Sense of Life. Articles in English. “That They May Be One” (Jn 17: 21).
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“That They May Be One” (Jn 17: 21)

The Orthodox pastor of the Church of the Virgin Mother of the Intercession in the village of Sara in Russia’s Orenburg Region is a regular reader of the Russian edition of Love One Another Magazine. The following is from a letter he sent us in which he describes the appearance of a miraculous icon of the Blessed Mother in the parish entrusted to his care.

It was a great blessing for my Orthodox parish and myself to learn from Love One Another Magazine about the holy Lebanese healer, Father Charbel. I wish to tell you how the wonder-working icon of the Blessed Virgin, called “Sar’s Fragrance” came to our church. We are convinced that like the appearance of the image of St. Charbel, which you described in Love One Another, this was not a chance occurrence. At any rate, your readers can judge for themselves.

Certainly it is a sign from on high, for in Our Lord Jesus Christ, everything has meaning and a purpose. We have, living in our village, a certain Claudia Polinichenko, a prayerful woman and a living model of faith. For many years she kept in her house an old piece of wood blackened with age. Mrs. Polinichenko claims this board came from a church building destroyed by the atheist Soviet authorities. She has no idea how she ended up with it. For years it had been lying, unused and unwanted, about the house, for it was quite worthless. But one day while praying, Claudia stared at the board in disbelief: before her very eyes a picture began to form on the darkened surface as on a photographic film. Before long the whole village had heard of the miracle. They came to the house to pray before, and place their hands on, the holy image.

What does the icon depict? The Holy Virgin — but not as the Queen of Heaven on her royal throne, but rather as an ordinary loving mother embracing the Divine Child Jesus. Her face is serene, but firm and adamant. She is filled with a spirit of prayer like an Archpriest raising to God His Son, to whom she gave flesh and blood from her own chaste body as an offering for the salvation of mankind. She prays for all sinners and wants to deliver all her children from physical and spiritual ailments.

It was with great joy that Claudia Polinichenko vouchsafed the image to the pastor of the Church of the Virgin Mother of the Intercession. A few days later there was a new miracle: on the night between January 18th and 19th, the “newly made” icon began to exude a fragrant oil — to the great joy of the priests and members of the faithful, especially the two who experienced instant healings. When the icon was transferred to a new chapel, miracles began to multiply and the image’s popularity grew accordingly. Pilgrims began visiting our church from the entire region and even beyond.

We were forced to collect funds for the purchase of a house and lot in our village, where we began construction on a monastery with small chapel. The icon now stands encased in a chased riza, and an olive-oil lamp burns constantly before it. The flame is a symbol of all the prayers raised to the Mother of God through this icon with petitions and pleas for the salvation of sinners and the reunion of all Christians. The present Pope, Benedict XVI, made a very important statement: “My greatest task will be the reunification of Christians of East and West.” One of our Savior’s deepest desires was “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” (Jn 17: 21-23).

In our church it is truly our experience that holiness does not recognize confessional boundaries! I often hear it said by members of the Orthodox faithful that Catholic saints come from Satan. What is worse, even some of our priests repeat such nonsense, thereby fanning the flames of interconfessional hatred. And yet it is the apostle Matthew who recorded the following words of Jesus: “Many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 8: 11).

In the same way, the Virgin Mother entreats the Orthodox faithful to revise their restrictive confessional policy with regard to the Catholics and to find a common path of repentance and sorrow for sins. The Mother of God wants to see her Savior’s children seated around the same banquet table in a fraternal community of love. Could we not for but one moment entertain the idea that she is the Mother of both Catholics and Orthodox?

The sooner we arrive at a reunification of the Churches in a spirit of peace, repentance, and brotherly love the better. Such a union would be possible if the Catholic faithful were to begin praying to Orthodox saints and the Orthodox faithful to Catholic saints.

Atour parish of the Virgin Mother of the Intercession it is already the norm to pray for the intercession before God by both Orthodox saints (e.g. Sergius of Radom, Serafim of Saratov, John of Kronstadt) and Catholic saints (e.g. Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and the hermit of Lebanon, Fr. Charbel). We consider it a great happiness to be able to partake of the profound union between the saints of the Eastern and Western Christian Churches. I am strongly convinced that Christians of the whole world will soon find a path of unification and, indeed, regret that they remained so long in a state of mutual animosity, forgetting Jesus Christ’s commandment of love and communion in faith. As a priest belonging to the Union of Orthodox Communities of the Apostolic Tradition, I maintain that we not only can, but also must have prayerful recourse to the intercession of the saint of the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church. Father Charbel is not only the saint of the Lebanese: he is also the Saint of the Slavs! Is this not attested by the fact that the Russians and representatives of other Slavic nations pray for his intercession before God?

In our church, the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mother, called Sar’s Fragrance, stands side by side with the image of the holy hermit Charbel of Lebanon. Both icons have already proved helpful to a great many of our faithful. We have real testimonies of physical healings, saved families, and spiritual renewal. It seems that having the two images as neighbors is very beneficial, especially to our parishioners.

Fr. Alexander, pastor of the Church of the Virgin Mother of the Intercession in the village of Sara

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The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in August 2016.

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