Thursday, June 23, 2011

Weeping Icon

In an earlier blog post on Clan of Mahlou (From Siberia to the California Coast Flew Wunderkind Shura.), I related the story of Shura, a dying child artist from Siberia, who came to stay with us in order to save his life, a story crammed with miracles.

Shura's story took many twists and turns. However, we did erroneously think that the story was over when he survived all his surgeries and especially when a couple of years ago he returned to Russia. One of the key players in this story had been Max, the INS supervisor who helped us tremendously when it came to visa problems. We met Max when he coincidentally stopped by St. John's Orthodox Church in Washington DC when the priest included a moleibin (prayer service before surgery) for Shura during a feast day observation on a Tuesday evening when Max felt the need to attend Mass after work, the only time he had been at St. John's in a year because he had moved to Baltimore a year earlier and attended Mass there (and, as it turned out, he never returned after that evening, choosing to continue at his own church in Baltimore). Shura's story was not over because we did not know Max's story until barely a year ago. And so I add here -- and in my second book -- the fuller story of Max.


Just when we thought we had completed the puzzle, the picture expanded. A few months after Shura returned to Russia, Nadezhda Long called me from Washington. She had been reading a newly published book and wanted to share a story from it with me.

“Beth, you are simply not going to believe this,” she bubbled over the phone. I wondered what could be so exciting that it caused her words to tumble out at a speed requiring concentrated listening. I was about to find out.

“Remember Max?” she asked.

Remember Max? Without Max, Shura would have long ago been shipped back to Russia, before his health had stabilized. Without Max, Shura might even be dead now. And, of course, who could not forget the oddity that Shura’s unannounced moleibin was the only Mass at St. John’s that Max had visited in the year since he had moved to Baltimore and, in fact, was the last Mass he ever attended at St. John’s. I mentioned all this to Nadezhda, commenting that his appearance that evening seemed nothing short of miraculous.

She cut me off. “Oh, we did not know but a small part of the significance of Max being there that night!” she exclaimed. Now she had my attention!

“Max is a convert to Orthodoxy from atheism, and his story is included in this book about a special icon.” Instantly, I liked Max even more. His story paralleled mine—but it did not. What Nadezhda then related to me left me without words.

“Years ago,” she said, “an icon that wept oil with healing powers was brought from Europe to the United States, where it was presented at a number of Orthodox congregations. Among these congregations was our church, St. John’s, and among the congregation was a blind boy, who had lost his eyesight to disease. When doctors could not help, his parents brought him to the icon in an attempt to try anything to help their child. When the icon passed by the boy, it began to weep oil. The priest placed the oil from the icon on the boy’s eyes, and the boy saw. From that day on, he was no longer blind. And from that day on, his parents, Max and his wife, having converted from atheism to Orthodoxy on the spot, have been devout worshippers.”

If there had been no icon miracle ten years before Shura was born, there could have been no miraculous appearance of Max on the night of Shura’s moleibin. When Nadezhda relayed the story to me, I had no words with which to respond. I still have none.


excerpted from my forthcoming book, A Believer in Waiting's First Encounters with God

also posted on Modern Mysticism

Monday, June 20, 2011

Our Amazing Modern World

During the days of the Cold War, when my oldest daughter Lizzie (for some insights into Lizzie, see Lessons from Mom) and I were traveling and living in Russia (see Back in the USSR), we would always say goodbye to friends when we left, realizing that the likelihood of seeing them again was slim, of keeping in contact by writing difficult, and of seeing them in the United States totally impossible. Likewise, a decade later, while living and working in Uzbekistan, I stayed with an elderly teacher by the name of Lida. She was the aunt of one of my colleagues, an immigrant from Moscow, and I became the conduit of information, money, and gifts between them. Both knew that they would never be able to see each other again, politics being what they were, and so I became a living link. Lida always referred to me as "rodnaya," which is a term that one uses with one's flesh-and-blood to demonstrate bonding and love.

It has been ten years since I last saw Lida. When politics became even worse between the USA and Uzbekistan, my consults for the Uzbekistan Ministry of Education dried up. I, too, became resigned to the fact that Lida was part of my history, no longer a part of my life.

Then, the wall fell, and the Soviet Union dissolved. Still, relations with Uzbekistan have remained poor.

Somehow, though, the thaw between the USA and the former Soviet countries in general has had a meliorating effect on tourist visas, and I learned two weeks ago that Lida had received a 3-month visa to visit her relatives in the USA. Today they showed up on my doorstep!

San Ignatio held its annual fiesta today, and I had clean-up duty. None of that deterred us, however. We all got together at the fiesta, enjoying the extraordinary experience of being together in one country, even in San Ignatio. We will, of course, get together again -- and again -- over the next three months in San Ignatio and in the nearby town where Lida's relatives live.

The weather was balmy with a slight breeze today. The sun shone upon us in all senses of that word. A perfect day! One that began with a big hug from Lida and the greeting to "rodnaya." One that ended, as well, with a big hug from Lida and the parting to "rodnaya."

What I learned this day (and have always known): one does not need to share blood to share blood! I also learned something that I have not always known: our modern world is amazing and marvelous. Whoever would have thought that Lida, who befriended me so kindly in Tashkent a decade ago, would be sitting on my sofa today!

(photos coming -- I did not have a camera with me, so will have to wait for those who did to share photos)

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