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ELENA SOBOLEVA
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ICONS — WINDOWS INTO HEAVEN

Icons are reminders of the spiritual world. They are windows into eternity; a holy space depicting sacred reality in the course of humanity.

Iconography is the Bible in Art and theology in color. The bible and iconography along with prayer of the heart are the gates into the mystery of Orthodox Christian spirituality. Icons serve as “windows into heaven” depicting our Christian history reflecting images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles and other holy and heroic Christians of the past.

The eyes in an icon are made large and animated because they have seen great things. The ears are also made large to hear the commands of the Lord. The nose is made long and thin, therefore it doesn’t smell the things of this world, only spiritual fragrances. The mouth is small, since there is less importance on physical food and drink (fasting), and more importance on spiritual food “the Word of God”. The halo encircling the head of Christ or the saint depicts the radiant light of their divinity.

Orthodox Christians do not worship icons, of course; worship is for God alone. But we do venerate them, believing that the honor given to the icon passes on to the person it images. Just as pictures of our loved ones in our wallets or homes remind us of real people and significant events, icons are the same reminder of those we honor and love. Icons image those who have loved God and sacrificed their lives for Him. They are sacred friends and events representing a world regenerated by divine grace. They are the saints who exemplify human potential at its finest.

Icons are a part of the Orthodox Christian worship and prayer, lifting the heart and mind into God’s heavenly kingdom. Churches represent a celebration in color and form of God’s presence in His Church. Icons also revere a place of honor in our homes to which we direct our prayerful attention either as individuals or as families.

Icons are the traditional art form of the Early Church. An icon at its very root is a portrayal of Christ’s image and imprint on the world, thus helping us better understand who God is and what He is like. Icons can be small paintings on a wood panel, an illumination on paper no bigger than a penny, or an icon can be painted on a large wall with the figures being larger than life-sized. Traditionally, fresco was the technique for wall painting and egg tempera was the preferred medium for smaller “easel” works. It is not the size or medium that makes an icon be an «icon» but the subject matter (its content) and how it is portrayed.

The vision of the icon is spiritual. The aim of this art is to capture through the choice of color, facial expression, and composition not the natural look of the person or things depicted, but their spiritual essence. Saints are portrayed in an icon because in the Saint the image of Christ is portrayed. Through his or her actions (the example of piously responding to life’s challenges as Christ himself would) the Christian Faith is fleshed out. This is an art with a vision. Quiet, peaceful, otherworldly views of God’s grace at work... a heavenly vision.

 


Our Mother of Sorrows (USA)

Narrative: Our Mother of Sorrows offers healing liniment to those suffering from the tragedies of September 11, 2001.

Virgin Mary appeared in a dream to a nun of one of the Orthodox convents in USA and informed her about the forthcoming event which was to happen in half a year. Virgin Mary also asked the nun to describe Her image to an icon painter, the scene of Her appearance and to tell people to summon in prayer in front of this image and to pray for salvation of their souls.

The angels of the Perpetual Help icon, as well as their instruments of Christ’s crucifixion are replaced by the American and United Airlines planes.

The planes symbolize the victims at the Pentagon and Flight 93, as well as both planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. The planes invade the sacred space of the mandorla, the cloud of heavenly radiance that surrounds Mary.

Represented by the almond shape and the radiating fiery rings, the mandorla is the intersection of heavenly and earthly realms.

The stars of heaven surround Mary, the universal mother, in her sorrowful yet hopeful glance. The old church Slavonic lettering in gold leaf describes Mary as the Theotokos, the Mother of God.

Traditional images of Our Lady of Sorrows depict Mary’s heart pierced by swords, symbolic of the seven times her heart was broken by the passion of her Son. Within Mary’s embrace the oval which surrounds the World Trade Center symbolizes her sacred heart, but even more so her womb.

Old Spanish and Mexican images of Our Lady of Sorrows as well as the traditional icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help influenced the conception of this icon.

The image of Virgin Mary was depicted exactly in the way She appeared to the nun. But, unfortunately, people didn’t listen to the words of Virgin Mary, this time they were death to Her advice. And the tragedy did happen...

In this icon, Our Mother embraces all those lost with her enduring love, just as she embraced the Child in her womb. The towers are depicted as they appeared on that bright, sunny morning in early September. The smoke, stylized and sanctified, bears witness to the ultimate sacrifice of so many on September 11.

Prayer: Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy, hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.

To you we cry, the children of Eve; to you we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this land of exile. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy towards us; lead us home at last and show us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus: O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Amen.

 


Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Western Europe, Russia)

Narrative: This icon received the title «Our Lady of Perpetual Help» in Western Europe. The pose was first painted in the Balkan countries in the XIV century.

The Christ Child has run to His mother and jumped into her arms after seeing two angels holding the instruments of His future passion. In His haste, one sandal has come off. The Christ Child continues to look, in fear and astonishment, at the angel holding the cross. The Mother looks out at the world with compassion.

According to Byzantine Christian theology, Christ’s passion and death are not seen as a debt paid to a wrathful Father. Jesus Christ, as person, is God’s answer to the human condition.

The Christ embraces all suffering and oppression in solidarity with humanity.

“Hades seized a body, and it discovered God; it seized earth, and, behold! it encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible. O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished... Christ is risen and life is freed” (St. John Chrysostom).

Prayer: Our Lady of Perpetual Help, you have been blessed and favored by God. You became not only the Mother of the Redeemer but the Mother of the redeemed as well. We come to you today as your loving children. Watch over us and take care of us. As you held the child Jesus in your loving arms, so take us in your arms. Be a mother ready at every moment to help us. For God who is mighty has done great things for you, and his mercy is from age to age on those who love him. Our greatest fear is that in time of temptation, we may fail to call out to you, and become lost children. Intercede for us, dear Mother, in obtaining pardon for our sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance, and the grace always to call upon you, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Amen.

 


Our Lady of Tenderness (Russia)
Image of Holy Virgin from the scene of the Annunciation

Narrative: During Her first year in the house of Joseph, about six months after the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Zacharias (Luke 1:8-25), as the birth of the prophet John the Baptist was approaching, the forenamed Angel was sent by God into the town of Nazareth to the Holy Virgin with the joyous news that the Lord had chosen Her to become the Mother of the Savior of the world.

The Angel, having appeared, told Her, “Rejoice, O Blessed One! The Lord is with Thee! Blessed art Thou amongst women”.

Mary was puzzled by the words of the Angel and unsure what this greeting was supposed to mean.

The Angel continued by saying to Her: “Fear not, Mary, for Thou hast found favor with God. And therefore, Thou wilt bear a Son and shalt name Him Jesus. He shall be great and shall be known as the Son of the Most-high, and to His Kingdom there shall be no end”.

Still puzzled, Mary asked the Angel: “How can that be, since I know not a man?”

The Angel replied that this would be accomplished by the power of the omnipotent God: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon Thee, and the power of the Most-high shall overshadow Thee; therefore, accordingly, that Holy One which shall be born of Thee shall be called the Son of God. Your relative, Elizabeth, not having had any offspring till her very old age, shall soon give birth to a son; for with God nothing shall be impossible”.

Then Mary humbly answered, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:26-38).

After this reply the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary, and She conceived the Word of God. Thus, in the most modest circumstances happened the greatest miracle in the life of mankind! Here the Infinite joined the finite; the Light, unapproachable to Angels, descended into the Virgin’s womb!

Prayer: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you! Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

 


Our Lady of Fatima (Portugal)

Narrative: On March 13, 1917, not long before the revolution in Russia, the Virgin Mary, surrounded by a radiance, appeared in Fatima, Portugal, to three shepherd children.

For several months She continued to appear to the children, and at one of Her appearances five to eighteen thousand people convened from all parts of Portugal.

An unforgettable miracle occurred when, after a torrential rain, unexpectedly there came an unusual light, and in an instant the people’s soaked clothes became dry. The Virgin Mary was summoning the people to prayer and foretold the forthcoming conversion of Russia from godlessness to faith in God.

The Roman Catholic Church later interpreted Her words as foretelling the conversion of Russia to Catholicism. However, this was not what the Virgin said.

Now, as the Russian people turn back to God and to their Orthodox faith, we are witnessing the fulfillment of this prophecy.

Prayer: O Most Holy Virgin Mary, Queen of the most holy Rosary, you were pleased to appear to the children of Fatima and reveal a glorious message. We implore you, inspire in our hearts a fervent love for the recitation of the Rosary. By meditating on the mysteries of the redemption that are recalled therein may we obtain the graces and virtues that we ask, through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer.

Holy Mary, help the helpless, strengthen the fearful, comfort the sorrowful, pray for the people, plead for the clergy, intercede for all women consecrated to God; may all who keep your sacred commemoration experience the might of your assistance.

Prayer: O God, whose only begotten Son by His life, death and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation, grant, we pray, that meditating upon these mysteries in the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise. Amen.

 


Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico)

Narrative: Ten years after the bloody Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Mother of God appeared to an Aztec craftsman named Juan Diego at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City.

She appeared as an Aztec Herself and addressed him in Nahuati, the Aztec tongue, in a manner one would address a prince. She appeared several miles outside Mexico City, which had become the center of Spanish power; she identified herself as the Mother of the True God and insisted that a shrine in Her honor be built on that spot among the conquered people and left an image of herself imprinted miraculously on his tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth, which should have deteriorated in 20 years but shows no sign of decay almost 500 years later and still defies all scientific explanations of its origin. It apparently even reflects in her eyes what was in front of her in 1531!

She sent Juan Diego back to the Spanish clergy to «evangelize» them — ones who felt they already had all the truth. In each of these ways She restored dignity and hope to native people who had been dehumanized by foreign oppression. She sent Her message of love and compassion, and her universal promise of help and protection to all mankind.

There is reason to believe that at Tepeyac Mary came in her glorified body, and her actual physical hands rearranged the roses in Juan Diego’s tilma, which makes this apparition very special.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe depicts Mary with native features. Gold stars cover her green mantle and the girdle about her waist signifies pregnancy. The moon is beneath her feet and one of the angels supports her. The image reveals that Christ is to be born again among the peoples of the New World. The message of the image is as relevant to those of the New World today as during the lifetime of Juan Diego.

The story of the apparitions, are described in the «Nican Mopohua», a 16th century document written in the native Nahuatl language

A shrine was later built where Mary appeared, and Juan Diego spent the remaining 17 years of his life there, repeating Her message of hope and liberation to all who would come. About eight million Native Americans became Christians in response to this message.

An incredible list of miracles, cures and interventions are attributed to Her. Yearly, an estimated 10 million visit her Basilica, making her Mexico City home the most popular Marian shrine in the world, and the most visited Catholic church in the world next to the Vatican.

Altogether 24 popes have officially honored Our Lady of Guadalupe. His Holiness John Paul II visited her Sanctuary four times: on his first apostolic trip outside Rome as Pope in 1979, and again in 1990, 1999 and 2002.

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12th. In 1999, Pope John Paul II, in his homily from the Solemn Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, during his third visit to the sanctuary, declared the date of December the 12th as a Liturgical Holy Day for the whole continent.

During the same visit Pope John Paul II entrusted the cause of life to her loving protection, and placed under her motherly care the innocent lives of children, especially those who are in danger of not being born.

Prayer: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mystical Rose, make intercession for the Holy Church, protect the sovereign Pontiff, help all those who invoke you in their necessities, and since you are the ever Virgin Mary and Mother of the true God, obtain for us from your most holy Son the grace of keeping our faith, of sweet hope in the midst of the bitterness of life of burning charity, and the precious gift of final perseverance. Amen.

 


Our Lady of Zeitun (Egypt)

 


Image of the apparition of the Holy Virgin in a great halo of light, as seen by Mr. Adeeb Naguib from the Ministry of Tourism.

 

Narrative: For more than a year, starting on the eve of Tuesday, April 2, 1968, the Blessed Holy Virgin Saint Mary, Mother of God, appeared in different forms over the domes of the Coptic Orthodox Church named after Her at Zeitoun, Cairo, Egypt. The late Rev. Father Constantine Moussa was the church priest at the time of these apparitions. The apparitions lasted from only a few minutes up to several hours and were sometimes accompanied by luminous heavenly bodies shaped like doves and moving at high speeds. The apparitions were seen by millions of Egyptians and foreigners. Among the witnesses were Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Moslems, Jews and non-religious people, scientists, and people of different classes and professions. The sick were cured and blind persons received their sight, but most importantly large numbers of unbelievers were converted...

Soon all of Egypt heard of the appearances of the Mother of God, and the government became concerned that these public gatherings at the site of Her appearances should proceed in an orderly fashion.

The local papers wrote in Arabic about these apparitions of the Holy Virgin, and several press-conferences were held about them, during which people shared their impressions regarding what they had heard from Her. The Mother of God also visited individuals in the suburbs of Cairo, such as the Coptic patriarch who was skeptical of Her appearing to the people. During the appearances of the Mother of God there occurred many cures that were confirmed by local doctors.

The Washington Post on July 5th, 1968, wrote of additional appearances of the Theotokos over the Church of St. Damian, in the industrial area of Terra Gulaki, north of Cairo. The Virgin Mary was seen holding the infant Jesus in Her arms, and accompanying Her were several saints, among them St. Damian. As elsewhere, Her appearances were accompanied by many cures of incurable diseases: blindness, kidney and heart diseases and many others.

Prayer: As You are above all creatures in Heaven and Earth, more glorious than the Cherubim, more noble than any here below, Christ has given You to His people, firm bulwark and Protectress, to shield and save sinners who fly unto You. Therefore O Lady, all embracing refuge, we solemnly recall Your sweet protection, and beg Christ forever for His mercy. Amen.

 


Our Lady of Vladimir (Russia)

Narrative: This icon is one of the most ancient miraculous icons of the Mother of God. In the middle of the 5th century the Icon was transported from Jerusalem to Constantinople, and in the middle of the 12th century it was sent by the patriarch to Kiev, to the Grand Duke Yury Dolgoruky, and was placed in the Dievichy monastery in Vyshgorod.

In 1155 Prince Andrew of Vyshgorod, when traveling to the North, took with him the miraculous Icon of the Blessed Virgin. On the way, there were held short divine services praising the Lord (Te Deums), and miracles occurred. On the banks of the Klyazma river the steeds carrying the Icon could not move. The prince called that place Bogolubov, that is, Beloved by God, and built there two stone churches, into one of which the Icon was placed.

On September 21, 1160, the Icon was transferred into the church at Vladimir, and from then on it has been known as the «Vladimirskaya». Since 1395 the Icon has been located in the Uspensky Cathedral in Moscow, to the left of the royal gates.

The Icon became famous due to many miracles performed. Before this Icon Russian tsars were anointed as rulers, and metropolitans were appointed.

The feast day of the Icon is celebrated on August 26/September 8, as well as on May 21/June 3 in honor of the liberation of Moscow in 1521 from its bondage to the Crimean Khan.

 


Our Lady of Medjugorje (Yugoslavia)

Narrative: From June of 1981 the Virgin Mary started to appear on a hill in Medjugorje.

At these appearances there sometimes congregated as many as ten thousand people. Many saw Her surrounded by unearthly radiance. Then the appearances to the public stopped, and the Blessed Virgin began to appear regularly to six young people, speaking to them.

Italian and other newspapers described these events, and Medjugorje became a place of constant pilgrimage by the faithful from all parts of the world.

Our Lady slowly disclosed to the young people 10 mysteries, which they must impart to church representatives in due course. The Holy Virgin promised that on the third day after revealing Her last mystery She will leave a visible «sign» for the faithful.

Representatives of the medical world and other highly-respectable people testify that the young people who have been seeing the Blessed Virgin were absolutely normal, and that their outward reactions to these appearances were natural.

Often, the Virgin Mary, while weeping, told the young people of the necessity to establish peace on the earth: «Peace, peace! The earth will not be saved until peace is established over it. It will happen only when people find God. The Lord means life. Those who have sound belief in Him will attain life and peace... Christians have forgotten prayer and fasting.»

It is interesting to note that in Medjugorje, where atheism had predominated and where there were a lot of communist party members, most of the Medjugorjians became believers and renounced communism. Also in conjunction with the apparitions of the Mother of God in Medjugorje, there occurred many miraculous cures.

Prayer: O Mother of God, Immaculate Mary, to Thee do I dedicate my body and soul, all my prayers and deeds, my joys and sufferings, all that I am an all that I have. With a joyful heart I surrender myself to Thy love. To Thee will I devote my services of my own free will for the salvation of mankind, and for the help of the Holy Church whose Mother Thou art.

From now on my only desire is to do all things with Thee, through Thee, and for Thee. I know I can accomplish nothing by my own strength, whereas You can do everything that is the will of Thy Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. You are always victorious. Grant, therefore, O Helper of the Faithful, that my family, my parish, and my country might become in truth the Kingdom where Thou reignest in the glorious presence God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.

 


Our Lady of Iberia (The Myrrh-Pouring Icon)

Narrative: An Orthodox Chilean by the name of Joseph (Jose), who had been living on Mount Athos since 1981, saw in a monastery a copy of the Iberian Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary and wished to own it. At first he received a refusal; then unexpectedly the abbot handed the image over to him with the words: «Take it, this Icon must go with you!» Joseph brought the Icon to Montreal.

On November 24, 1982, at 3 o’clock in the morning, Joseph’s room was filled with a wondrous fragrance: on the surface of the Icon appeared drops of wondrously fragrant myrrh.

The Archbishop Vitaly of Canada, now Metropolitan and Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, offered to bring the Icon to the Russian cathedral in Montreal.

Since then the Icon has Russian Orthodox churches in several countries. Sometimes during services attended by multitudes, the myrrh appeared not only on the icon itself, but on the outer surface of the glass, before the eyes of those praying, and even starting to drip on the floor, filling the church with a wondrous fragrance. It is remarkable that each year during Passion Week the Holy myrrh would stop flowing from the Icon and then resume its flow after Easter. The Icon was responsible for many wondrous cures.

Tragically, on October 31, 1997 while in Athens, Greece, Joseph was murdered and the icon mysteriously disappeared. A copy of this icon resides in St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington, DC.

It is impossible to enumerate here all the miraculous icons of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After the revolution in Russia many ancient icons began to restore themselves (become shining, as if newly painted). On occasion, in front of a person’s eyes, old and dark icons have lightened as if new. There are thousands of such self-restored icons. The faithful saw in these miracles signs of the forthcoming spiritual revival in Russia.

Miracles and apparitions do not occur without cause. Most likely the miraculous apparitions of the Virgin Mary are meant to awaken our faith in God and a sense of repentance. Unfortunately, many in our day have become deaf to spiritual subjects, are turning their back to God, and choose a pagan way of life. But we, Orthodox Christians, should always remember our Heavenly Mother, our Intercessor at the Lord’s Altar, and ask Her guidance and protection. O most holy Theotokos, save us!

 


Our Lady of Lourdes (Lourdes, France 1858)

Narrative: Bernadette Soubirous was born in Lourdes, France in 1844.Before she was even a year old, her mother became unable to nurse her, and the child was sent away to a farm.

When she grew up, she returned home to help her mother to nurse other children. Bernadette and her sister, Marie, would help the family budget by gathering wood, scrap iron, and bones to sell.

Bernadette had not completed her catechism, nor made her first Communion, and she was 14 years old! Her family allowed her to live with the Lagues family on the condition that she be taught her catechism by the local priest. Bernadette made slow progress, and was labeled as stupid and incapable of memorizing her lessons.

On February 11, Bernadette, her sister Marie, and a friend, were out gathering bones along the shore of the river Gave. Suddenly Bernadette heard a sound, like a loud rustling. It seemed to be coming from a hedge above a grotto known as Massabeile.

Then Bernadette saw a shape moving behind the hedge. It was white and seemed to have the frame of a girl. Later, Bernadette would refer to it as “aquerò” (“that one”).

Bernadette dropped to her knees and began to pray. Aquerò smiled at her she said, and then disappeared into the grotto. When her companions appeared, Bernadette asked if they had seen anything. They said no and Bernadette told them it was nothing and continued to gather bones. When she was alone with her sister, she told her the story of aquerò. Later, Bernadette repeated the story at home. Her mother said she was dreaming, and her Aunt declared it all an illusion.

Several days later Bernadette was returning home from Mass with several other young girls. As they passed the grotto, the girls kneeled to say the Rosary. Aquerò appeared again to Bernadette, though the other girls could not see her. Bernadette was about to ask the mysterious figure if she were sent by God or by the Devil, but aquerò vanished before Bernadette could speak. That night and the next day, Bernadette told her experiences to some adults. They all scoffed and told her she was imagining things. It seems that some of these adults repeated Bernadette’s story, for a notable woman of Lourdes asked to hear her story. Impressed by the tale, she made plans with Bernadette to visit the grotto the following Sunday.

Bernadette, Madam, and her assistant kneeled at the grotto and began to cite the Rosary. Madam had brought paper and pen with her and gave them to Bernadette, telling her to write down everything aquerò said. But the figure told Bernadette that that would not be necessary. Madam wanted to know if her presence at the grotto was acceptable. Bernadette replied that aquerò did not object. Then, the figure said to Bernadette, “Have the grace to come and see me for 15 days”.

That night, Bernadette stayed in the home of Madam, where she ate well and slept. For two days she stayed there until her aunt objected and she had to return home. It was about this time that people began to speculate as to who this figure was. Various ideas were proposed, but the most commonly voiced opinion was that this was indeed a visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Bernadette described the figure as wearing a white dress with a blue waistband and a Rosary on one arm.

Bernadette did as the Virgin requested and visited the grotto every morning from February 18 until March 4. Bernadette reported that the Virgin appeared to her. More and more people began to hear of it, and soon Bernadette was going to the grotto, candle in hand, followed by more than 500 people. There she kneeled down, lit the cans she had brought with her, and prayed the Rosary. Most witnesses said Bernadette moved little during her prayers and kept her eyes fixed on a location above the grotto. Sometimes her lips moved as if she were speaking. Other times she seemed to smile, or tears welled up in her eyes. Though she moved little, the movements she did make, such as making the sign of the cross, were made with remarkable grace. The crowds had now grown to over a 1000 people. Often when Bernadette made ready to leave, she would make a sign, and the whole host of people would kneel to pray. Such was the influence of this poor, young, «stupid,» girl!

During her two week vigilance at the grotto, a few days stand out as particularly important. On February 25, Bernadette uncharacteristically began to move. She crawled forward into the grotto and began to dig in the ground, uncovering an unknown spring. She drank some of the water and washed her face in it. Later she said that Mary told her to do this.

The water was immediately believed to have special healing properties, and in the years since Bernadette discovered the spring, countless thousands of people have reported miraculous cures from the water. Under the most stringent and rigorous examination, the Church has approved an amazing 66 of these. The divine origin of the spring is without question, because it clearly was not there before Bernadette brought it to the surface. Since then it has flowed without stopping, carrying thousands of gallons a day.

Another important day at the grotto was March 2. The crowd measured over 1600 on the day, when Mary told Bernadette to visit the priests and tell them to build a chapel on the site, and for people to visit it in procession. Sadly, the first priest that Bernadette visited treated the tale with great skepticism and called Bernadette a liar. On March 4 the crowd numbered close to 20,000. When Bernadette appeared, the crowd, as one, took up the cry, “There is the saint! There is the saint!”

Bernadette’s behavior differed little from the other days. She kneeled, lit her candle, and prayed the Rosary. The remarkable thing happened as she was leaving. While walking away from the grotto, Bernadette suddenly stopped to embrace a young girl who was partially blind. The embrace healed the child and her sight was fully restored.

Bernadette now found herself beset by people who wanted to see her, touch her, and have her place her hands upon their Rosaries and other objects. Long lines would form outside the house of her aunt, where Bernadette would meet with people. Though many offered her gifts, she refused all offers.

The stories of Bernadette’s vision spread widely, and more and more people were coming to the grotto, drinking the waters, saying the Rosary. Local officials were alarmed by the events and declared the grotto off limits. Barricades were erected to block off entrance to the grotto, but the faithful would not be dissuaded. Several times the barricades were demolished by people wanting to pray at the grotto. Finally, when it grew clear that faith was stronger than any barriers, the barricades were ordered removed.

In 1866, Bernadette was admitted into the convent of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers. Here she was free from publicity and unwanted attentions, but not from the deadly grip of asthma, which continued to worsen. «I am getting on with my job» she would say. «What is that?» she was asked. «Being ill,» would be the heartbreaking reply.

Bernadette died some 20 years after the visitations, at the age of 35. In the years after her visions, Lourdes grew to become the greatest of all pilgrimage sites in the history of Christendom. Bernadette played no part in the events that happened after her visions, such as the building of the magnificent church on the site. Yet what she began continues to this day, with millions and millions having visited, many thousands visiting yearly. The stories of miraculous cures are so numerous, that if but the smallest fraction of them were true, there can be no doubt that the divine power is at work there.

Prayer: O Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, you are the refuge of sinners, the health of the sick, and the comfort of the afflicted. You know my wants, my troubles, my sufferings. By your appearance at the Grotto of Lourdes you made it a privileged sanctuary where your favors are given to people streaming to it from the whole world. Over the years countless sufferers have obtained the cure for their infirmities — whether of soul, mind, or body. Therefore I come to you with limitless confidence to implore your motherly intercession. Obtain, O loving Mother, the grant of my requests. Through gratitude for Your favors, I will endeavor to imitate Your virtues, that I may one day share in Your glory. Amen.

 



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