Father Papadeas discusses icon with Senator Kenneth Keating and Vice President Nixon
By Michael H. Brown
It was an event that made headlines around the world. It was a miracle that reached the highest levels of government-- discussed even by Vice President Richard Nixon. It was an event that drew hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and affected millions of others. We had an item on it a couple weeks ago, how miracles continue to occur at a church outside of New York City where three weeping icons were displayed starting way back in Lent of 1960. It was one of, if not the, first major cases of a weeping Madonna in the U.S., and as we now look back forty years we may finally be ready to address the burning question of why the Madonna cried in the first place.
Indeed, why do pictures ooze tears? Why do we so often hear of miracles in which the Virgin Mary seems morose?
There is the obvious answer of sin in the world, but in the case of the weeping Long Island icons it was a more specific warning. It came at a time that was an absolutely defining moment in the spiritual history of the country. While some speculated that it was a precursor to the trauma of assassination -- JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King, who were killed in the years that immediately followed -- it was a larger omen than that, coming as it did at the very onset of a decade, the Sixties, in which evil in many forms, in forms that have since grown and rooted themselves in our society, first poured into the world.
Through the ages, pictures, statues, and icons have often wept as a country or town was ready to undergo trial by evil. One famous case occurred in 1796, when the eyes of the Virgin moved in a number of statues around Rome. It was that year that Napoleon invaded the Papal States and exactly a year after the events were proclaimed miraculous by the Vatican that Rome fell to its invader (with many churches destroyed).
Now we fast-forward to 1960 and the icons that began weeping in private homes on March 16, April 12, and May 7 and then were brought to St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church in Hempstead, the first of which was reported at the very hour that priests were praying the Akathist Hymn, one of five solemn Lenten services. There were phenomena galore. In addition to tears, the eyes on one of the icons were seen moving for hours -- witnessed even by Father George Papadeas -- and when the first icon was processed to church, "a trinity of white sea gulls, soaring against the blue sky over Island Park, heralded the enshrinement of the Madonna of the Tears," reported the New York Journal American -- escorting a procession of thirty cars and circling over the church as services were conducted.
It was a time, 1960, when New York and America were about to lose their innocence. Perhaps most important, points out Father Papadeas (in a new book called Why Did She Cry), the icons wept just three years before an atheist named Madalyn Murray O'Hair was able to get rid of school prayer. It was like a portal opened, and was followed by drugs, free sex, hippies, hard rock, occultism, divorce, public lewdness, and, from the now prayerless kids, rebellion of every sort.
Now forty years later we stand at a time when the many upheavals in our nation have reached a crescendo at "ground zero," and when the forty years reminds us not only of upcoming Lent, but of the many times in which the number forty was a preparation for something bigger. We are also reminded that one of the icons is a replica of a famous icon at the shrine marking the home where Mary lived with the Apostle John in Ephesus, a place that, like our current culture -- like the culture since 1960 -- was in the throes of paganism.