June 10, 2009

A Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Saint George in Israel

Liquid is seen dripping down from a painting of St. George, at a church in Ramle, central Israel on Tuesday, June 9, 2009. Christians have been flocking to this heavily Muslim suburb of Tel Aviv for two days to see what local Christians are calling a miracle, streaks of what looks like oil mysteriously dripping down an icon of St. George, at a Greek Orthodox church named for the early 4th century martyr. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

[Glory to God in his Saints! Another miraculous icon has revealed itself. I have long believed that icons stream myrrh either to reveal the miraculous nature of the person depicted or as something prophetic. In regards to the former, Orthodox Christians have long known of the miraculous powers of Saint George. The people of Ramla, near Lydda which contains the actual tomb of Saint George, know of the miraculous power of Saint George. Regarding the latter, only a prophet can truly interpret a prophetic sign, and if there is no prophet to interpret the sign then we should consider this sign as a call to pray and be more vigilant.

What I found interesting in this story, however, was the silence of the clergy in interpreting this phenomenon. Though I agree with the advice, it none the less urged me to do some quick research on what is going on in this town in Israel and its recent history.

In July of 1948 there was a tragic event known as The Exodus From Lydda and Ramla or The Lydda Death March. This was during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War when 50,000-70,000 native Palestinians (both Christians and Muslims) fled or were expelled by Israeli troops from the cities and nearby villages. Around 290–450 Palestinians and 9–10 Israeli soldiers were killed during the battle to take Lydda, and in violence that followed. The death toll in Ramla is unknown but presumed much lower because the city surrendered immediately. Palestinians taken prisoner were executed in the Dahmash Mosque. The people were forced to leave the town, usually without most of their belongings. Some who were slow to hand over valuables to the Israeli soldiers were killed. As it was a very hot summer, 350 had died of thirst or exhaustion. Today just 20% or so of the population in this area are Palestinian. More information on this tragic event can be read here and here.

What I found interesting regarding the Church of Saint George in Ramla is an incident that happened on July 12, 1948. Israeli troops had ordered the Palestinians of Ramla to go to Barriya holding a white flag of surrender. A 12 year old boy, Khalil Wazir, described the events of that day as follows:

"I will never forget that day. The men had gathered together. And they were saying that the Jews were going to do to us what they had done in Deir Yassin. That they had surrounded the town and were about to enter it. ... And then my mother and my sisters and I went to the church. The whole village went to the church. ... I remember the archbishop standing in front of the church. He was holding a white flag. ... Afterwards we came out and the picture will never be erased from my mind. There were bodies scattered on the road and between the houses and the side streets. No one, not even women or children, had been spared if they were out in the street. ... Then they put us in the bus ... [After the bus], we spent four days walking."

Could the weeping of the icon have some connection to these events and its present day implications? Is it possible that the reason the Patriarchate of Jerusalem requested the silence of interpreting this miracle so as not to incite any further violence? It's all just speculation, but something I find interesting none the less. - J.S.]

Oil-streaked Icon 'Miracle'

Jun 9, 2009
Associated Press

RAMLA, Israel (AP) - Christians have been flocking to this dusty Israeli town to see what locals are calling a miracle: streaks of what looks like oil mysteriously dripping down an icon of St. George at a Greek Orthodox church named for the legendary third century dragon slayer.

Worshippers said Tuesday that the more than two dozen streaks might represent God's tears or the Christian rite of baptism. The church priest, Father Nifon, first saw the streaks while preparing for Sunday morning services, they said.

"He kissed all the icons, and when he reached that one, he took down the picture and he cleaned it," said Aida Abu el-Edam, an English teacher and longtime church member. "After 20 or 25 minutes, he looked again and he saw the oil again and said, 'This is a miracle.'"

El-Edam, 47, said she was convinced the streaks were a miracle in part because of a strange smell emanating from the icon. She said it reminded her of her visit as a teenager to the site of a miracle in Ermysh, Lebanon. There, she said, the odor came from a recently deceased woman whose Christian faith was legendary.

"It's a special, holy smell," she said. "It's not ordinary, like olive oil. It's something strange that comes from God."

The Greek Orthodox patriarch inspected the painting Sunday, el-Edam said, and the church has sent a sample of the oil to a laboratory.

Father Nifon said the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate had asked him not to speak publicly or to answer questions about the streaks, so that believers could draw their own conclusions.

About 50 Christians crowded around the icon Tuesday, some from near Ramla and others from other parts of Israel. They were joined by curious Jews and Muslims, some snapping cell phone pictures. Ramla, a mixed Jewish-Arab town of 65,000, is in central Israel between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The icon hangs near the front of the church, hidden from most pews by a small gold chandelier. A nun dressed in black was rubbing the bottom of the icon with cotton balls, which she handed to the faithful who sometimes smelled them before clutching them to their chests.

"People these days, they've forgot God and this is a sign to tell them, 'I'm still here,' said Edith Fanous, 31, who works for a local trucking company and said she has been attending St. George's since she was a little girl.

Fanous said she was singing in the church choir when the oil streaks appeared Sunday. She guessed as many as 1,000 visitors had been to the church since then. She dismissed the idea that the streaks could just be paint running on a hot day.

"This icon is 114 years old," she said. "It passed through so much weather, hot and cold. And now that we have air conditioning in the church it's started to melt? I don't think so."

Kosty Tannous, 33, an Israeli customs worker, said he thought the streaks may have appeared now because God sees trouble in Israeli society.

"There's war and discrimination," he said. "I see a lot of discrimination against Arabs here in Israel, and maybe this is a good lesson for everybody to love each other and live with each other with equal rights."

The Church of Saint George in Ramla and the Grand Mosque