Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Danger of Miracle Working Icons

When Jesus performed a miracle, all of the people were amazed; but very few got it.  They didn't get that the miracle was a sign, a sign to reveal something else.  The miracle was not an end in itself.  And more importantly, the miracle was not an affirmation of what the person already believed.  The miracles of Christ were signs revealing Christ's divinity, revealing the presence of the Kingdom of God.  The miracles commanded those who saw them or heard of them to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  We know this is the case because this is the message of Jesus, his very first words in the Gospels: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

In my life I have been blessed to have been in the presence of several myrrh streaming icons and one icon that was self-restoring (a blackened icon--of St. Nicholas, I believe--that was slowly cleaning itself from the bottom up).  However the community in which these icons resided was in contention with its bishop.  From the outside looking in, that is from my limited perspective, it seemed as though many in the community viewed the miraculous icons as a confirmation of their own position against their bishop.  I even had one member of the community actually tell me this.  In the end, this community separated from its bishop resulting in personal tragedies that continue to ooze pain to this day.

Miracles are dangerous.

We all rejoice when God allows us to see a miracle mostly, I think, because our faith is so weak that anything, any undeniable sign from God that what we can see and measure is not all there is, is a great boost to our faith.  We all long for stronger faith.  We all cry with the father of the epileptic: "I believe, help my unbelief!"  Miracles often do that.  They help our unbelief; they strengthen the little faith that we have.

I'm all for the veneration of and wonder at miraculous icons.  In fact, this Saturday I plan to venerate the Myrrh streaming icon of the Mother of God from Hawaii.  I pray that my weak faith will be strengthened by personally witnessing this miracle.  However, if God grants me stronger faith, it is only so that I can better repent of my sins.  It is only that I might learn humility.  It is only that I might trust God more in all areas of my life, especially those most painful areas where I suspect God has abandoned me.  I pray that God does all of this for me and for everyone who venerates this holy icon of the Mother of God.

Yet one thing is certain: Whatever miracle I see or experience, it is not a confirmation that I am right.  It is a call to repentance.

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