10 YEARS The Miracle of the Myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon
Extra-ordinary visit to Argentina
A Change of Heart
Ten years ago Jose Muņoz, a Chilean convert to Orthodoxy, made a pilgrimage to Mt. Athos, and returned home to Canada with a contemporary icon of the Mother of God-an image of the ancient Iveron Icon-which he had received from the abbot of a small skete of iconographers. A few months later, on 24 November 1982, he was struck by an overwhelming fragrance coming from his icon corner. Upon closer inspection he discovered that the icon was miraculously exuding myrrh. It has continued to flow with myrrh ever since. [A more detailed account appeared in OA #45, "A Miraculous Outpouring".] The icon has travelled to parishes all over North America, Europe, Australia; last summer it was taken for the first time to South America; and everywhere, Orthodoxand heterodox-have been moved to give thanks to God and His Most Pure Mother for such a manifest miracle, a palpable "sign from above", with power to work the greatest of all wonders, the transformation of human hearts.
A special glorification service was held in Montreal on 24 November, commemorating the tenth anniversary of this miracle. On this occasion Priest Pavel Iwaszewicz interviewed Brother Jose for Pravoslavnaya Rus', (Nos. 1477, 1478), from which we have translated the excerpts below.
Over the past ten years there have been many miracles; some I've heard about and some I haven't. There have been many physical healings, external, and there have also been many spiritual, inner healings. Through this Icon many of the faithful have experienced radical transformations in their lives. It's as if people become liberated from the "old man" and ardently strive towards God. When the Icon is present in various churches, monasteries and homes, one senses a renewal of love for the Mother of God; almost immediately many people approach for confession, spiritually reborn through a feeling of repentance. I'd like to say that the Mother of God helps our believers sense their sinfulness before Her Son, Jesus Christ. /.../
Unfortunately, nowadays most people turn only to psychiatrists to solve their spiritual problems, but when this holy icon arrives somewhere, even those who have no faith in spiritual therapy, even the most skeptical people approach it with tears and sense a need to repent; they begin to understand how it is possible to be healed of their infirmity, for spiritual illness is the most dangerous because there are many doctors and specialists who are able to treat physical ailments but there are very few physicians of the soul and, as Ecclesiastes says, When the body suffers from illness, its soul becomes cured, but when the soul is in pain, who will heal the body? So it is a very great thing that our icon heals people of their spiritual maladies...
The most recent miracle to which I was witness occurred at the Lesna Convent in France. There arrived a pilgrim, a young woman who worked as a nurse in a clinic in Vincennes, outside Paris. She's the sister of Priest Nicholas Simonov, a pious woman of profound faith who always talks to her patients about Orthodoxy. One of her patients was a young man who had been in a car accident. His left leg was totally mangled, and when they attempted a graft it did not take and gangrene set in. During a second operation skin tissue was transplanted from the right leg and other parts of his body. The patient, Jean-Louis Georges, suffered terribly; he was in severe pain but he had great inner strength and the will to pull through. However, his condition didn't improve, the gangrene spread and the doctor gave no hope that the leg could be saved. At this point the 28-year old Jean-Louis even wanted to commit suicide-he couldn't bear the thought of having his leg amputated. In that case, he thought, life wasn't worth living. When Natalia, Fr. Nicholas' sister, learned of his depressed state, she began talking to him. She taught him to pray, she told him about the myrrh-streaming Icon of the Mother of God, and she arranged with the director of the clinic to take the patient for a day to the convent so that he might pray before the wonder-working Icon.
...They came into the church shortly before the Cherubic Hymn. For the remainder of the service Jean-Louis stood on crutches in front of the Icon in tears. At the end of the Liturgy he asked Fr. Benjamin Joukoff to pray for him. Here was a man who had lost all hope, who was contemplating suicide, so in spite of the fact that he was not Orthodox, Fr. Benjamin decided to serve a moleben. Afterwards Fr. Benjamin took a piece of cotton, anointed the leg and left the cotton underneath the bandage. Later Fr Benjamin said that when he approached the sick man he was aware of an unpleasant odor which came from the leg; the nurses likewise remember that it was difficult even to go into his room because of the foul smell. After the moleben Jean-Louis asked to have confession. Fr Benjamin explained that since he was not a member of the Church this was not possible, but he agreed to listen to him. The sick man spoke with batiushka for a long time, and was especially repentant of his intention to commit suicide. He then returned to Paris. That night the bandage tore off and the tissue on the leg began to cleanse itself: the pus began to ooze from the leg and the tissue became clean and healthy. Natalia reported this to the nuns at the convent and they gave thanks to the Mother of God.
During the Liturgy I felt a strong desire to visit Jean with the Icon. Natalia picked me up and we drove to the hospital. When I saw Jean he was holding in his hands a photo of the Icon and some myrrh-soaked cotton. I learned that he was daily reading an akathist to the Mother of God in French; truly, he had been born again. He had acquired a special inner peace, he felt that he had been spiritually healed, that he had become a different person. We placed the Icon on the bed beside him and left him alone with the it. An operation was scheduled in two days. When the doctor came to talk to Jean about it, the young man replied, "You know, the Mother of God was here with me; now everything will be all right, you can be sure."
The doctor was amazed at the change in Jean's attitude. The operation went smoothly and quickly. Natalia, who was present during the operation, related with astonishment how the doctor was able easily to join the nerves and blood vessels. The tissue began at once to heal.
I was told that after being at the convent the young man decided not to complain but to accept the cross which had been sent him. And as always, when we humble ourselves the Lord heals us.
Ten years ago some people said that some hidden mechanism caused drops to form on the icon, that Metropolitan Vitaly hid a vial with myrrh in his cuffs, that we were engaged in black magic, and similar nonsense in order to refute this miracle. But with Vladika Vitaly's help I never let this bother me. He told me that when Jesus Christ performed miracles many likewise did not believe them, and that one must simply pray. Soon many photographs of this icon began to exude myrrh, here in America, in Russia and in Europe. I've seen many such photos which are always exuding myrrh. Some people have kept pieces of cotton which dried out and then suddenly became soaked with myrrh; there have been cases when the myrrh, kept in a container, miraculously multiplied and overflowed. It has also happened that people have left pieces of the cotton somewhere and forgotten about them, and suddenly the cotton begins to emit an overwhelming fragrance. All this confirms the words of the Lord that He is with us now and to the end of the ages, for we are His little flock. It was especially comforting to me to learn that the Mother of God manifests her mercy even through photographs.
I think [this miracle] revealed itself in a free country in order that the whole world could learn about it. Thanks to this fact, already eight years ago photographs of this icon and pieces of cotton were to be found in many icon corners in Russia. When people in Russia received these pieces, they would share even the wrapping paper [in which the cotton was sent] so that more people could receive consolation, while here in the West we do not properly value what we have. There in Russia people are happy to have even a scrap of wrapping paper, whereas here some people want myrrh by the gallon. Sometimes the Mother of God comes to a parish and people don't even bother to come; they think to themselves, "The icon comes every year; I'll go next year." As if there's any guarantee that in a year's time we'll still have such a mercy of God...
People today spend incredible sums of money on psychotherapy, and these psychiatrists and psychologists do not free them from passions but lead them to even worse sins. Few people today seek real healing. Just today during lunch a man told me he had been utterly unable to stop smoking. Then he turned to the Mother of God, begging her for help, and the very next morning he felt an aversion to tobacco, and ever since then he can't stand the smell of it. This happened eight years ago. People don't notice that these doctors-professionals cannot, even over a period of years, achieve what the Mother of God is able to do momentarily, if a person turns to her with all sincerity.
As evidence we have the abundance of miracles which occurred when the Icon was present at the Conference of Orthodox Youth in Argentina. We quickly forget this. Metropolitan Vitaly sent a notice to the Russian papers asking people to send in testimonies concerning miracles associated with the Icon. So far we've only received five or six responses. And I'm not surprised. After all, when the Lord healed the ten lepers, only one returned to give thanks to God.
There are those who say to me: it's strange that you have the Icon; after all, you're not Russian. What difference does it make whether I'm Russian or not? I'm a Christian and I'm in communion with the Church. True, I'm the least of all Christians, one who came at the last minute to partake of the Holy Mysteries. But the Most Holy Theotokos receives everyone who comes to the Church with faith and repentance. I don't attach any significance to nationality; what is important is to be Orthodox, to be within the Church.
I've also been criticized for refusing to participate in TV programs with the Icon. But after all, the television is a tool of the devil; it's changing the Christian culture before our very eyes.
I think the time will come when the icon will go to Russia. It is my desire, but I am dependent on God's will, I'm under obedience to the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Vitaly. It is up to our hierarchs to determine how and when such a trip can take place. Many people have offered to arrange for me to go "secretly", but I think that miracles have no power when a person departs from obedience to the church hierarchy....
...Here and in Russia, we must all renew ourselves through repentance in order not to mix the foul odor of sin with the fragrance from the myrrh-streaming Icon, in order that we be able to live in this kingdom of materialism as true Christians, because the Mother of God shows us that this myrrh is not made with hands, signifying that the spiritual world has nothing to do with the world of today; our Church is not of this world.
"Rejoice, blessed Gate-keeper, who openest to the faithful the doors of paradise."
An account of the Icon's extraordinary visit to Argentina
in the summer of 1991 was published in Orthodox Life (No. 5, 1992). Perhaps because it was the Icon's first visit to that part of the world and the people had anticipated it with so many prayers and such longing to receive the Mother of God that so many miracles were wrought in their midst, miracles that seem to belong to another era. For those readers unfamiliar wih this account, we offer the following excerpt, describing the Icon's visit to a small village in northeastern Argentina.
"...The icon arrived in Tres Capones on the night of the fifteenth of August. The parishioners waited on their knees in front of the church with lighted candles. Hundreds of people were gathered. It was a touching, unforgettable picture!
"From the beginning of the icon's arrival, the mercy of the Most Holy Mother of God poured forth on these dear and simple people Ivan Zbigley, an elderly man who was almost deaf, regained his hearing. This servant of God was always a zealous guardian of Holy Orthodoxy and supported the Church in all of its affairs. Grace also poured forth upon his family, which reunited after a long break-up. Julia Zbigley, Ivan's wife, brought some cotton with myrrh to her blind sister. After anointing her eyes, the woman regained her sight! One woman, afflicted with leprosy on her face, spread the myrrh on her face and soon began to recover, to the relief of her family. Mrs. Kozak, after returning home from visiting the icon, and not daring to remove the piece of cotton from its plastic bag until she arrived home, touched the cotton to her eyes. The following day she began to read small print without her glasses; her forthcoming eye operation was no longer necessary. During the morning service, a woman came with her small child, who was in a coma from an electric shock. Jose suggested they anoint the child with myrrh and pray to the Mother of God. Afterwards, the child awakened from his coma....There were so many miracles in Misiones that it is impossible to count them all!"
A Change of Heart
In May of 1987 I was told that the myrrh-flowing icon was coming to our parish in Frankfurt. I knew that our Church venerates the Mother of God, but I personally never had any particular feeling for the Holy Virgin. Nevertheless, I was interested in seeing the Icon.
The Icon came to our church on May 11. After an akathist for the Iveron Icon, all went to kiss the icon, which was indeed flowing with myrrh. The church was filled with a tender rose fragrance, and an oily substances trickled from the Icon. Unlike ordinary oil, however, it did not leave any greasy spot; it just penetrated the skin.
When I came home my husband asked, "How was it?" "Fine," I answered. To be honest, my curiosity was satisfied, but I was otherwise unaffected; I could have been to an art gallery.
Two days later, however, I suddenly woke up at four in the morning with a barrage of thoughts: how ungrateful I was, how hard-hearted I was. I had seen a miracle and remained as cold as a piece of ice. At that moment a profound feeling of guilt opened in my heart, a feeling of utter respect for the Virgin. I began praying, asking Her forgiveness. And crying, crying, crying.
Getting up that morning, I knew that I had to change my life: I had to stop cursing, stop losing my temper at little things, be more tolerant... And I did try to follow these three things.
The tears continued to flow. For three days straight I cried and cried. I told colleagues at work that my red, swollen eyes were the result of "that same ol' hay fever". At that time I really did have quite violent sneezes that made me cry, so no one made an issue of it.
I kept asking the Virgin's forgiveness, professing my new love for her. (To this day I can't understand how you can love someone you've never seen with your earthly eyes, and yet that has been my experience. Five years have gone by, and even now the feeling of love for Her is still omnipresent.) Nevertheless, I couldn't quite come to terms with all this. At home I went to my icon corner where I had a photo of the Iveron Icon. Boldly I asked her that if she really exists and knows me and indeed loves us-as the church teaches-that I should like to have a verbal confirmation. It was really very difficult for me to believe that she could know us and love us(?!). It was simply too much for my rational powers.
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday... As soon as I was left alone, I would start to cry. Not until Saturday was I finally able to restrain the tears. That afternoon at the office the phone rang. It was my girlfriend, who had also attended the service with the myrrh-streaming Icon. She was in tears, so I thought, OK, something is bothering her; I'd better listen and try to console her. I got up and closed the door. Returning to the phone I told her to take it easy, that I had time to listen. "You know," she said, "I was just reading the Akathist in front of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, and throughout I just couldn't get my mind off the thought that she is opening the doors of heaven to you, and that I must tell you that. I felt rather foolish calling you up just to tell you that she loves you and is opening the doors of heaven to you. So I figured I'd try calling you, and if there were no answer, then I'd consider it a silly idea. If you did answer it meant you were supposed to receive the message."
When I heard that, I nearly fell off my chair. Again the tears began to flow. Pentecost, 1987.
A few weeks later I had another extraordinary experience.
At that time I had only a photograph of the myrrh-streaming icon. I wanted very much to get a postcard of the icon, but couldn't find one anywhere. I had returned home from the Feastday services and was about to leave on a trip when my friend Liza phoned: "Listen, I know you're going away soon, but could you give me five minutes?" "Sure," I said. "Come on over." "You know," she said when she came in, " I have just prayed in front of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. Now, I know that you already have photographs of Her icon [indeed, another friend had given me some copies for distribution, and I had shown them to Liza], but I must show you my photographs because there is one in there that you will want." "Sure," I said. "Extras are always good to have." She showed them to me: there was one like I already had-and a postcard; the very one I so desired.
Again the tears. It was as though She had answered a prayer of my heart, a prayer I hadn't even bothered to express. I so wanted to have that postcard-and I was given one!
There are many other things that changed in my life after that miracle ( I call it a miracle). For example, I used to like to smoke every once in a while, after a good meal with a glass of wine. Well, I don't feel right about smoking anymore. I've also been trying to curb my tongue when I have the urge to come out with some snide remark about someone...
In 1990 it was clear that our job in Germany was coming to a close, and we'd have to look for another job, another apartment. The situation put me on edge, and one morning I was in such a state that although I dutifully stood to say my morning prayers, I was so full of anger that I closed my eyes so as not to look at any of the icons. I didn't even make the sign of the cross. A sudden noise caught my attention: the small photograph of the Iveron Icon on my night table fell over, and when I opened my eyes to see what had made the noise, the first thing I saw was the icon facing me.
Immediately my anger disappeared, and I began weeping, asking for forgiveness. At that moment I also understood that the Mother of God would not abandon us in our time of need.
Sure enough. We went to Paris as usual for Holy Week and Pascha. On Bright Monday we were invited by some friends who advised us to call the warden of the Cathedral about a possible job opportunity. My husband called and a meeting was arranged for April 13. I came along. We were delighted when my husband was offered a job together with an apartment at the Cathedral. It was no coincidence that that day was one of the days on which the Iveron Icon is commemorated...
I am no scholar, I know nothing, but what I experienced is something I cannot deny. And I am ever thankful to the Lord and to the Holy Virgin for it.