AUTHOR: Bray, Hiawatha
PUBLISHED ON: May 2, 2003

                        WEEPING MADONNA

    I ÿdrove thirty miles last week to see a painting weep.  ÿÿI
came away not sure of what I saw, wondering about other things as
    St. ÿÿNicholas ÿAlbanian Orthodox Church sits in a ÿbungalow
community ÿon ÿthe Northwest Side of Chicago, ÿacross the ÿstreet
from ÿa shopping mall.  ÿBuilt in 1961, ÿit seats only about ÿ400
people.  ÿThe vestibule is small, ÿthe aisles narrow.  ÿThe place
cramps ÿthe movement of hundreds who had come for a glimpse at ÿa
    Father ÿPhilip Koufos, ÿpastor of the church, ÿfirst saw the
sight on December 6, St. Nicholas’ Day.
    In ÿOrthodox churches, ÿa ÿdecorated wall, ÿor ÿiconostasis,
partially ÿconceals ÿthe altar from ÿthe ÿcongregation.  ÿÿFather
Koufos ÿand ÿtwo ÿparishoners had approached the ÿwall ÿto ÿlight
votive candles.  ÿAmong the images on the wall was an icon of the
Virgin ÿMary ÿholding ÿthe young Jesus, ÿpainted by a ÿman ÿnamed
Kostas ÿYousis ÿin 1961.  ÿHe’d made the virgin’s eyes ÿwide ÿand
sorrowful, ÿin the manner of icons.  ÿBut never before had Father
Koufos noticed moisture there.
    “First ÿI ÿsaw a long stream of wet coming out of ÿthe ÿeyes
down ÿto the bottom of the icon.  ÿAs we further examined it, ÿwe
saw ÿmultiple ÿsprays ÿcome down and exude ÿfrom ÿthe ÿhands…an
actual squirting.”
    “I ÿimmediately fell on my face.  ÿMy parishoners thought ÿI
had ÿfainted…I was in shock.  ÿThen as I recovered myself, ÿÿwe
looked ÿeverywhere ÿto ÿsee ÿif water was coming ÿdown ÿfrom ÿthe
ceiling.”  ÿThey found nothing but the wet, ÿstaring eyes of ÿthe
    The ÿpastor tried to keep the matter quiet, ÿbut ÿthe ÿstory
spread ÿÿout ÿof ÿthe ÿtiny ÿchurch ÿonto ÿTV ÿscreens ÿand ÿinto
newspapers.  Now here were hundreds of people, men and women from
all over the city, come to see the weeping icon.
    I ÿhesitated ÿto ÿmove toward the painted ÿwonder ÿnear ÿthe
altar.  ÿÿA ÿÿProtestant, ÿI ÿfeared I might make some ÿerror ÿof
protocol and give offense.  ÿA ÿblack man, I ÿdidn’t know how the
Greeks and Turks and Slavs might react to me.  Then there was the
icon itself.  I wanted to think a bit, to talk to some who’d seen
it before I went forward.  I wanted to do a little praying.  Even
before seeing it, the thing frightened me.
    They ÿdid not resent my presence.  ÿThey stared, ÿnot at me,
but at my notebook, as if it were magical.  “Are you with Channel
Five?”  they asked.  “Are you with the Sun-Times?”
    A ÿCatholic woman tells me that her rosary beads turned from
blue to green as she drove to the church.  Another Catholic woman
sits ÿand talks to me.  ÿ”Mary is weeping,” ÿshe says, ÿÿ”because
we’re hurting her son.”  These two have no doubts.
    Another woman in a red parka is more skeptical.  ÿ”It’s over
by the hands.  ÿI ÿdidn’t see any by the eyes.  ÿI ÿwould have to
examine it closer.  It looked like a streak of varnish to me.”
    There are a few blacks here.  ÿOne of them, ÿa ÿSouth Sider,
takes ÿme aside to say that a calendar had miraculously ÿappeared
in his Bible, ÿa ÿcalendar which had predicted the weeping ÿicon,
and ÿforetold that the wonder would cease on December ÿ15.  ÿÿHis
church had rejected him, he said; they thought he was crazy.
    I had not yet seen the picture.  ÿI put away my notebook and
joined ÿthe line.  ÿI ÿdid not have long to wait; ÿthe crowd ÿhad
thinned a little.
    The ÿvirgin’s eyes were dry when I approached her, ÿbut ÿthe
signs of moisture were there.  Gleaming streaks ran from her face
and hands down to the base of the icon, glowing in candlelight.
    “What does it mean?” I whispered.
    A guide grinned at me.  ÿ”I don’t know.  Maybe you’ll be the
lucky one who tells us.”
    A ÿTV ÿreporter, ÿÿshivering on the street, ÿÿasked ÿfor ÿmy
opinion.  Instead I asked for his.  ÿ”It’s Three-In-One oil on an
oil ÿpainting.  ÿWhen the candles flicker the moisture ÿseems ÿto
move.”  ÿÿHe speaks with more fervor than anyone in ÿthe ÿchurch. 
Perhaps ÿit ÿwas the cold.  ÿ”I’m a devout Christian, ÿbut I’m ÿa
reporter.  I’ve learned to be skeptical.”
    So ÿhave I.  ÿBack at the office I called a group in Buffalo
New ÿYork that checks out reports of supernatural events.  ÿÿThey
promised ÿto send out an investigator and keep me posted.  ÿÿI’ll
let you know what they discover.
    But ÿsuppose ÿthey can find no explanation ÿfor ÿthe ÿicon’s
tears?  ÿIs this a miracle, then?  ÿOr is it a natural event not
yet comprehended by science?  The trouble with the unexplained is
precisely that it explains nothing.
    Is it any wonder that Christmas has become little more ÿthan
a spending spree?  ÿGifts, ÿdecorations, ÿcredit cards are all so
easy to understand.  ÿIt’s when we consider a virgin giving birth
in a barn that the confusion starts.  ÿWhen the going gets tough,
the confused go shopping.
    I ÿcrossed over from St. ÿNicholas to the shopping mall, ÿÿa
modernist ÿÿcathedral ÿÿfragrant ÿwith ÿthe ÿscent ÿof ÿÿJapanese
electronics ÿand Hong Kong clothes.  ÿIt was warm, ÿwell-lit.  ÿI
felt safe there.  I did a little shopping.

By Hiawatha Bray

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