”Rejoice, tender love that defeats every longing”
A Profound Miracle by the Holy Mother of God
(From – A Monks’s Life)
Fr. Lazarus an anchorite and monk of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Egypt
This is a story of an Australian academic atheist who found faith in the reality of God through the direct intervention of the Theotokos, the Mother of God. Since we are in the midst of the Great and Holy Lent when we chant the Akathist Hymn to the Holy Mother of God, I thought it would appropriate for me to share this wonderful real life story. It is about the direct intervention of the Holy Mother of God in the life of an atheist from Australia who was born into a Christian family. His father was a Methodist and his mother was a Roman Catholic…By the age of sixteen he had lost all faith in the reality of God. One of the reasons that he felt isolated from the world was the fact that he did not receive any consolation from faith, from the Church or from people during his developmental struggles. He suffered a lot during his teenage years. In fact, he appears to have innate monastic tendencies for he had no desire for parties, worldly pursuits and frivolous things that young people of his age did. He felt very much alone even from God because he had abandoned any faith in the reality of God.
… They were as bitter as I was with the loss of my mother. We complained to one another that God was the cause of our misery. After we finished with the service at the cemetery the faithful returned to the Monastery Church for a memorial service. When Lazarus entered the Church he saw a large icon of the Virgin Mary on the wall of the Church. Lazarus says that he had seen icons before but he looked upon them simply as art. He said he had no personal experience with icons. He had no intimate acquaintance with Mary the Theotokos as the Mother of God. He says that he had no understanding of Mary in the Orthodox Church. He knew that the Roman Catholics called her the Virgin Mary but she didn’t mean much to him. After we entered the Church he noticed that the people were making μετάνοιες (genuflections), bowing down to the icon of the Theotokos. He says I was astonished at seeing the people doing this. I was astonished because I always believed that a man does not bow down to anyone or anything. I had learned that a handshake should be enough in greeting another human being. I had not been prepared for μετάνοιες. I did not feel easy with what the people were doing but I wanted to be polite and so I followed their example. I said ok let me do what they are doing. So I made the first μετάνοια. Ι had to bend my knees and bow down putting my forehead on the floor. As I was doing this, I could see the big icon of Mary on the wall in front of me. This particular icon was well-known throughout Australia because it had performed miraculous cures. One of the miracles happened to the wife of a Greek Orthodox priest. At this point, I was not concerned about the icon. I was concerned about making the μετάνοια properly and joining in with the other faithful. As I said before, I then had to put my forehead on the floor. When I was in that position, I would ask you to consider that when making a μετάνοια what position is the body in. You are in a half circle. You are bent over in much the same way as a fetus is in the womb of his mother. I felt that I was in a kind of fetal position. It felt like I was becoming small, weak and helpless. All these emotions overwhelmed me as I made the μετάνοια. Μετάνοια is a physical action. You are weak; you are small and you are as if you are nothing. It is a statement that says that I am not worthy to even lift up my eyes and look at you.
Μετάνοιες is a very eloquent statement of humility. So when I was bending down like this suddenly all of the sadness of my mother’s death started to overflow within me and I started to cry. I was saying within myself: “I lost my mother, I am sad, I need a mother.” I was pouring out my feelings about being motherless…
This time when I complained about being motherless, I heard a voice behind my head saying: “I will be your mother.” I clearly heard the voice. It was a beautiful soft voice but it was clear… I repeated the words of my sadness and the voice came to me again; “I will be your mother.” .
I lifted up my eyes and looked at the icon of the Holy Mother who was in front of me. And then when I lifted up my eyes to look at the Holy Mother she moved out of the icon and seemed to stand in front of me. She appeared to me from the waist up and she was holding Jesus. She appeared as a real presence in front of me. She bent toward me and looked at me right in my eyes. She smiled and said: “I will be your mother” for the third time. When she smiled at me she appeared so loving that she took all the pain out of me.
She gave me a sense of hope and faith. At that very moment I was made new again, I was reborn by her love. It was an electrifying experience that just filled me up with her presence. And then she started to give off a bright light that was so bright that I had to lower my eyes. As I stood up the Holy Mother moved back into the icon and appeared as she was before but her presence was very real to me. I saw and felt her love. That encounter made me dependent upon her for the rest of my life. When I stood up I knew my life was now dedicated only to her. All my pain, all my doubts, all my fears, all my needs for help were I left that Church knowing now that I had a mother who is beautiful, sweet, kind, and generous. All this knowledge about her I got through her love for me…
I abandoned everything in the world for her. My whole monastic commitment fell on me that day with that encounter with the love of the Theotokos. This is how I became a Christian. Where else in the world would I find a loving mother?