Hi all, I’ve not been in touch these past couple of days because I’ve been traveling. As you know, I’ve been at a conference at the Russian Orthodox monastery, Holy Trinity, in Jordanville, New York. I am headed from here tomorrow down to Miami to participate in a public dialogue about the life and vision of the late Father Luigi Giussani, the founder of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation. It’s free, and you are all invited (more information here).
Sundown tonight marks the beginning of Lent for Orthodox Christians. I’d like to share with you an astonishing story I learned today via e-mail. First, some background. Back in 2008, at a tiny Orthodox parish in Hawaii, a subdeacon there, a man named Nectarios, noticed myrrh streaming from an icon of the Virgin Mary. It was an ordinary factory-produced print of a famous icon called the Iveron Mother Of God; a pious tradition has it that the icon was hand-painted by St. Luke; what we know for sure is that it existed before the 9th century. The original is on Mount Athos, inside the Iveron monastery; read about it here.
Here is the story of what happened to the print version of the Iveron icon in Hawaii. Nectarios has devoted himself to taking the icon around the world for the faithful to venerate (Nectarios also discovered myrrh streaming from an iconic image of Christ on the cross; the miraculous cross has remained in Hawaii). In 2018, ten years after the original discovery, the Russian Orthodox Church officially recognized this as a miracle. It continues to stream myrrh. Here is a website devoted to spreading news about the Iveron icon of Hawaii.
Well. This past January, Subdeacon Nectarios, who is diabetic, became terribly sick, and lost his sight.
I realize God allowed me to undergo this trial for the betterment of my soul and to strengthen my connection with His Divine Grace. God is good. Whatever happens, that is all that matters in life.
On the evening of February 24th was a particularly difficult time for me. My vision which fluctuates so severely it oftentimes causes me painful migraines. I’m not a fan of taking medications, but it does help at times.
We had a wedding that night and my eyes were having difficulty focusing utilizing my new pair of ‘high power’ reading glasses. Coke bottles as my koum jokingly tells me. It was fatiguing, especially as I struggled to read the epistle for the first time in church, in a long while. I love serving the Lord in church and in my podvig to the Mother of God. It pains me not to be able to do it at this time.
As my wife drove home, I began seeing flashes of light and floating objects in my eyes. My left eye was completely blurred as usual and my right eye began seeing stars. Dizzying to say the least. But again, God is good.
That night I went to bed and slept throughout the night. I am hesitant to say what occurred, but my spiritual father says ‘I must tell everything that transpired.’ I had a dream I was sitting in a room reading a book, and to my right was a young maiden sitting with me, smiling, with her hands folded on her lap. It was the Mother of God. I looked at her and she smiled, I could feel my face also smiling. Complete and utter peace. And then I woke up. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. Only peace.
I instinctively reached over to my phone on its charger to see the time. It was early. I then realized I didn’t have my glasses on, at that point I reached for them knowing I couldn’t see anything without them. And then I came to the realization that something was different, I could see, everything. … without them. In a state of shock, I grabbed my bible and opened it up and could clearly see the passage before my eyes, which was 2 Corinthians 5:7, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” Divine providence that I happened to open the holy bible to that particular passage.
I got up, ran to the private chapel where the Holy Iveron Icon is kept, we don’t have a public shrine for Her yet. I looked upon the face of the Mother of God. Peace. Just… Peace.
I returned home and checked my blood sugar, it was normal. The first time under a hundred in two months. I began reading my morning prayers and read names of the faithful. Not sure how long.
When my wife came home, we went out and I literally drove her crazy by reading all the names and numbers off license plates, street signs and storefronts. She was overjoyed that my sight was restored. And that she no longer had to drive me everywhere, I’m kidding.
I realized something else, it was February 25 (February 12 on the old calendar), the feast day of the Mother of God, in honor of her Wonderworking Iveron Icon in Moscow.
God is good, and the Mother of God has been gracious to me, unworthy though I be.
I returned to the diabetic eye doctor later that week and as she put it, ‘I can’t explain it, but there is no sign of diabetes in your eyes.’ A ‘miracle’ she says with my high A1C numbers. My vision is also once again 20/20 in both eyes.
I still struggle with my new life as a diabetic, though I no longer inject massive amounts of insulin, I am now keenly aware of the damages done to my body by sugar, over-processed starches and high-fructose corn syrup, among other things. Moderation is key to life in every aspect. We all know this to be true, but life emergencies bring this truth to the forefront.
I received my sight back to me on the feast day of the Mother of God in her Iveron Icon. Was this a miracle? I believe it was. Perhaps it was simply my blood sugars normalized and my body restoring my vision, the diabetes no longer present in my eyes is a little more difficult to explain away. But again, God is good.
I’m not sure what else to say, but maybe this…. our struggles, whether they be physical, medical, mental, even financial, whatever they may be, should bring us closer to God, not separate us from Him. The Holy Fathers teach us that life is filled with struggles and pain, and it is not a punishment, but a blessing, a gift that is meant to direct us to Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our chief example in life. He was led as a sheep to the slaughter in order for us to once again embrace and be embraced by Our Heavenly Father. Christ suffered for us, died on the Cross and resurrected for us, established the Church for us… Why would God suffer for us and then forget us? It’s illogical.
Even now, whatever today’s difficulty may be, it is a teachable moment on the building of our ‘Christian character’ (ie the cleansing of our souls, ie the exercise in the transformation of our souls and bodies in Christ, the Greek Holy Fathers call this askesis).
Do we react with negativity and anger and despair? or do we accept these struggles for what they are, and have the faith that Our Lord Jesus Christ will save us in the end.
We are blessed as Orthodox Christians to have something so precious that few others in the world have, and that is truth. May we never reject what we have, may we never waver in our truth, may we preserve it unconditionally for those that come after us.
Make of that what you will. I am quite encouraged by it in the face of my own struggles. This morning, after the liturgy, a woman I met in coffee hour told me a stunning story about a miracle she witnessed that led to her conversion to Christianity. It involved the Virgin Mary. It happened more than a few years ago, but in telling me the story, she fought back tears. The details are not mine to tell, but hearing her conversion story only an hour after I read Subdeacon Nectarios’s account of his healing, really inspired me. I hope it does you too. And, take a look at this essay by the Orthodox priest Fr. Stephen Freeman, on the enchanted world.
Tomorrow is another travel day. I’ll post as I can. If you’re in Miami, I hope you can come out tomorrow night. I am always encouraged by the faithfulness of my Catholic friends in CL.
Below, a video posted by my friend Frederica Mathewes-Green, of the 2016 visit of the icon to her parish: