I believe things are ordered in ways that we do not comprehend, which is why our encounter with St. Anna was so special.
A planned weekend trip nearly fell through when my wife became ill and in need of rest. She managed to recover enough for an overnight visit with friends and family, and to attend Divine Liturgy at the parish where we were first introduced to Orthodoxy.
My wife admitted to being a little nervous as we arrived at the church. We had attended here for a year, but moved out of town before being received into the Orthodox Church. This would be our first liturgy at this parish as Orthodox Christians, and our first communion there.
What was already a special day became more so once we stepped inside.
We moved to the front of the church where icons are displayed for veneration. The traditional icons of Christ and the Theotokos (Mary, the mother of God for you non-Orthodox) were on stands on the right and left side, as is custom.
In the center of the room was a large icon of a woman holding a female child. The hands of the two females were overlaid with silver, and a candle holder was mounted onto the lower corner. The icon was encased in a purple velvet frame I later learned was a carrying case. Clearly this was a very special icon that someone had taken great care to protect.
The priest came around just before the service to greet us and welcome us back to the parish. He told us we’d picked a great day for a visit. Liturgy this day would be presided over by the abbot of the monastery of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk in Pennsylvania. He was caretaker of the icon in the center of the church, and it was true that this was no ordinary icon.
This was the myrrh-streaming icon of St. Anna.
Before her baptism, my wife had chosen St. Anna as her patron. Being in the presence of this beautiful icon made this visit seem all the more meaningful.
As the liturgy progressed, I found myself gazing at the icon, enjoying its beauty and resting in its presence. The abbot delivered a homily in which he noted the healings that had been experienced by those who had prayed before the icon. He recounted that women unable to bear children had conceived after offering intercessory prayers to the mother of Mary.
Friends of mine still wrestling with the news of my conversion to Orthodoxy will be even harder pressed to wrap their heads around miraculous icons. This smacks of the sort of weird tales they have heard of weeping Catholic statues and the like.
I admit I am still struggling with the concept of icons as more than mere remembrances of Christians that have gone before us. That they serve as portals between heaven and earth, and conduits between the miraculous and the mundane is hard to accept for someone raised to shun the material world as a totally fallen creation.
…but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.
– I Corinthians 1:27-29
Icons are not idols. They are not worshipped. They are used as an aid in keeping our minds on the holy. I’d ask my evangelical friends to remember this as their praise band plays the chorus of “Our God Is An Awesome God” for the eighth consecutive time to keep people swaying and praying.
After the service I admitted to my wife that I still have a hard time with the idea of miracle-working icons. She told me that I was putting this in the same category as those who see the face of Christ in a grilled cheese, and that this was very different.
Where I see theology and history, my wife sees the miraculous in the face of St. Anna. There’s no wonder that women were the first to see the risen Christ. They often have an ability to believe where men can only question.
I don’t know the content of my wife’s prayers during this liturgy, but I do know we are trying to conceive a child. I’ll let you know how things turn out.
Pray for us, holy St. Anna.