My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of Panagia Portaitissa. First Tone
Your sacred icon O Lady Portaitissa, which has come by the sea, is wondrous in your flock, we honor as a pure blessing, and faithfully as a repository of your glory, from it you pour forth gifts, to those who cry out fervently. Glory to your wonders O Pure One, Glory to your providence, Glory to your rich goodness towards us.
MOST-HOLY THEOTOKOS, SAVE US! AMEN!
THE MIRACULOUS ICON OF PANAGIA PORTAITISSA (THE KEEPER OF THE PORTAL)
One of the countless holy Icons of the Ever-Virgin Mary and Mother of God is the holy Icon of Panagia Portaitissa. This holy Icon is one of the most treasured holy Icons of Mount Athos and throughout the world. In fact, Panagia still works many miracles through the copies of her holy Icon.
The Iberian (Monastery of Iveron of Mt. Athos) holy Icon of the Most-Holy Virgin, which is especially honored and venerated above all of the Icons of Mt. Athos, first appeared about the middle of the 9th century. The Holy Orthodox Church at that time was profoundly agitated by fresh waves of iconoclasm under Emperor Theophilus; and to protect the Holy Icons from being burnt and desecrated, pious Orthodox Christians tried to hide or set them afloat on swift rivers or seas, entrusting their destiny to the will of God. Such was the case of the Iberian Holy Icon of the Mother of God. According to Church Holy Tradition, to save the holy Icon from the iconoclasts, a certain pious widow who lived not far from the town of Nicea, floated the holy Icon on the water of the sea, committing it to the case of the Theotokos. But as the widow and her son, who helped her to set the holy Icon afloat, watched, the Holy Icon did not disappear into the water, but floated westward in an upright position. This moved the widow's son to dedicate himself to God and secretly he set out for Thessaloniki and from there to Mt. Athos, where he settled after taking monastic vows at the Iberian monastery (Iveron), it was he who told the monks there about the holy Icon and thus preserved its sacred memory.
One day in the latter half of the 10th Century, the Monks of Iveron Monastery saw a pillar of fire rising from the sea. It continued for several days and nights. Soon the Monks who gathered on the shore saw an icon of the Virgin which seemed to be standing upright on the surface of the water, giving off rays of light. The mystery of the miraculous appearance of the holy Icon was revealed by the Holy Mother of God Herself to Gabriel, a hermit of the Monastery Iveron, whom she willed to walk over the water and receive the holy Icon in his hands. With great rejoicing and ceremony the Monks greeted the Holy Icon on the shore and a Chapel was built on the spot soon after. The Holy Icon, placed by the Monks on the Holy Altar Table of the Monastery church, was soon found to have changed its place and to stand above the gates of the Monastery. And every time the Monks returned the holy Icon to the place they had chosen, it miraculously moved back to the gates of the Monastery. Finally it was revealed to the Monks by the Theotokos through the hermit Gabriel that this was a visual sign that she herself wished to be their Gatekeeper and Guardian not only in their present life, but also in the hereafter. Thus, at this special Sign, the Monks built a special Chapel for the holy Icon by the inner gates of the Monastery, where they worshipped zealously every day. The holy Icon was called Iberian (or Of Iveron) after the Monastery, and Portaitissa (or Gatekeeper), after its place by the gates.
One day, a blow dealt by a bandit left a mark on the cheek of the Holy Virgin Mary. The sight of the blood that ran down the cheek terrified the robber. He repented of his actions and dedicated the rest of his life to God and to the life of a holy ascetic. Since then all copies of the Iberian holy Icon of the Theotokos have depicted Her with a scar and drops of blood on Her cheek.
The fame of the holy Icon reached Russia through pious pilgrims. It became especially venerated in Orthodox Russia in the 17th Century when two early copies of it were brought from Mt. Athos (Holy Mountain) one in 1648 and the other in 1656 both being made at the order of Patriarch Nikon. One copy was placed in the Tsar's palace and later in a special Chapel built for it by the Resurrection Gates of Moscow.
In the Church Calendar, the Iberian holy Icon is commemorated on three occasions: October 13, the day when the holy Icon was brought from Mt. Athos to Moscow, in 1648; February 12, when the main feast of the Holy Icon was established; and of Bright Tuesday, according to the Athonite tradition. The many prayers that are offered up to the Iberian holy Icon of the Ever-Virgin Mary and the services in its honor testify to the great love and veneration in which it is held among all the holy Icons of the Theotokos which are the spiritual beauty of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The holy Icon was glorified with numerous miracles attributed to it by the faithful. The holy Icon of Iveron became known as the Myrrh-streaming Icon. For fifteen years, between 1982 and 1997, myrrh continually flowed from this holy Icon. Father Jose Monoz-Cortes devoted himself to the care and protection of the holy Icon, and accompanied it on numerous trips to parishes all over the United States and Canada, South America, Australia, and Europe.
Other Miraculous Holy Icons of the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary
Miracles--certainly we believe in them, for they are so much part of our Orthodox Christian Tradition and heritage. The Holy Gospels are filled with accounts of them. Yet who among us would ever expect to witness something "miraculous" happening right before our eyes and yet this exactly what we have witnessed in our parish of Saint Andrew the last few years. As strongly as we claim to believe in the miracles of the past, just as strongly would we doubt (as many do) their occurrences today in the 21st century. They just don't happen now...not in South Bend, Indiana.
The Orthodox Christian faithful of Saint Nicholas Albanian Church in Chicago all must have had a similar attitude prior to December 6, 1986. But something happened that morning that not only changed their feelings, but changed their lives as well. Something happened that has had a profound effect on the millions of people who have since shared in the spiritual experience that began to unfold that day. It was then that the now-famous Icon of the Theotokos began to weep.
On December 6, 1986, the Very Reverend Archimandrite Philip Koufos arrived at his church with a good feeling in his heart. His three-year pastorate at the 250-family parish of Saint Nicholas on Chicago's Northwest side was beginning to bear fruit. He was pleased with the noticeable spiritual renewal and rebirth his faithful was undergoing. The church had been quite full the night before for the service of Vespers (evening service) on the eve of the Holy Day of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. He anticipated the same response on the day of the holy Feast, as the parish celebrated its patronal feast.
Parishioners, Lillian Geroge and Bessie Tolbert, two dedicated parishioners had also arrived at the church well in advance of the start of services to make some last-minute preparations. As Father Philip lit the candles burning in the lamps before the holy icons on the ornate holy Icon of screen, he reflected upon the sermon he had preached the previous evening. In his sermon, Father Philip extolled the many virtues of Saint Nicholas, concentrating on his role as a worker of miracles and as a healer. He spoke about the great responsibility of today's clergy to be "healers" as well.
Father's thoughts were interrupted, however, as he began to light the candle burning before the holy icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What were these wet streaks on the holy icon? Puzzled, he was about to call out to Lillian and Bessie, thinking that someone had perhaps inadvertently splashed something on this holy image of the Mother of God, when he glanced up and gazed into the eyes of the Theotokos depicted before him. In an instant, he knew that the moisture on the holy Icon was not caused by any cleaning mishap. Tears were actually welling in the eyes of the Virgin.
After staring at this sight in speechless wonder for a few minutes. Father Philip was able to compose himself and get the attention of the two women, who were in the back of the church. They hurriedly approached the sanctuary, where they, too, stood totally awestruck before the sacred image of the Mother of God. If this were not enough for the astonished trio to comprehend, moisture began to spout from the fingers of the Virgin, causing Father Philip to fall prostrate before the Holy Icon.
The Weeping Icon
The Weeping holy Icon of the Theotokos at Saint Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church was painted almost half-century ago by the renowned Byzantine iconographer Constantine Youssis. In Orthodox iconography, there are many types and styles of holy icons of the Mother of God. The icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary that has gained so much attention is the icon known as the Hodigitria in Greek, or, in English, the Directress. The Mother of God in this style of icon is depicted as 'the one who points the way."
According to an ancient Orthodox Tradition of the Church, this style of holy Icon of the Blessed Mother is traced back to an original painting of her done by the Holy Evangelist Luke. It is said that the Theotokos herself gave her blessing to this portrait, saying, "My blessing will always remain with this icon." Saint Luke is said to have sent this holy Icon, along with the text of his Gospel, to Theophilus in Antioch. In the middle of the 5th century, this holy Icon was taken to the city of Constantinople by the Empress Evdoxia, as a gift to her mother-in-law Pulcheria. It was in the 9th century that the name "Hodigitria" began to be used in reference to this special painting.
In the reproduction of this holy Icon, the Christ Child always appears upright on His Mother's left arm. The Infant Christ is no longer shown as a baby, but rather as the Pre-Eternal God, full of wisdom. He holds a scroll in His left hand, and is shown giving a blessing with His right hand. The Mother of God is portrayed in a majestic manner. Her right hand is pointing to Her Son, in a grand gesture of presentation. It is as if she is proclaiming to mankind that her Child is the Son of God, the One we must follow and obey.
Since December 6, 1986, it has been estimated that more than 2 million people have visited Saint Nicholas church to see and venerate the weeping holy Icon of the Theotokos.
HONOLULU--You would never think a tiny parish in the heart of Kaka'ako would house such a secret. But, its existence is well-known to those in the Russian Orthodox faith.
An image of the Virgin Mary produces myrrh. There is no explanation for it. Yet, for those who believe--it's a miracle. "It's made us, perhaps, more humble towards God and the Church", said parishioner Coco Wiel. "We've started to realize we have much bigger responsibility to take care of the parish."
It's an icon of the Mother of God and Christ Child that, for reasons unexplainable, produces myrrh. Small drops that smell like roses. Hawaii's icon began streaming the oil-substance five years ago, on the 15th anniversary of the death of its original keeper, Brother Jose Munoz, who had wanted to visit the church in Honolulu named after the holy Icon, but never made it to the islands. "He asked Holy Mother Virgin Mary to bless our community just the same. So that's what we think" said Father Lyovin. For those who believe, the holy myrrh attributed with a cure of a girl diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Please note: One can go on for a very long time listing the different holy Icons of the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos and all the wonderful countless miracles of our Panagia. It is, however, important for all Orthodox Christian believers to always seek the holy intercessions of the Mother of God and to turn to Her for aid, healing, comfort and salvation.
"One of the distinctive features of Orthodoxy is the place which it assigns to icons. An Orthodox church today is filled with them: dividing the sanctuary from the body of the building there is a solid screen, the iconostasis, entirely covered with icons, while other icons are placed in special shrines around the church; and perhaps the walls are covered with icons in fresco or mosaic. An Orthodox prostrates himself before these icons, he kisses them and burns candles in front of them; they are censed by the priest and carried in procession. What do these gestures and actions mean? What do icons signify, and why did St. John of Damascus and others regard them as important?
...When an Orthodox kisses an icon or prostrates himself before it, he is not guilty of idolatry. The icon is not an idol but a symbol; the veneration shown to images is directed, not towards stone, wood and paint, but towards the person depicted. This had been pointed out sometime before the Iconoclast controversy by Leontius of Neapolis.
Icons, said Leontius, are "opened books to remind us of God", they are one of the means which the Church employs in order to teach the faith. He who lacks learning or leisure to study works of theology has only to enter a church to see unfolded before him on the walls all the mysteries of the Christina religion. If a pagan asks you to show him your faith, said the Iconodules, take him into the church and place him before the icons. In this way icons form a part of Holy Tradition.
THE DOCTRINAL SIGNIFICANCE OF ICONS: Here we come to the real heart of the Iconoclast dispute. Granted that icons are not idols; granted that they are useful for instruction; but are they not only permissible but necessary? Is it essential to have icons? The Iconodules held that it is, because icons safeguard a full and proper doctrine of the Incarnation. The Iconodules (friends of icons) continued, the Incarnation has made a representational religious art possible: God can be depicted because He became human and took flesh. Material images, argued St. John of Damascus, can be made of Him Who took a material body." (Source: The Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware)
This is why it is important that we complete the iconography in our parish.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy sinner of God