Myrrh-Streaming Icon

icon_myrrhThis evening, our family had the incredible opportunity to visit St Luke’s in Garden Grove to venerate the Holy Hawaiian-Iveron Icon. This icon is a myrrh-streaming icon. Although this icon is simply made of wood and paper, it miraculously began emitting myrrh in 2007.

The history of this icon is absolutely amazing. This icon is actually a printed copy of the Montreal myrrh-streaming icon of the Theotokos, which miraculously began emitting myrrh in 1982. And that icon was a hand-painted copy of the original Iveron Icon of the Theotokos, which according to Orthodox tradition, was painted by the Apostle Luke. Yes, the same Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

The amazing history is lengthy, so I’ll just post links. Click HERE to read the history of the original and Montreal myrrh-streaming icons. And then click HERE to read the history of the Holy Hawaiian-Iveron Icon.

So what do you do with a miraculous myrrh-streaming icon? I struggled with this question all week in anticipation of our visit. I’ve long since gotten past my old Protestant hang-ups about icons. The Seventh Ecumenical Council declared, “Icons do with color what Scripture does with words.” (By the way, Fr Stephen has just posted a good blog post entitled, “Icons and Scripture” that is worth reading.)

I love icons. They are windows into heaven. They constantly remind me of the communion of the saints and their intercessions on my behalf. They spur me to live a godly life. I can’t imagine ever going back to worship or daily life without icons. They are a significant part of the wealth and fullness of the faith that I’ve discovered in Orthodoxy.

But, icons that leak aromatic myrrh? At this point, all I can say is God’s grace is beauty shrouded in mystery. Grace is not some disembodied force floating around somewhere nor comes to us in a vacuum. Grace is God’s activity, his energies. And he anchors it in his creation. He offers his grace through water, through incense, through bread and wine, through oil, through paint, paper and wood, through words, through prayers, through my priest. Grace and creation go hand-in-hand. In fact, creation is truly being creation as God destined when it’s the means of God’s grace.

So, I don’t have any rational explanation why God would choose to anchor and offer his grace through an icon that streams myrrh. But it’s absolutely beautiful. The myrrh smells like roses. And the icon is of the tender Mother of God, the premiere disciple who is praying for our salvation. I was deeply moved when Fr Michael brought the icon up the aisle and laid it upon the analogion. 

Hmmm…. A humble, unpretentious 7 x 9 inch plank of wood with a printed copy of the Holy Mother of God directing our attention to Christ and miraculously emitting a heavenly fragrance. Now that I think about it, it seems to be the typical way God reveals himself and offers his grace. And my response is to acknowledge it, to honor it, to pray and to worship a God who lavishes grace in such beautiful and mysterious ways.

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11 thoughts on “Myrrh-Streaming Icon

  1. I appreciate this post and the conclusion you’ve come to. But this is one aspect of Orthodoxy–myrrh streaming icons and things of that nature–that I have difficult accepting, as I do the other aspects of the Church’s life. I know if I had been in that Church, I would have wanted to pick up the icon and look it over. I would have wanted to test it, in some way.

    I understand that what I’ve described isn’t the mind submitted to the heart, as the fathers say it should be. But for whatever reason, this is one area my skepticism hasn’t yet overcome.

  2. Hi Cameron,

    I don’t think there is anything wrong, or “non-Orthodox”, about needing to test it to believe it. I’m with Thomas on this sort of thing. I would have needed to see the resurrection to believe it as well. I am a parishioner at St. Luke’s and was there to venerate the icon and was anointed by said Myrrh. I wouldn’t claim that I believe this is the “real deal.” I hope it is. I’m happy to venerate the icon and be anointed by the oil, but I couldn’t say that I know it to be real unless I were able to test it. So, I guess I approach with hopeful optimism, but not assurance. And I think I’m in good company.

    Best – David

    1. I am the father of the caretaker of this miraculous Icon! ! assure you it is real!!!!!! Don’t be a doubting Thomas, have faith my friend.

  3. Hi Cameron,
    I tend to be a cynical and skeptical person, traits I’ve had to deal with in my journey toward Orthodoxy and still deal with today. My first inclination is to doubt stuff like myrrh-streaming icons and many of the stories about the saints. However, since I’m not in a place where I can scientifically validate the claims about the icon, I find I have a choice to make, not believing or at least embracing what I can. And what I can embrace in this situation is the validity of icons in general and the beauty and mystery of grace that seems to surround this icon specifically. The way I figure it, if I can believe similar Old Testament stories of God’s grace, then surely I can at least appreciate that God might be at work here. And if there’s a possibility he’s at work, I want to be a part of it. And if, in the future, it’s revealed that this icon is false, it won’t shake me up since it’s not central to my faith at all.

  4. David and Jason, thank you for your thoughtful responses to my poorly edited (I see now) comment. It should have said:

    “But this is one aspect of Orthodoxy–myrrh streaming icons and things of that nature–that I have *more difficulty accepting *than I do other aspects of the Church’s life.”

    It must have been the virus I was getting over, clouding my thoughts. With that said, I agree with you, Jason–even if the icon doesn’t truly stream myrrh, I can accept (and venerate) it as an icon, just as I do with other icons. And more to the point, as you’ve noted, it really isn’t central to the faith. If it is really what people say about it, it is yet another measure of God’s grace spilling over.

    Maybe the point here is keeping in mind to what the icon points, and guarding against making it an end in itself (which, honestly, is probably where my reaction really comes from).

    David, I’m always glad to be reminded of St. Thomas’s “blessed skepticism”. Thank you.

  5. Someone, who was kind enough to read my blog and even kinder still to email me about her experience with the icon, gave me permission to put some of her encouraging email in the comments. So here is a portion of her email:

    “One Sunday in the fall, it was announced that the Serbian Church close by had this icon and people were welcome to go see and venerate it. We had flexibility we don’t often have on a Sunday afternoon, so went. We arrived as friends from our Church were leaving. She is a cradle Orthodox, so I would guess more experienced with this than I, a recent convert. At my friends suggestion, and because it was after services and people were simply lined-up to see and kiss the icon, we asked the owner/caretaker to open it up and show us the back, which he was very willing to do. He has built the simple frame/box it is in, particularly so the myrrh can be collected. It was certainly wet and with an amazing fragrance. We also could see that it was a very simple, inexpensive type (like we have!) of icon. Both of us came home quietly amazed. We don’t know why God has done this, but we were both very comfortably convinced this was true. I attended Sat evening at St. Luke’s and my husband had gone the night before to St. Barnbas in Costa Mesa, because I felt strongly that we needed to experience the icon in a service more than just “looky loos”. I’m glad I did that, although the time “with” the icon was less. I am following a caringbridge blog of a father whose darling little daughter is severly injured. They are a sweet family of faith, and the father wrote recently ‘miracles happen everyday and sometimes we are lucky enough to see them when they happen’. I think that is what may be happening here.”

  6. I was at one of the services. i was standing at the rear of the church next to a young gentleman who was quietly praying with a greek rosary. i leaned over to him and asked him who the caretaker of the miraculous icon was? he whispered to me, “no one special”. i was kind of taken aback by that comment. i proceeded to repremand him and told him, “you should be ashamed of yourself, he must be a saint to have something this holy” he didnt say anything, he just smiled. at the end of the anointing of the faithful with the myrrh, the clergy processed the miraculous icon out of the church. a car pulled up and the priest turned around as if looking for the icon’s guardian. at that moment, the crowd of people parted. my stomach dropped. the young genleman i was standing next to, the young man i scolded in the church, appeared and stood before the priest and kissed the icon, he then took out a small blue bag and opened it for the priest to place the icon inside, and he placed the bag around his neck. it was at that moment that i realised HE was the icon’s guardian. i guess i had assumed it was a priest or even a bishop, but it was this humble young man who said “no one special”, he was speaking of himself. as i write this, it brings tears to my eyes. what unbelievable humility for someone so young. i am deeply ashamed of myself. i never got the oppurtunity to say i was sorry. i hope to meet him again, the blessed mother has rightly chosen. i hope my story can inspire us orthodox christians during this lenten season.

  7. John,
    Don’t feel bad at all! I probably would’ve felt the same way!!! That person you are referring too that said to you “no one special” is my son. In fact, he just emailed this blog to me so I’m sure he did read your post. He’s a good boy John and you’re right, the Blessed Mother choice wisely!! So don’t worry or stress over it whatsoever, you too are in his prayers. And please keep praying for him and the responsibility he was given. Aloha from Hawaii, Rod

  8. I have seen this icon twice at Life Giving Springs Monastery. I will share both my personal experience and my analysis as a doubting Thomas but now accepting as just a holy mystery.

    The first time, as it was processed from the car, the myrrh was so fragrant you could smell it 50 feet away. On that day, the myrrh was puddling upside down inside the the glass from the middle of the glass. It was like condensation.

    Being a doubting Thomas and someone who has been cursed/blessed with a 147 IQ, I looked to see if I could figure out how that could be done if falsified. Lord have mercy on me the sinner. The glass was not double paned. The oil was so much that it seeped from the seems of the frame. And the peace that resonated was amazing.

    I saw it again last night, at the vigil to the Theotokos there. It was not as much as last time, but was on both sides of the glass. Still fragrant, and again I felt the peace felt like being a child cradled in the arms of his/her mother. I could have stood there all night. I do not understand it, but it is the same peace I felt at baptism. I have no reason to doubt it as genuine.

    But for the inquisitive:

    I also recently looked up descriptions of myrrh, and it was used to anoint kings in the OT, obviously a wise-man gift to our Lord and is ounce for ounce worth more than gold.

    Myrrh comes from the sap of certain trees and smells similar to but not exactly like roses. (which was my experience) It’s consistency is between oil and honey in density: too thick for a mini mister inside. There was no visual indication of this, as the myrrh seem to come out of thin air. This would be a very expensive hoax to pull, and if it was natural phenomenon of the resonating from the wood, 3 years is a long time to resonate. Also, if there was some secret compartment, it would have ran out of myrrh or clog if it was recycled – because each time I witnessed it, was over the time period of several hours. It doesn’t run on the glass, it seems to puddle on both sides.

    Hope that helps,
    Genevieve
    St. George
    Bakersfield

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