St. Nicholas has always been a beloved and honoured saint to our parish; one who over the years has demonstrated his love for us through answered prayers for spiritual consolation, timely help in adversities, and true healings of bodily and spiritual illnesses. We are very grateful that he has attended to our prayers so many times. Our parish of St. Vladimir felt his particular favour when in 1998, with Metropolitan Vitaly’s blessing (who particularly venerated this icon), the guardian of the icon, Fr. Elias, visited our parish and brought the Myrrh streaming Icon of St. Nicholas. The visit brought many blessings. Those who were new to Orthodoxy at that time, were given a strong witness of St. Nicholas’ presence. Those who were older in the Faith, were given a rekindling of that childlike faith that trusts in God’s love through the prayers of His saints.
Since that time, and through the recent years when our Church Abroad went through turmoil, confusion, and painful sundering, the Myrrh-streaming icon of St. Nicholas remained dear to us. Thanks to God, we did not lose sight of its importance and blessedness, even though there have been a few in some places who have maligned (and still malign) the icon and its steward, and would influence others to disbelieve also. But, so it is in our cynical times… may God forgive them.
Cheesefare Week, 2012, twelve members of our parish, including Fr. Andrew and his matushka, made a trip to venerate the icon of St Nicholas and visit its steward, Archpriest Elias Warnke. He is a priest of our Church, under the omophorion of Archbishop Andronik.
The first part of our first day’s visit was spent talking with Fr. Elias who told us accounts of miracles and spiritual blessings given by the icon. For a number of years, Fr. Elias had traveled to many parishes all over the world and he shared with us many photos from those travels. He then took the icon out of its cloth covering and wooden kivot, and held it up. We could see more plainly the myrrh lightly flowing from the icon. The icon’s surface was “shiny wet” and the cotton batting placed below it was already half-soaked with myrrh. Then he turned it around to show the flow of myrrh on the back. Fr. Elia took his finger and traced a cross on the icon’s surface.
A full molieban/akathist was then served. Fr. Elias and Fr. Andrew took turns reading the Eikos of the Akathist with everyone joining in singing the Alleluias and verses from the booklets prepared. The fragrance of myrrh became stronger; the streaming increased noticeably. Afterwards, everyone saw how the cross that was traced upon the surface of the icon had been completely filled with myrrh and could no longer be seen. Moreover, the cotton batting was now completely saturated and could hold no more. Fr. Elias gave us copies of the icon and small bottles of myrrh to take home. Photos were taken.
Before our second day’s visit, Fr. Elias changed the drenched batting under the icon. When we returned he showed us the jar where he had placed the soaked cotton and the great quantity of myrrh that it had absorbed. He had placed fresh cotton batting below the icon, which was already absorbing the flowing myrrh.
On the second day’s visit, each of us had a time to privately pray before the icon. The rest of us sat together in another room to wait our turn. Then pilgrims and priests gathered together again to sing a molieban for travelers. We were leaving later that day. We felt it to be an added blessing that our last visit and the day we were departing was Thursday, the day on which the Church commemorates St. Nicholas. The pilgrims took more photos.
Speaking among ourselves, we realized we shared the same experience in approaching the icon and standing in its presence…that is, a profound feeling of peace, of rest, of non-judgment. Beforehand, we all had our personal apprehensions but as we individually approached the icon these feelings dissolved, being quickly replaced with an assurance of profound love, as was expressed in the Gospel Parable by the father of the prodigal son. Another common “experience” was how the entire time of our visit the fragrance of the myrrh was evident. When someone was praying either privately or together the intensity increased. When we sat nearby talking the intensity decreased. But at no time were we unaware of its fragrance.
It is also necessary to point out the “temptations” experienced by all who made this journey. They started from the very moment of the decision to arrange this trip and continued consistently and frequently in every moment of the journey, apart from being in the icon’s presence, until the moment we stepped back into our homes. They were so obvious that we started joking about what form they would take on the next round! So it is for all who wish to make a pilgrimage or to do some good thing for one’s soul! As St. Peter writes in his epistle “do not be amazed at the fiery trials that will come upon you…” However in them all we had the calm assurance that all would work out eventually…
This is a brief account of our pilgrimage to the Holy Icon. All of us who made this trip have experienced a strengthening and deepening of faith and calming knowledge that our Good God is in control and looking over us through His beloved Saints.