Is it the mysterious liquid that oozes out of the wood (or even out of the paper) of the ikon’s eyes? Or is it the opening of a unique doorway to a moment of real faith?
Some Orthodox Christians want to venerate every ‘miracle-working ikon’ that comes their way. Some want to pray before it as well. Some want a miracle in their lives. Some just want to be there, in the presence of the miraculous; for them, that is enough, not even their eyes could ask for more. Others don’t go; they don’t find anything to add to what they already have. For them, the present moment and the place they are standing seems enough.
‘I think I could stop here myself, and do miracles.’
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Song of the Open Road
As for Christians in general, history writes no tall tales about miracle when it writes the truth. Hoping to force God to mimic His mighty acts in the book of Exodus by their ‘faith,’ the children’s crusaders waited in vain for the Adriatic sea to part so they could walk dry-shod to Jerusalem. Compliant helpers were found to transport the infant armies in sea-worthy ships to the slave markets of North Africa, whose harems for decades heard French folk songs sadly sung.
And today, we have faith healers, but to what avail? Do they heal men’s bodies, their minds, or just their souls, or none of these? I have known enough healed, and heard enough testimonies from them of miraculous healing by the likes of these. One sister told me confidently that her extreme nearsightedness was instantly cured when she placed the palms of both her hands against the television screen, while an Oklahoma faith healer cast out the demon in her.
Not long after this, she was also instantly killed along with her innocent daughter, in a head-on collision with a dump truck on the narrow coast highway. Their Pentecostal sisters sang beautifully and in strange tongues over their coffins at the cemetery the morning their bodies were consigned to the earth. She called her instant healing from nearsightedness a miracle. What would she call this?
Yet the Lord was fully present in both moments, all His acts.
Yes, I too want miracle in my life. I want my faith to move the hand of God. I used to pray with the pleading father in the gospels, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief,’ but I pray so no longer. For me, the miracle is to trust God to act according to His will, which is always the best for us. If He should ‘tear the heavens open and come down’ as Isaiah pleads, I am content, no, more than content, for that means it is the end of all things. That, to me, would be the greatest miracle.
Because the end of all things is the end of sin and death, for that is what we are, by our weakness and our bad choices. Miracle springs from the beginning and the end of God’s work in us, and between the First and the Last, all time is filled with His presence. If we do not in fact ‘stop here… and do miracles,’ in whom have we doubted? Of whom have we been afraid? ‘I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more…’
The miracles we seek will always proceed from the miracle that eyes cannot see, that ‘two of you on earth agree about anything…’ That is the hurdle to get over. That has more to do with love even than with faith. That is where all true and permanent healing comes from, from that love, because that is the source of all miracle from beginning to end. By love the universe was made out of nothing. By love, what was lost in the First Adam was restored in the Second.
‘Miracles’ that do not begin in love and end in love are no miracles at all, only magic. The faith that moves mountains is nothing less than the confidence that God can do all things, and that everything He does is for the best.
‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9). Yes, we walk by faith, not by sight, and yet miracle follows us and precedes us wherever we go, because we follow behind Jesus.