Church Says Icon of Saint Cries for Peace in Middle East With PM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
NEW YORK (AP) _ Thousands of people are flocking to a Greek Orthodox church to see an icon that they believe began shedding tears last month after a special prayer session for peace in the Middle East.
The icon of St. Irene, patron saint of peace, has drawn Christians of many denominations and smaller numbers of Moslems, Jews and the curious to the St. Irene Chrysovalantou Cathedral, church officials say.
Visitors have come from as far away as France, Japan and India, according to Maria Galiatsatos, assistant secretary at the church in a largely Greek Astoria neighborhood in the Queens borough.
She said she receives up to 500 phone calls a day.
″We have had more than 100,000 people visit here since she began crying,″ Galiatsatos said. ″One Sunday we didn’t close the church until 4 a.m., and we reopened at 6 o’clock in the morning.″
The church’s Bishop Vikentios of Avlon says he believes the icon of St. Irene - whose name means ″peace″ in Greek - is weeping for the Persian Gulf.
″The Gulf crisis is very serious at this moment. ... Something will happen and we have sent a message of peace to Mikhail Gorbachev, the secretary- general of the United Nations and President George Bush,″ the cleric said.
Worshipers believe the icon, painted in Greece in 1919 and brought here two decades ago, began crying Oct. 17 after it was taken to a sister church in Chicago for a special service for world peace.
″At 7 o’clock in the evening, after the prayer service - in which we had about 1,000 people praying for peace, especially in the Persian Gulf - several people came running to us. They said ‘Come look, the icon is crying,’ and we came upstairs and we saw the tears and everyone started crying ....
″This was it, a message to the world, that it must continue to pray for peace.″
After the icon was brought back from Chicago, word of the ″weeping saint″ spread quickly in the neighborhood.
The painting, a portrait of a dour-faced woman cloaked in black, is encased behind glass on a carved oak stand set up before the altar of the darkened church.
People file past to the sounds of mournful Greek chants. A figure in a black hood beckons them one at a time, lighting a taper to illuminate the painting.
At first, the flame reveals little. But then the light seizes on the face of St. Irene, where glistening streaks can be seen extending from each eye down the cheeks.
″Kiss the icon,″ the robed figure intones before the visitor steps away.
The church has ruled out taking the icon from the church for scientific tests, but invites skeptics to examine the painting and even take some ″tears″ for laboratory analysis.
C.J. Peterson, 67, dropped by after hearing about the icon from fellow worshipers at a Baptist church. ″To me, it seemed real. It looks like tears. It looked real. It looked wet,″ he said.
Bishop Vikentios said he is pained by the picture.
″We’re sad, we’re so sad. We don’t want to see the icon crying. I’ve been here for 20 years and she has always been happy,″ he said.