Myrrh Miracle? Thousands Flock to Illinois Icon Seeking Blessings From Mysterious Oil
Current Orthodox and Catholic events refocus attention on seemingly miraculous phenomena.
HOMER GLEN, Ill. — An icon of John the Baptist at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Homer Glen, Ill., in suburban Chicago, exudes oil.
People have been flowing to the church to see the icon and be anointed with the oil by the priest, Father Sotirios Dimitriou. The curiosity has increased since the end of April, when news of the icon became widespread. But the phenomenon began last summer.
“July of last year was when this was first noticed,” John Ackerman, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, told the Register.
According to Ackerman, one of the altar boys — whose name, “ironically enough, is John, and he wants to be a priest” — first witnessed it and went home to tell his mother, who drove back to church to look herself. They brought it to the attention of Father Dimitriou, or Father Sam, as he is called by his flock.
Ackerman described the flow of the sweet-smelling oil — thought to be myrrh, due to its fragrance — as “not a heavy stream, but it is a consistent stream. And unlike other ones [other icons and paintings], this is not from the eyes. It is emitting fluid from wings, the halo, hands and feet, but not the eyes.”
Natural explanations have been ruled out. Said Ackerman, “This is the only one unique [out of all of the church icons], having a blessing take place at it.”
Since July, Father Sam has collected the oil on cotton balls, which he gives to visitors. Until the story became widespread, he handed out 5,000. Ackerman said the number is likely triple by now.
The pastor is clear about what the phenomenon represents.
Ackerman quoted Father Sam: “We want to stress to people: The icon itself has no power; the oil has no power. The power comes from your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and God. The power comes from God using this as an instrument to do his will.”
Physical and spiritual healings are being reported. “One of them is Father Sam himself,” Ackerman said, noting that the priest has not needed medication for nerve damage since December. “He attributes it to being around the oil.” Reportedly, people with cancer have seen doctor-attested improvements, too. A patient’s heart blockage apparently cleared, and his surgery was canceled. After an anointing, a woman experiencing infertility became pregnant; her due date is the feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.
What is the Greek-Orthodox diocese saying about all of this? “In the Greek Orthodox Church, unlike other denominations, we don’t put an official seal or declaration,” Ackerman explained.
But both Metropolitan Iakovos and Bishop Demetrios of Chicago have witnessed the oil and believe it’s a blessing. “They don’t put a seal on or give an affirmation,” Ackerman added, but “Father Sam has their full backing and support.”
Similar Local Icons
Other Chicago-area icons have been known to weep tears or exude myrrh.
At St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church in Chicago, tears began coming from the eyes of an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1986. More than 2 million people came to the church to see for themselves.
The icon stopped weeping, but according to Father Kostandin Tuda, it wept again in 1993 and 1995. “It does not weep now,” he said, but “I am honored because the Mother of God visited us. It was a big miracle for this church.”
In the suburb of Cicero, at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, an icon of the Blessed Mother now known as “The Miraculous Lady of Cicero” began to shed tears in 1994. The late Metropolitan Philip, primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, visited the church, told a local TV station he thought it was a miracle, named the icon and wrote to “encourage our faithful everywhere to seek her intercessions.”
The church’s pastor, Father Nicholas Dahdal, said the tears, composed of a clear, oily liquid, stopped after about six months. The events repeated four times after that, but not in the last five years.
What does he think the reason was for the tears? “The Virgin Mary was sad [about] what was happening in the world — probably today more sad than ever before,” Father Dahdal, who was born in a hospital on the Mount of Olives, told the Register. “This parish is mainly of Arab Christians from the Middle East. I personally believe that happened here to remind the world of the plight of the Christians in the Middle East. The Virgin Mary is reminding the Christian world that where her Son was born, died and resurrected has been emptied of Christians — only 150,000 left out of 12 million.”
People still come to see the icon on a daily basis, and physical and spiritual miracles are attributed to the icon. The spiritual ones “are more important, in my opinion,” the pastor said, adding that “we also have two homes in Chicago with a duplicate of the icon that started to exude oils, and miracles happened there.”
Holy Theotokos of Iveron Russian Orthodox Church in Honolulu has a myrrh-streaming icon that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia officially considers miraculous and worthy of veneration.
This “Iveron Icon of the Mother of God” began streaming myrrh in 2008 and was shown to parishioners for the first time on the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God. Today, it doesn’t stream continuously, but it does on particular occasions, most recently on Pascha, Orthodox Easter. Accompanying the oil is a beautiful aroma of roses. There is also a holy cross icon that began streaming myrrh and continues to do so on special occasions.
“This Easter, during the midnight liturgy, the Iveron icon streamed so much myrrh that the cloth covers were soaked with myrrh,” observed Father Anatole Lyovin, the parish rector. He also made clear the icon is never called “weeping.”
“That is because it started dripping myrrh from the hands of the Theotokos and the Christ Child,” he explained. “We considered that to be a blessing for us, not a warning that the Theotokos is weeping for our sins.”
This parish’s icon travels the world to bring the blessings of the Blessed Mother; it has been seen and venerated by an estimated 1 million people in the United States.
Five thousand miles away, in Hempstead, N.Y., icons of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the Lamenting Mother of God at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Paul shed tears in the 1960s. The church commemorates the anniversary every year.
Father Luke Melackrinos, the pastor, related how, to this day, every Tuesday morning a mixed group comes to pray for the intercession of the Virgin Mary before these icons — “mostly Orthodox and Catholic together, and even Jewish people come,” he said, “united by the Virgin Mary.”
Why does he think the cathedral has been blessed by these icons, including one of St. Nicholas that streamed in 2009?
“I think it’s definitely God trying to wake us up a little bit,” he said, “because people now have the mentality that if you don’t see it, you don’t believe it. This is the way the icons showing the Virgin Mary communicate with people: She longs for us to return to her Son and get our focus back to God. I’ve seen people come back to the church. And I see miracles related to the icon and people healed. The miracles still happen today. Of course, the grace is pouring forth and helping [souls]. It’s a visible sign pouring forth on those in need of intercession. It’s an affirmation we’re not alone — we have the Church Triumphant praying with us in our struggles.”
There are also many occurrences in the Catholic Church of sacred pictures and statues weeping tears or shedding blood.
It was just reported that there is a weeping Mary statue in Fresno, Calif., among other recent occurrences.
There is also the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Numerous times she has shed tears, usually without publicity.
“On 19 separate days that statue cried, with ‘dry’ days in between, that summer of July and August,” affirmed Carl Malburg, of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue Foundation, who is the guardian of the current statue.
The foundation believes the 1972 tears were over the U.S. legalization of abortion, which came the next year.
To this very day, “these kinds of things still happen at times,” he said. “It’s not only the shedding of the tears, but also the beautiful aroma of roses where there are no flowers, or the statue smiling, or the eyes closing.”
“Only God knows,” the why behind all of this, he said. “God is at work. None of those questions can be answered in this life.”
One thing he and his wife, Rose Marie, do know: “Fatima is the solution to what is wrong these days.”
Other seemingly miraculous occurrences often happen in modest places or smaller congregations, such as Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in the small Yukon village of Marshall, Alaska, during the Easter vigil in 2004.
Franciscan Sister Kathy Radich, the diocese’s coordinator of rural ministries, worked there at the time. During that Easter vigil, some women reported a crucifix was bleeding from Christ’s wounds.
According to Sister Kathy, a diocesan investigator was sent out a few days later. At that time, the report “could not say it had and could not say it had not” been miraculous. “They have not done anything since,” she said.
In 2012, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India reported a statue of the Blessed Mother in the community chapel of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate in Ghaziabad, near New Delhi, was shedding tears of blood. Witnesses included a priest. By that evening, 3,000 people came to see the statue. The following Sunday, a priest coming to say Mass attested to a heavy flow of blood. It was analyzed at nearby St. Joseph Hospital and found to be human, type B+.
Two years earlier, in Jordan, a wooden statue of our Blessed Mother in Our Lady of the Mount Shrine in Anjara, Jordan, also cried blood. A nun and three women parishioners witnessed the event. A child from the school on the grounds also saw the statue blink and cry.
The tears, analyzed at a hospital, proved to be human blood. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem recognized it as a valid miracle. To this day, there is an annual commemoration of this miracle and the feast of Our Lady with Mass, a Rosary, procession and hymns to Mary.
What is the reaction from the Church to such manifestations?
“If it doesn’t have a direct impact on the faith, is not claiming a message and people would find it an object of devotion, I don’t know whether there would be a reason to approve or condemn it,” noted Msgr. Jason Gray, pastor of St. Thomas parish in Peoria Heights, Ill. Working in Rome at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints from 2012 to 2015, he studied miracles.
Msgr. Gray explained that a first step is to look for and eliminate a natural explanation or possible fabrication for the event. If there is no natural explanation, then “it is what it is,” he said.
“It’s up to the local diocese’s bishop to study the question” if it is something that requires further study to validate it — “if, for example, there were some kind of a message connected with the incident,” the priest explained. “The validity of the message might be determined in connection with the authenticity.”
His sense is the Church in these cases doesn’t make decisions affirmatively or negatively unless it has to. “If they don’t find any natural explanation,” he said, “I’m not sure there is a need to say more, unless the circumstances and bishop had to. I don’t think the Church has to endorse or condemn every single event.”
He uses the Shroud of Turin as an example. Popes pray before the holy shroud, as do pilgrims. But there is no official, definitive Holy See statement identifying it as miraculous or not. “It’s really left to the piety of the people and their faith.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.