to the Weeping Madonna Icon in Toronto
Since early September 1996, an icon of the Virgin Mary has reportedly been weeping in a small Greek Orthodox church in Toronto, Canada. This occurrence initially attracted crowds of people who, drawn by the press coverage, formed long line-ups in the streets. In turn, the media dwelled on the problems the crowds were causing to the neighbourhood, and on exposing the financial and other troubles of the church. Although the crowds have now abated, the church remains open to the public during the week to accommodate visitors.
Arriving just as the Sunday service was ending, Joseph Huard and I entered the church to observe the picture of the Madonna, apparently a copy of an icon from 750 AD ( Joseph is a Share International co-worker from London, Ontario ). The picture is of a mother and child, both richly adorned with golden clothing and jewelry. There are indeed oily streaks which start in the crown area of the Madonna, and stop about halfway down the picture, although at that time they did not appear to be moving. We asked a woman who attends the church about the phenomenon, and she said that the tears start and stop several times a day. Small pieces of cotton have been placed at the bottom to catch the tears. A protective piece of glass now covers the icon, so we could not inspect the cotton or the tears by touching them.
We approached the secretary of the church, Tom Xanthopoulos, in order to arrange an interview with the pastor, the Reverend Ieronymos Katseas. This was, however, not possible, in part because Reverend Katseas does not speak English, but also because he is a defendant in a court case over his right to claim the pulpit of the church. Mr Xanthopoulos said that he was not at liberty to speak either, and showed his displeasure about the nature of the publicity which has surrounded the phenomenon.
Rather than concentrating on the miracle of the weeping, most of the press coverage has focused on the troubles of the church. An offshoot of the mainstream Greek Orthodox church, the congregation broke away a decade ago because of a dispute about which calendar to use to celebrate religious holidays. According to news reports, Father Katseas had been defrocked in 1993 by the official Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece and the Diaspora, for having been employed in a brothel before his ordination. Apparently, the officials of the mainstream church have appealed to the mayor of the city of Toronto and to the police to remove him. A spokesperson for the official church even suggested in a letter published in one of Toronto's main newspapers that "it would not be surprising if this were a hoax, in order to attract people to spend money," adding to grounds for scepticism concerning the miracle.
The financial troubles of the church have also been highlighted by reporters. Debts from its mortgages have accumulated since the church was founded in 1987, and there is now a dispute before the courts involving both current and former directors of the board. Coverage of the miracle has also focussed on the inconvenience caused to the neighbours from increased traffic, litter, and people seeking to use residential washrooms.
What did the church
secretary say about the icon? "For me it is a miracle, but don't believe
me. Go inside and see for yourself. That is where the power is," he
said, pointing to the icon and adding: "The church is full now on Sundays
- it did not used to be." Mr Xanthopoulos has been visibly affected
by recent events, and he continued: "This is supposed to be a democracy.
If people don't believe, why can't they respect my beliefs and simply
go away without causing harm? Even the police tried to destroy us, and
the reports in the newspapers about a mess caused in the neighbourhood
by the line-ups were all made up." He remained adamant that he did not
care what we believed, simply urging us to make up our own minds. He
said that the church would remain open to the public until such time
as the icon's tears stop.