Like everyone else in the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, I was in Johnstown, Pennsylvania earlier this week for the consecration and enthronement of our new Bishop, His Grace, Bishop Gregory of Nyssa. It is almost impossible to fully describe what we experienced there. I was there along with my two choir directors, and I’m sure we’ll all be talking about it for months. I’ll try, as best I can, to boil things down. I have no doubt that I will fail in fully describing what happened, but here goes:
1. Consecration and enthronement of His Grace, Bishop Gregory: An awful lot of people were there, and an awful lot more watched the consecration and enthronement over the internet, and heard His Grace’s statement at the conclusion about his goals and concerns for our Diocese. His grasp of the needs of our Diocese was very impressive, and his statements regarding children, those who have fallen away from the flock and the need to bring non-Orthodox into the church were inspiring.
You may not have heard his second set of remarks given at the banquet that afternoon. In a more informal setting, His Grace revealed himself to be warm and gracious and truly loving. He promised not only to visit each parish, but to be at each one for several days, to look each person in the eye and discuss the parish in depth. He showed a humor and directness which was disarming. And, significant to me, he showed himself to be a true son of North Carolina, in his wit, his cadence, his speech and his mannerisms. This is a man that it is easy to feel at home with.
A meaningful sign of the measure of our new Bishop was the presence of so many from the Greek Archdiocese who came both to celebrate the day and to mourn their loss. Seated next to me in the Cathedral was the pastor of a large Greek congregation near Atlanta. Over and over, he kept telling me “you guys are so lucky! So lucky!” And a former priest of our Diocese, who now pastors a Greek church in Florida, drove nonstop to Johnstown, fueled by coffee and an unquenchable love to be present for the consecration of his spiritual father and friend. It is early, very early, but I will confidently say that we have been greatly blessed by our gracious and loving God.
(Of course, some things never change, Johnstown being one of those constants. True to form, it snowed the day of the consecration.)
2. The appearance of the miraculous weeping icon from St. George Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania: Many of you are probably aware of the weeping icon of the Theotokos in our parish in Taylor, Pennsylvania, St. George Orthodox Church. I was not aware of it beforehand, but the icon and a second weeping icon from that parish were brought to Johnstown and placed in the altar of the Cathedral during the consecration. Fr. Mark Leasure, pastor of St. George, told me after the consecration that upon being placed in the altar the icon immediately began to exude myrrh in great amounts. So great was the flow that the myrrh was used to anoint the new bishop during the consecration.
(As a side note, our Bishop’s name before he became a monk was…George Just saying….)
Those of us visiting from Murphy know this to be true, because we were in the presence of the icon shortly afterwards in the chapel of Christ the Saviour Seminary. In separate, rather roundabout ways, we all ended up at the seminary after the service. I walked down there with my former roommate, who is now the priest in residence there. He and I entered through the chapel door, and then my choir directors came into the chapel by another door. There was a knock on the outer door, and my friend said, “They’re here.” I didn’t know who he meant, but I opened the door and Fr. Mark and a seminarian entered, carrying the icons.
I have had very limited experience with miraculous icons, and I’ll confess that I had the impression that when an icon wept, it did so in a trickle, in small rivulets.
The Taylor icon was not operating in that way at all. Myrrh was sheeting down the front of the icon, the entire surface covered with the fragrant oil. The flow was so great that Fr. Mark went to each person in the room and allowed drops of the myrrh to fall on each person’s hands. We were all overcome with emotion, and began to sing some hymns to the Theotokos.
Think about this for a minute. An ordinary piece of wood, some paint — things that are in our homes, are common in our everyday life. Have you seen your home, your furniture, your woodpile, even any of the paintings or artwork in your home exuding a thick myrrh which is fragrant with roses? I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t happen in my house, or in my experience. Instead, we know that God (and the most holy Theotokos) permits this to happen for any number of reasons, but always for our benefit, always as a blessing to those of faith. Ponder on this a little bit. This is a miracle. This is grace that we can smell, that we can feel, that we can see.
At my request, Fr. Mark gave me a generous piece of cotton batting, soaked with myrrh, to bring back to St. Nicholas.
It is my intention to use the oil to anoint everyone at the end of Liturgy on December 9, when we celebrate our parish feast day. If, by chance, you are near Murphy that day, please make every effort to be there.