Thursday, June 23, 2011

Weeping Icon

I have on one blog or another written about Shura, the talented but dying child artist from Siberia whom we took in 15 years in order to save his life. In both Blest Atheist and my forthcoming book, A Believer in Waiting's First Encounters with God, I relate the detailed story of Shura and a crazy number of miracles associated with the saving of his life. (You can read the details here: From Siberia to the California Coast Flew Wunderkind Shura.)

Shura's story took many twists and turns. However, we did erroneously think that the story was over when he survived all his surgeries and especially when a couple of years ago he returned to Russia. One of the key players in this story had been Max, the INS supervisor who helped us tremendously when it came to visa problems. We met Max when he coincidentally stopped by St. John's Orthodox Church in Washington DC when the priest included a moleibin (prayer service before surgery) for Shura during a feast day observation on a Tuesday evening when Max felt the need to attend Mass after work, the only time he had been at St. John's in a year because he had moved to Baltimore a year earlier and attended Mass there (and, as it turned out, he never returned after that evening, choosing to continue at his own church in Baltimore). Shura's story was not over because we did not know Max's story until barely a year ago. And so I add here -- and in my second book -- the fuller story of Max.


Just when we thought we had completed the puzzle, the picture expanded. A few months after Shura returned to Russia, Nadezhda Long called me from Washington. She had been reading a newly published book and wanted to share a story from it with me.

“Beth, you are simply not going to believe this,” she bubbled over the phone. I wondered what could be so exciting that it caused her words to tumble out at a speed requiring concentrated listening. I was about to find out.

“Remember Max?” she asked.

Remember Max? Without Max, Shura would have long ago been shipped back to Russia, before his health had stabilized. Without Max, Shura might even be dead now. And, of course, who could not forget the oddity that Shura’s unannounced moleibin was the only Mass at St. John’s that Max had visited in the year since he had moved to Baltimore and, in fact, was the last Mass he ever attended at St. John’s. I mentioned all this to Nadezhda, commenting that his appearance that evening seemed nothing short of miraculous.

She cut me off. “Oh, we did not know but a small part of the significance of Max being there that night!” she exclaimed. Now she had my attention!

“Max is a convert to Orthodoxy from atheism, and his story is included in this book about a special icon.” Instantly, I liked Max even more. His story paralleled mine—but it did not. What Nadezhda then related to me left me without words.

“Years ago,” she said, “an icon that wept oil with healing powers was brought from Europe to the United States, where it was presented at a number of Orthodox congregations. Among these congregations was our church, St. John’s, and among the congregation was a blind boy, who had lost his eyesight to disease. When doctors could not help, his parents brought him to the icon in an attempt to try anything to help their child. When the icon passed by the boy, it began to weep oil. The priest placed the oil from the icon on the boy’s eyes, and the boy saw. From that day on, he was no longer blind. And from that day on, his parents, Max and his wife, having converted from atheism to Orthodoxy on the spot, have been devout worshippers.”

If there had been no icon miracle ten years before Shura was born, there could have been no miraculous appearance of Max on the night of Shura’s moleibin. When Nadezhda relayed the story to me, I had no words with which to respond. I still have none.


excerpted from my forthcoming book, A Believer in Waiting's First Encounters with God

also posted on Clan of Mahlou

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