|(Photographs are not permitted of the icons themselves.)|
Before I talk about my experience in venerating these icons, let me give their history:
The story begins with the myrrh-streaming icon in Hawaii, a print-copy of the Montreal myrrh-streaming Iveron icon of the Theotokos. It was in the house of Reader Nectarios when it began to smell of roses, then began streaming myrrh in 2007. (Follow the link for a full story written by Reader Nectarios.) This myrrh-streaming icon was the source of many healings. In 2008 it was officially recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and was given a blessing to travel to other parishes. Reader Nectarios was given the guardianship of the icon during its travels.
In the fall of 2011 it was traveling to Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. On October 15th it visited St. George Carpatho-Russian Church in Taylor, PA. The next day it traveled to Holy Protection Monastery in White Haven, PA. Reader Nectarios gave each church they visited a copy of the icon. The copy of the icon given to the parish of St. George was anointed with myrrh and touched to the myrrh-streaming icon.
The next day Fr. Mark Leasure at St. George noticed a fragrance in the church and saw some misting on the icon where it had been anointed. Read here for the story. It’s unbelievable. And, as you will read, there were now two myrrh-streaming icons.
While Father was visiting Holy Protection the first week of November, he was with Fr. Mark Andrews, the chaplain, when Fr. Mark was told that the icon (he only heard about one) in Taylor had started exuding myrrh. The bishop had not been there to verify it yet so they were not publicizing it. I was sorry that Father could not go venerate the icon, but understood. I wished I might venerate them myself but this was so unlikely I didn’t spend more than a moment thinking about it.
When I found I was going to be spending a week at Holy Protection Father reminded me of the presence of the icon (I still only knew about one) so close to the monastery (about 45 minutes). I was to fly, not drive, so I wouldn’t be able to drive myself up there. Again, I considered that the likelihood of venerating the icon was so small as to not be worth thinking about.
A few days into my stay I met a woman called Eleni who asked if I had been to venerate the icons (this is how I found out there were two). She hadn’t either because things kept happening to prevent her. She proposed that I drive (she is anxious in a car) her and possibly some other people up to Taylor in her car so we could venerate them. I asked Fr. Mark for a blessing to do this and was immediately told to go. As it turned out I drove myself, Eleni, one of the nuns and the nun’s parents from Romania to Taylor immediately following Liturgy on Sunday. Three men from Toronto who were visiting the monastery drove in another car with Eleni’s husband. [note: I have only just now made the connection that that Sunday was the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women…]
Upon entering the church I was instantly overwhelmed with the smell of myrrh. For those who have not smelled it, it smells very intensely like roses. If you filled an entire room full of the best roses, it might smell a little like that. The icons were both at the front of the church in wooden cases with glass covers. There was an area at the base of each case filled with cotton balls to catch the myrrh. I couldn’t even approach the icons at first. When I did, I could see the the icon on the right, (the Kardiotissa Theotokos (Tender Heart) made by the nuns at Holy Protection and given to Fr. Mark on his elevation to protopresbyter – see earlier link for story) was entirely covered by sheets of myrrh. There was a mist of myrrh even on the glass covering the icon. Later, when I touched the case of the icon as I was praying I noticed to my surprise that even the wood of the case was exuding myrrh. Fr. Mark took the icon out of the case and held it up, one lower corner down, so that myrrh would collect and drip off into the hands of the faithful. He went from one person to the next. When I held my hands out to catch the myrrh I started to cry and I was afraid my hands were shaking too much to catch the myrrh. I anointed myself with the drop that fell into my hands. He also took cotton balls and gently wiped them across the icon then put them into small plastic bags for us to take with us. I made sure I had some to take home.
The original icon on the left wasn’t exuding as much myrrh as the one on the right but it was still there. I venerated this icon as well as the other.
Presvytera Beverly was there and told us about some of the experiences they had had. She said that during Lent the fragrance changed and during Holy Week both icons all but dried up. They started exuding myrrh again beginning with Holy Saturday Liturgy. There is a large granite cross between the church and the rectory and while there was no visible myrrh on the cross, it smelled intensely of myrrh as well. I noticed the fragrance when I exited the church but hadn’t realized that it was coming from the cross since I was so far away from it. I thought the fragrance was simply coming from the cotton I held. Other pilgrims went over to the cross and verified that the smell of myrrh was very intense.
As we left, I found it hard to believe what I had just seen and experienced. There seems to be no holding place in one’s mind for such a thing – it can best be experienced by the soul. When I left the monastery Fr. Mark (Andrews) gave me a small bag with cotton soaked with myrrh from the myrrh-streaming icons of St. Anna, the Hawaii icon and also the icons in Taylor. I carefully placed it in my smallest carry-on bag with the other cotton ball I had received. Every time I opened the bag the smell of myrrh was overwhelming. I wonder what the people on the plane thought.
We will hopefully be doing an akathist to the Mother of God in the next week or so and Father may anoint everyone with the myrrh following that.