Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Mother Who Weeps for Us

There's a small church in Mtskhalgori in Lagodekhi, a bordering region of Georgia to K'akheti, the region in which I live, that has had a powerful miracle showing forth there for no little time yet--since Palm Sunday, its main icon of the Theotokos (the "God-birther" Mary, the ever-virgin and mother of all Christians, the pure mother of God) on the iconostasis has been weeping blood.  I heard about this on Bright Monday (the day after Pascha/Easter), and on Bright Tuesday my family went to see it.  I will admit--and God forgive me!--that when I first saw it, I doubted.  (I give glory in His mercy, for I later heard of another who refused to believe in this icon; leaving the Church saying, "I don't believe it!  It's a fake," or something of the like, this woman almost immediately fell and broke her leg.  God will not be mocked, and all the less when He is so obviously showing forth a sign as He was here.)  I was told the icon "weeps blood."  When I went in and saw it, I saw that from the top of her head, it looked like perhaps water or something had condensed and dripped down in small rivulets; it wasn't dark and thick like blood at all on the top, but indeed simply blurred and pulled down the dyes like water would.  But then I looked closer--there was no condensation, and no blurring of dyes anywhere but on the head of our mother, and no condensation left behind the glass at all.  And more importantly, though it started as perhaps water or a bleeding of dye, when it touched her face (where, if simply water and dye, it should have rather become lighter, on the skin-colored dyes), it became thick, and the deep blackish-red of blood.  It was still wet after all this time, and indeed as I stood there blood dripped farther down, from the top of the halo around the Head of her Son down the halo and onto His Head Itself.  If it's a mistake or a fake, this doesn't happen.  If it's a little water getting in, it stays water, and it flows relatively steadily, not a little more each day for a week and a half.  If it's not real, it's not wet and think, raised on the surface of the icon above the dyes.

My interpretation of this (undiscerning as I am), is that she weeps for our sins.  The priest in the village here interprets it in the same way, and I know other clergy all have likewise said it is thus so.  My host mother recalled that an icon of the Theotokos (she thought it might perhaps even be the same one) wept a very small amount in 2008, one or two weeks before the five-day war between Russia and Georgia, the results of which are very really still felt here now, as Russia continues their occupation and these places stay in a state of utter ruin, as if the war ended yesterday.  But that was a small amount, and of tears, not blood--those here have never seen anything like this before.  Does that mean a war is coming?  We certainly can't assume so, in our lack of understanding of the ways of God--and if one did, we certainly could not try to project when and how dire it might be.  But whether this is indicative of a coming chastisement or is simply a general call to repent, it is powerful nonetheless.  Why in Georgia?  I don't know--perhaps because it is one of the last bastions of Orthodoxy, and yet is falling away.  Russia gave in to the West, and the Bolsheviks came, and the Atheists reigned, and it is no more, and never will be, the Orthodox Empire it was.  Byzantium fell and is no more.  Greece has in many ways given in to the mind of the West, and is simply another clone of homogenous Europe, its Orthodoxy being more and more reduced to another part of the country's "heritage" and "cultural tradition."  I don't know the state of Romania, Bulgaria, and some of the others, but can't imagine it much improved from these examples.  And here, in Georgia, within the lives of my family here they have seen the same happening--first of all, coming out of the USSR, they are in discontinuation with their real Orthodox roots.  And modernism is pulling them away.  My mother can no longer teach Christian History in the schools, it being forbidden, and had to return for another degree, now teaching Georgian Language.  People gladly accept all things Western and think that America and Europe must be emulated in every way.  They think that is what gives joy and happiness.  They fail to recall their history--their hard confession of Faith in face of bloody wars and martyrdoms, and the many blessings God has given their country, people, and culture there for.  They fail to see that it is in the West, not in traditional and Church-grounded cultures, that people find such emptiness of life and despair that they even take their own lives in increasing droves.  And I know it to be the case firsthand from the mouths of Georgians who lament this apostasy that many Georgians just think it doesn't matter what religion you belong to, what you believe.  I believe it is for this reason specifically that this happened in Georgia--but it is certainly no less a call to each of us on this earth to repent and turn to Him, and I certainly don't have the discernment to say for certain that my conjecture is true.  Why in this particular church?  Again, I can't know.  Perhaps because it has been neglected; there is no priest, none to minister to and support the people--but there are unfortunately many such churches here in Georgia in the time after the fall of atheism, now while the churches can finally be attended again and must be filled anew--but I also must wonder if they will actually be restored to their proper state again in time, a priest to each church, or if modernism will overtake Georgia in force too quickly, and grant too few priests to her before that can happen.  Frankly, there is too much of all of this that I simply cannot know; all I do know for certain is that she weeps for us in our sinfulness, and it was very powerful for me to be able to see and venerate this.

It affected me deeply.  She loves us so much, in the love of Christ, being a vessel of God as are all the saints, that she weeps for our sins.  She is so hurt that we turn from Life Himself that in the time of the Resurrection of her Son, the time of greatest joy, she holds Him out and gestures us toward Him, but can only weep, for we look not, or not with our hearts.  When I got home, I felt moved to write a little about this, as it affected me so, and I will finish this post by leaving you with it; forgive the mediocrity of my expression therein, for I knew not how to express its depth of impact on me in words--but moreso forgive my hubris in leaving it at all, as if it will mean anything to the rest of you, regardless of what it meant to me.  I offer it only because I know that you, my readers, cannot come and see this miracle for yourselves--perhaps you would like to read the feelings and thoughts of one who saw it and touched it with his own eyes and hands, who kissed it with his own lips; again, forgive my lack of eloquence and my shallowness of soul, that I could feel and write only what I have here.

On Wednesday of the second week of Pascha, I took my fellow volunteer, Amy (who is not Orthodox), to the icon, as she very much wanted to see it.  She told me also (forgive me if this is too personal to share, my good sister) that, like me, she was a bit scared to go see it beforehand--believing (based on my witness) it legitimate, and thus something very "heavy" and very real, a real interaction of God with us, something you can't simply "go see" as a tourist would, but only with reverent fear.  To my great surprise, the icon had stopped it tears--and judging by where the blood was, perhaps on the very day or the next, after when I had previously gone.  What that means, I do not even hazard a guess.  Is it an omen that something is coming?  Does it mean there was some great ill of which I was not aware that has now been averted or repented of properly?  I truly cannot guess.  But the blood was dry and raised on the icon, dried and thick just as with the blood running in my veins, should it spill out into open air.  Amy got a few good pictures of the icon (the only one I took, on Bright Tuesday, didn't turn out well), and I will share them now with those of you who cannot come and see this yourselves.  I can say that, though Amy admits she doesn't necessarily understand icons (though she does not think them at all idolatrous, understanding them better than the average protestant looking into Orthodoxy) and said to me of such sorts of obvious miraculous signs that though "I never thought God would work in such ways, though I knew He could," after carefully looking at the icon for no little time, she admitted to me that she couldn't see how anyone could claim it a fake (unless unwilling to believe their own senses, out of predetermined disbelief), and expressed how privileged she felt to be able to see it, and share it with those who cannot do so firsthand, through our witness of word and photo.

She weeps for us, who abides in Joy Himself--regardless of what else this may mean, we certainly must heed the most obvious--we must turn from our sinful self-servings and truly focus only on her Son, the Creator and Judge of us all.

The pictures taken from Amy's camera on the 25th of April:

In this picture she was trying to capture that the dried blood is noticeably raised above the rest of the icon.

This picture is of a picture the people who keep the church in order took of the icon while the blood was still wet; surely you can see the difference well for yourselves.

The outside of this church.

The aforementioned short verses I wrote after first seeing the icon on Bright Tuesday:

  Why weep thou, holy lady?
    Why weep thou streams of blood?
  Thy Son is risen.

  Thy Son is risen
    But we understand it not.
  Thy Son is risen
    And we care not.
  He hath destroyed death
    And we choose it for ourselves.
  He hath forced Satan to bow to Him
    Yet we turn from Him to Satan.

  O pure one, pray for our sins!
    O pure mother, weep for us!
  We turn from Him and care only for ourselves.

  Why didst thou begin to cry
    On the entry of thy Son?
  They turned to Him,
    They that crucified Him;
      They shouted to Him for joy.
  He came as King,
    And the stones cried out,
      And we make Thy holy days abominations.
  He washed our feet, He Who is God,
    And we help not our own brothers and mothers.
  He gave us His Body and Blood,
    And we laugh as we approach,
      And make haste to fill ourselves rather with the wine of corruption.
  He died on the Cross mute as a lamb,
    And we complain against the gifts He giveth us.
  He laid in rest in a Tomb,
    But we rest not from our evils.
  He rose from the dead,
    And we neither care nor listen.
  We choose to stand outside His Kingdom,
    And laugh and drink and smoke.
  We choose not to follow Him
    And heed not our sins;
  We mock and ask not,
    "Remember in Thy Kingdom."

  "Know, ye Orthodox,
    "That God is not mocked."
  "The merciful Lord is compelled to turn his eyes from us and say,
    " 'All of your solemnities are an abomination unto Me.' "

  O ye people rejoice,
    Not in sin but in the Lord!
  "Rejoice at thy deliverance!"
    "They cannot rejoice."

  We turn from Him, O lady,
    And always to ourselves.
  We think ourselves well,
    And take no heed to Christ.
  We worship him in lips,
    In our drink we give Him glory,
  In our lusts we thank His providence,
    In our sloth we thank His work;
  We thank Him for His mercy,
    That we may turn from Him without a fear;
  We toast those in the Church,
    That we need not put ourselves among their number.

  Weep for us, O lady!
    We turn from Him!
  In apostasy we glory,
    In Antichrist we worship!
  He is coming, O ye people--
    Take heed to her tears!
  We turn from Him so greatly
    That even now she weepeth.
  In a time of great rejoicing,
    Blood drippeth from her face,
  For none is found to worship;
    We revel in disgrace.
  The Resurrection of thy Son,
    What meaneth if none heed?
  For none will heed, and all be lost;
    This hath He proclaimed:
  Call they evil good,
    And Good to be evil,
  And they turn from Him again.

  Wilt Thou find faith on the Earth, O Lord?
    Wherefore Thy lady weepeth.
  Lovest, thou, and omens givest;
    Understand not, though yet we see.
  We see and turn, shed not a tear,
    And laugh in our revelries.

  Cry, thou holy lady,
    Shed thy tears of blood,
  Let drip from thy protecting veil,
    The writing against us.
  It falleth on thy Son,
    I watch it falling as I stand;
  It falleth more in every day,
    Yet what will happen in the end?
  Heed we thee, and listen to thy precious sign?
    Or do we choose the death which thy very Son destroyed
      And to weeping, gnashing of the teeth, subject ourselves into the void?

In Christ,
Teopile/Theophilos Porter