Miraculous Icon in Chicago

john-baptistH/T: Christianity Today (here)

Thousands of Orthodox Christians are flocking to a church in southwest Chicago to witness what they believe is a miracle.

According to the Chicago Tribune, tiny drops of sweet-smelling oil have been trickling down an icon of John the Baptist at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Homer Glen. The parishioners believe the droplets have healing properties.

Parish priest Rev Sotirios Dimitriou – known as Father Sam – said: “The first thing out of my mouth was ‘What do I do?’ You don’t expect anything like this. It’s breathtaking. It’s so powerful to see such an act of God before your eyes.”

The auxiliary bishop of the diocese told the Tribune it would not comment on whether the phenomenon was genuinely miraculous, saying “We let the faithful believe it if they wish.” Bishop Demetrios added: “If it brings you closer to God that’s wonderful. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

The oil exudes from the icon’s halo, wings, hands and beard and is collected in a reservoir of cotton at its base. Dimitriou saturates cotton balls with the substance and hands them out to his parishioners. He has had several reports of divine healing from those who have touched it. One man said a blocked artery had cleared, while another claimed to be cancer free. Dimitriou himself, who had experienced blackouts because of a nerve condition, said he had not suffered since the oil began to flow and had stopped taking his medication.

The Tribune quotes James Skedros, dean of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, who said that similar episodes have taken place across the US. While unlike the Roman Catholic Church the Orthodox Church has no formal process for authenticating them, they are regarded as significant for believers. He said Orthodox Christians believe matter can be a conveyor of sanctity.

“We have a very different understanding of matter as a vehicle of holiness,” Skedros said. “We put [icons] on walls, burn candles in front of them, light incense in front of them because they’re images of what they represent — the holy person or image of Christ or the saint.”

Meanwhile the church itself is struggling with the number of visitors it is receiving because of the phenomenon. A statement from the diocese said: “We are blessed to have this occurring at our parish in Homer Glen, Illinois.

“We ask for patience and understanding when wanting to visit this icon or request additional information as this is a small community parish that is trying to work out how best to share this blessing with now a much enlarged audience.”

Principles for Holy Week

Principles for Observing Holy Week: Faithful

1. Attend services when you can, but do not stress if you cannot make everything. The sabbath was made for humanity; we are called to be faithful, not fanatical.

2. Fast, but make sure you eat and drink enough throughout the week to conserve energy. Get enough sleep, too. Do not talk about what you’re eating with other people.

3. Permit yourself to be moved, but beware of strong impulses of emotional piety; the Christian life continues after Holy Week and Pascha.

4. Focus on hearing the Word of God; the services are rich with Scripture.

5. Do you have business that cannot be postponed? Take care of it without guilt (see no 1 above).

6. Greet others with a smile and be joyful. Be joyful and thankful.

7. Pray for the second coming of Christ.

8. Respect others, but never be ashamed of being Christian.

9. Maintain a reasonable level of awareness; it’s okay to play with your children this week. God created us to play in the garden; Christ’s death returns us to a communion of joy, not fear.

10. Do not draw attention to yourself during the services; focus on Christ and the others around you will be inspired to do the same.

Clothed in Christ

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“In the Liturgy, we travel toward the kingdom of Christ, and, at the same time, we are already present within it. Christ has raised us up to heaven, or – rather- he has brought heaven down to the church. All good things, such as our salvation, holiness, a share in his humility, and in general all his gifts, Christ gives to us in the church as a “dowry”. For us, the Liturgy is a pledge, an engagement. In the same way that one wears an engagement ring as a promise of marriage, so too my presence at the Liturgy means that I am linked with Christ, who promises me that, if I remain faithful, he will, without fail, bring me into the kingdom of heaven. Although still on earth, we live in paradise…

….When you take a piece of white cloth, and place a powerful light behind it, the cloth becomes radiant and bright. In the same way, the rays of Christ penetrate us and make us christs….

….Do you see the priest in his vestments? He is no longer this or that particular priest, but Christ….”

-Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra
“The Church at Prayer”

Second Sunday of Lent

We are given a most beautiful gospel reading this morning. In it, in the person of this paralyzed man, we have an image of what the church should be like, what the parish and the community should be like.  We hear about how Jesus comes to the city of Capernaum and there lives a certain paralytic who wants very badly to go and meet this famed Rabbi and ask that He might heal him of his infirmity. Due to his handicap, of course, he is unable to go anywhere. So, he finds four of his friends who, out of their love for their friend, carry him to the house where Jesus was teaching. Once they arrive, however, they see that there are so many people already there that there is no more room and no way to enter.

Yet they are so determined to help their friend that, St. Mark says in his gospel, they uncovered the roof of the house and let him down that way. Jesus, seeing their great faith, heals the jesusforgivesparalyticsuj0paralytic man.

As Forgiveness Sunday was that Sunday which opened the doors to Lent for us, we can say that we observe this Lent season not as individuals but as a community.  More than this, we can say that it is our salvation itself that we work for not in isolation, but as brothers and sisters. Our Lord tells us that He will be present where there are “two or three are gathered in My Name…” (Matt. 18:20). In fact, unlike other churches that have an early morning service and then a later one and maybe an afternoon one, one of the reasons why only one liturgy is served per day in the Orthodox Church is for the simple reason that when we come to take communion we do so out of one, same cup.

Historically speaking, we can find the origins of Lent in the community.  For, in the early Church it was not the Christians who fasted but the pagans (1).  That is, those wishing to be baptized and become Christians themselves. They were the ones who spent these days observing the fast in preparation for their reception in the Church.  Being baptized wasn’t as simple then as it is today since there were only a few times during the year that baptisms were performed and certainly one of the more dominant times was on the day before Pascha, Great and Holy Saturday.

One can imagine the confusion that this could have caused.  You, a Christian for instance, begin preaching the Gospel to your neighbor, telling him about Christ and the Church. He accepts all of this with his whole heart and expresses a desire to be baptized, to become a Christian as well.  And so he awaits the big day and prepares for it with fasting and prayer.  He happens to comes over your house for a visit where he finds you having chicken for dinner.  You, a Christian, who told him about Christ and fasting, are not fasting.  And so, to avoid such uncomfortable situations, Christians decided to fast also during this time for the sake of pagans, that is, for the sake of the greater community, whom they recently led to Christ. Thus, Great Lent originated in the Church as a fast of solidarity, a time for praying not even so much for ourselves, as for those in this world whom we hope to guide to Christ.

In those days Christians themselves were fasting not during Great Lent or the Great Forty Days, but during Holy Week. So until now our fast is divided into two parts: the Great Forty Days and then Holy Week. Actually, if we were to look in the liturgical books we would notice that on the Friday before Lazarus Saturday we sing  how we have completed the forty day fast.

Holy Week is practically not even Great Lent – it is a separate, special time. We may say that the Great Forty Days is a time when we’re making steps towards God. Holy Week is a time when God steps towards us. He goes through suffering, through the arrest, and through the Last Supper, Calvary, the Descent into Hell and, at last, to the Resurrection.

From this practice we see also the origins of the Apostles’ Fast in the summer. Saint Hippolytus the Roman in his “Apostolic Tradition” (3rd century) describes the story of the origin of this fast: “If one couldn’t hold a fast during the Holy Week before Pascha, he should hold it a week after Pentecost”.

St. John Chrysostom writes at one place that after the fast has finished we should continue fasting, abstaining not from meat and dairy products but from sin. Likewise, if during the fast we are called more to prayer, if we are encouraged to read more spiritual material and to do charitable works, than we should continue doing those things after the fast is over. In that same manner, if helping and caring for our neighbor is a characteristic of Great Lent then we should certainly continue it long after the fast, indeed, all of our days.

May these days of fasting and prayer be blessed and fruitful for us and all Christian who faithfully observe them throughout the world. Amen.

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1.) Deacon Andre Kuraev, About Great Lent, Orthodoxy and the World

Christmas in March

 I had the great blessing to serve at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Tuesday morning. Early this morning I served at Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I was hoping to blog during my entire time here but it just wasn’t possible. I look forward to doing just that when I return