Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Weeping Icon of St. George in Palestine

AP Photo, copyright 2009



Israeli Christians: Oil-streaked icon 'miracle'


Christians have been flocking to this dusty Israeli town to see what locals are calling a miracle: streaks of what looks like oil mysteriously dripping down an icon of St. George at a Greek Orthodox church named for the legendary third century dragon slayer.

By
JOSEPH MARKS
Associated Press Writer

RAMLA, Israel —
Christians have been flocking to this dusty Israeli town to see what locals are calling a miracle: streaks of what looks like oil mysteriously dripping down an icon of St. George at a Greek Orthodox church named for the legendary third century dragon slayer.

Worshippers said Tuesday that the more than two dozen streaks might represent God's tears or the Christian rite of baptism. The church priest, Father Nifon, first saw the streaks while preparing for Sunday morning services, they said.

"He kissed all the icons, and when he reached that one, he took down the picture and he cleaned it," said Aida Abu el-Edam, an English teacher and longtime church member. "After 20 or 25 minutes, he looked again and he saw the oil again and said, 'This is a miracle.'"

El-Edam, 47, said she was convinced the streaks were a miracle in part because of a strange smell emanating from the icon. She said it reminded her of her visit as a teenager to the site of a miracle in Ermysh, Lebanon. There, she said, the odor came from a recently deceased woman whose Christian faith was legendary.

"It's a special, holy smell," she said. "It's not ordinary, like olive oil. It's something strange that comes from God."

The Greek Orthodox patriarch inspected the painting Sunday, el-Edam said, and the church has sent a sample of the oil to a laboratory.

Father Nifon said the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate had asked him not to speak publicly or to answer questions about the streaks, so that believers could draw their own conclusions.

About 50 Christians crowded around the icon Tuesday, some from near Ramla and others from other parts of Israel. They were joined by curious Jews and Muslims, some snapping cell phone pictures. Ramla, a mixed Jewish-Arab town of 65,000, is in central Israel between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The icon hangs near the front of the church, hidden from most pews by a small gold chandelier. A nun dressed in black was rubbing the bottom of the icon with cotton balls, which she handed to the faithful who sometimes smelled them before clutching them to their chests.

"People these days, they've forgot God and this is a sign to tell them, 'I'm still here,' said Edith Fanous, 31, who works for a local trucking company and said she has been attending St. George's since she was a little girl.

Fanous said she was singing in the church choir when the oil streaks appeared Sunday. She guessed as many as 1,000 visitors had been to the church since then. She dismissed the idea that the streaks could just be paint running on a hot day.

"This icon is 114 years old," she said. "It passed through so much weather, hot and cold. And now that we have air conditioning in the church it's started to melt? I don't think so."

Kosty Tannous, 33, an Israeli customs worker, said he thought the streaks may have appeared now because God sees trouble in Israeli society.

"There's war and discrimination," he said. "I see a lot of discrimination against Arabs here in Israel, and maybe this is a good lesson for everybody to love each other and live with each other with equal rights."


1 comment:

charlene said...

Father James,
I have been thinking about this piece for several days, since you posted it, trying to figure out what I thought about it. I certainly believe in miracles, both the kind that are filled with mystery, and the more "ordinary" kind of miracles where God allows lives to be transformed in ways we never dreamed possible - the gifts that come to people totally unexpectedly, sometimes through seemingly tragic events that bring people to Him in worship, prayer and thanksgiving.
But if the weeping icon is truly a miracle, what is the particular message here? I wonder if it could be connected with Israel announcing this week the possibility of an independent state of Palestine. While there is great emnity between the Arabic people and the Jewish people, I imagine that many individual Arabs and individual Jews have great love and compassion for one another and the pain and violence that both sides have been subjected to. I also have no doubt the Christians in the area have been praying for years for some solution to the pain both sides have endured and caused. Maybe the icon of Saint George could be weeping in hopes that this announcement by Israel could be the new beginning that this dragon of monsterous proportions that exists between these two peoples could be slain. Of course this is all conjecture on my part, but a miracle does not have to mean the same thing to everyone, does it?
charlene