a seminarian of St Vladimir’s in Crestwood, NY –
Last night my wife and I drove north of New York city and across the Tapan Zee bridge to see an icon visiting from Moscow. It was a more powerful experience than we reckoned for. Indeed, the evening was pregnant with prophecy.
The church, a small Russian Orthodox church in a picturesque and rocky New York village right on the west side of the Hudson, was filled with Russians in its narrow bosom. It was a beautiful church, with icons and paintings from floor to ceiling, an elaborate icon screen with brass overlays everywhere, and the many-layered architecture you find only in such places.
In the middle of the church, underneath brass candle holders filled with beeswax candles dancing with flame, stood a very small icon in a glass case. It is the icon of the Theotokos, or Birth-Giver of God, the “Softener of Evil Hearts.” It’s also called “Symeon’s Prophecy,” since it shows seven swords pointed towards the center of the Virgin’s torso, an allusion to Luke 2:34-25. It’s a miraculous icon, associated with physical healing and miracles, but especially for softening hearts towards God and one another of those who pray before it… and softening the hearts of their enemies, too.
What was the icon doing here? On February 2, 2009, the day that the current Patriarch of Moscow Kyrill was enthroned, it miraculously and profusely began gushing pure myrrh. Since then, it’s been on tour.
The service was an Akathist hymn, a long string of poetic verses recounting step by step the crucible of discipleship for Mary from the scriptures, and the sufferings that both she and her Son experienced. Afterwards, the priest anointed all of us with the myrrh from the icon mixed with olive oil. Unexpectedly to us, we saw the anointing of the icon at work in the gift of tears.
The atmosphere of the church was different: my wife remarked on the way home that people were transfixed in meekness. It was spontaneous. Even the priest briefly lost composure and choked up at certain points while reading the prayers of the Akathist, something I’ve rarely seen a priest do. When we got back into our car afterwards, we spontaneously began praying for a family member, and found ourselves weeping, as well. Tears are only tears most of the time. But sometimes they are qualitatively different.
Now what is the meaning of spontaneous tears in a church, and why did an icon associated strongly with miracles of reconciliation and the softening of hearts, and inspired by a Latin devotion, suddenly begin to stream myrrh at the election of the new patriarch of Moscow?
Could it signify that Patriarch Kyrill has been ordained in God’s economy for an extraordinary mission in the midst of a movement of repentance in suffering?
Let me get bolder: not to proclaim a prophecy, but a possibility.
The icon is well known for miracles of softening hearts hardened towards one another in animosity, but it represents reconciliation in another way. The icon is a bridge between East and West, drawing from western piety about the Seven Sorrows and plopping them down squarely in a thoroughly Eastern and Byzantine cultural frame.
Could it therefore be that events that have yet to unfold shall thrust Patriarch Kyrill into the place where he shall enact God’s will for the reconciliation of his divided people, Catholic and Orthodox? Church unity, from a human perspective, will take generations… even at the extremest stretch of optimistic imagination. Yet I believe that there is reason to believe that it can happen suddenly and soon. Stay posted further posts to explain that bold statement later.
But any sign of the Kingdom that God gives us,he gives us to drive us towards prayer and repentance, and not speculation. So let us take the wonder of this icon as a sign that God has given us a very special opportunity in this present time since the election of Patriarch Kyrill: an opportunity to have our prayers born powerfully heavenward on the wings of the Holy Spirit who rushes to answer when we pray that God will soften the animosity of hearts towards one another and heal his divided Church.
Let’s seize this opening in the Heavens and pray as fervently as we can for unity, and for His Holiness Kyrill.
Let us also take the occasion to meditate on how the Mother of God suffered for Christ during her earthly life through the slander, animosity, and shaming of others, and allow those swords that Symeon prophesied would lay bear the thoughts and intents of many hearts to pierce our own souls also. Then the Holy Spirit will soften our evil hearts and lead us to true repentance.