Posted by: towardtransfiguration | September 22, 2009

A Prophetic Evening

200px-SoftenerofHeartsLast night my wife and I drove north of New York city and across the Tapan Zee bridge to see an icon visiting from Moscow. It was a more powerful experience than we reckoned for. Indeed, the evening was pregnant with prophecy.


The church, a small Russian Orthodox church in a picturesque and rocky New York village right on the west side of the Hudson, was filled with Russians in its narrow bosom. It was a beautiful church, with icons and paintings from floor to ceiling, an elaborate icon screen with brass overlays everywhere, and the many-layered architecture you find only in such places.


In the middle of the church, underneath brass candle holders filled with beeswax candles dancing with flame, stood a very small icon in a glass case. It is the icon of the Theotokos, or Birth-Giver of God, the “Softener of Evil Hearts.” It’s also called “Symeon’s Prophecy,” since it shows seven swords pointed towards the center of the Virgin’s torso, an allusion to Luke 2:34-25. It’s a miraculous icon, associated with physical healing and miracles, but especially for softening hearts towards God and one another of those who pray before it… and softening the hearts of their enemies, too.


What was the icon doing here? On February 2, 2009, the day that the current Patriarch of Moscow Kyrill was enthroned, it miraculously and profusely began gushing pure myrrh. Since then, it’s been on tour.


The service was an Akathist hymn, a long string of poetic verses recounting step by step the crucible of discipleship for Mary from the scriptures, and the sufferings that both she and her Son experienced. Afterwards, the priest anointed all of us with the myrrh from the icon mixed with olive oil. Unexpectedly to us, we saw the anointing of the icon at work in the gift of tears.


The atmosphere of the church was different: my wife remarked on the way home that people were transfixed in meekness. It was spontaneous. Even the priest briefly lost composure and choked up at certain points while reading the prayers of the Akathist, something I’ve rarely seen a priest do. When we got back into our car afterwards, we spontaneously began praying for a family member, and found ourselves weeping, as well. Tears are only tears most of the time. But sometimes they are qualitatively different.


Now what is the meaning of spontaneous tears in a church, and why did an icon associated strongly with miracles of reconciliation and the softening of hearts, and inspired by a Latin devotion, suddenly begin to stream myrrh at the election of the new patriarch of Moscow?


Could it signify that Patriarch Kyrill has been ordained in God’s economy for an extraordinary mission in the midst of a movement of repentance in suffering?


Let me get bolder: not to proclaim a prophecy, but a possibility.


The icon is well known for miracles of softening hearts hardened towards one another in animosity, but it represents reconciliation in another way. The icon is a bridge between East and West, drawing from western piety about the Seven Sorrows and plopping them down squarely in a thoroughly Eastern and Byzantine cultural frame.


Could it therefore be that events that have yet to unfold shall thrust Patriarch Kyrill into the place where he shall enact God’s will for the reconciliation of his divided people, Catholic and Orthodox? Church unity, from a human perspective, will take generations… even at the extremest stretch of optimistic imagination. Yet I believe that there is reason to believe that it can happen suddenly and soon. Stay posted further posts to explain that bold statement later.


But any sign of the Kingdom that God gives us,he gives us to drive us towards prayer and repentance, and not speculation. So let us take the wonder of this icon as a sign that God has given us a very special opportunity in this present time since the election of Patriarch Kyrill: an opportunity to have our prayers born powerfully heavenward on the wings of the Holy Spirit who rushes to answer when we pray that God will soften the animosity of hearts towards one another and heal his divided Church.


Let’s seize this opening in the Heavens and pray as fervently as we can for unity, and for His Holiness Kyrill.


Let us also take the occasion to meditate on how the Mother of God suffered for Christ during her earthly life through the slander, animosity, and shaming of others, and allow those swords that Symeon prophesied would lay bear the thoughts and intents of many hearts to pierce our own souls also. Then the Holy Spirit will soften our evil hearts and lead us to true repentance.


  1. May reconciliation be achieved between Orthodox and Catholics through the intercession of the Mother of God! Sending you prayerful best wishes for your seminary experience.

    • Vito, it’s good to meet you. Hope to see you around more!

  2. “prayer and repentance, and not speculation…”

    Indeed. We have gone so far from the heart of the Gospel – Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came into the world to save sinners, such as me. May HE be praised. May His holy and life-giving Cross be upraised.

    When you are ordained, never fail to preach this message and your parish and your ministry will be blessed. Your message will be in harmony with the song of the stars and with the chorus of heavenly Hosts.

    • Dear Alice,

      Thank you for your encouragement and exhortation. It’s an honor to have you on the blog. I’ll add a link to Just Genesis – always an intruiging read.

  3. […] the new promising new blog, Toward Transfiguration, by Nathan, a seminarian of St Vladimir’s in NY – Last night my wife and I drove north of […]

  4. 24 September is observed as Our Lady of Ransom in the old Latin Calendar. The minor Propers are those of the Nativity of the Virgin.

  5. You write of:

    “…God’s will for the reconciliation of his divided people, Catholic and Orthodox”

    and then you write of “Church unity” in a manner which infers that both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church constitute the Church, and thus the Church is not currently united. Is this your view?

    Do you assent to something akin to the RCC’s view of true, particular churches which are not in communion with one another?

    Do you assent to the two-lung theory?

    If you do not assent to the two-lung theory, and do not assent to the notion of separated “true, particular churches,” and do not believe that both the RCC and EOC constitute the Church, then on what basis do you hold that visible institutional unity between the RCC and EOC is God’s will?

    Have you spent much time at all attending RC Masses or within RC institutions?

    Do you think that God could bring the grace associated with this icon, but not mean this as an image of His (let us presume) will that the RCC and EOC reunite in a visible, institutional, negotiated, sacramental manner?


    • Dear Ochlophobist,

      Apologies for the long delay: I’ve been away from this blog almost since it went up. First, a note on ecclesiology, then, a hermeneutical one.

      First, the Church cannot be divided, because Christ cannot be divided. She is his Body, not an aggregate of disparate parts. At the same time, we are stuck with a mystery. Was it St. Irenaeus who said, “where the Holy Spirit is, there is the Church?” It cuts both ways: there is no dichotomy between the charismatic and institutional, because the Holy Spirit is so closely related to the Church, which can be described with reference to both sets of characteristics. On the other hand, we see the Spirit present in various ways outside the Church, including–startlingly–in ways constituative of the Church.

      That leads me to my hermeneutical note. One always interprets things through particular propositional frameworks, for sure. But we can also allow the grace of the Holy Spirit to penetrate our frameworks and give us new starting points. Only in continued prayer and repentance will we be able to discern what the will of God is, and allow this to transform our framework to open us to an understanding of the meaning and intention behind his actions born of the closest intimacy individually and as members of the discerning Church. One does not discern the meaning of his gestures purely by measuring it up to our starting points, but also through familiarity with his desires. We will ascend the hermeneutical spiral through repentance, ever closer to him in both intellect and heart.

  6. Well then.

  7. Dear Fig,

    You know something…I believe you have the right of it. Resumption of communion will never happen by human hands and hearts, and forget heads. Only an action of he Holy Spirit as striking and clear as Pentecost will bring us all home together.

    I have always thought that our renewed communion would come in a flash, overnight.

    Thank you for your good words!


    • Dear Mary,

      I believe you are right. It will come suddenly and soon. May we see it with our own eyes.

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