Updated: Aug 19, 2020
Rejoice, tender love that defeats every longing!
A Profound Miracle by the Holy Mother of God (From 'A Monk's Life')
Fr. Lazarus, an anchorite and monk of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Egypt
This is a story of an Australian academic atheist, Lazarus, who found faith in the reality of God through the direct intervention of the Theotokos, the Mother of God.
My father was a Methodist and my mother was a Roman Catholic. By the age of sixteen, I had lost all faith in the reality of God. One of the reasons I felt isolated from the world was because I did not receive any consolation from faith, from the Church or from people during my developmental struggles. I suffered a lot during my teenage years. I had no desire for parties, worldly pursuits and frivolous things that young people of that age did. I felt very much alone even from God; and abandoned any faith in God.
I was bitter with the loss of my mother. I complained that God was the cause of my misery. After finishing the service at the cemetery, the faithful returned to the Monastery Church for a memorial service. When I entered the Church, I saw a large icon of the Virgin Mary on the wall of the Church. I had seen icons before but looked upon them simply as art; I had no personal experience with icons. I had no intimate acquaintance with Mary the Theotokos as the Mother of God and had no understanding of Mary in the Orthodox Church. I knew that the Roman Catholics called her the Virgin Mary but she didn’t mean much to me. After entering the Church I noticed the people were making μετάνοιες, bowing down to the icon of the Theotokos. I was astonished at seeing the people doing this; I had always believed a man does not bow down to anyone or anything - that a handshake was enough in greeting another human being - I hadn't been prepared for μετάνοιες and didn't feel at ease, but to be polite, I followed their example. I made the first μετάνοια, having to bend my knees and bow down, putting my forehead to the floor. As I did 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 miracles. 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 the other faithful. As I said before, I 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 foetus is in the womb. I felt that I was in a kind of foetal position. It felt like I was becoming small, weak and helpless. All these emotions overwhelmed me as I made the μετάνοια. A μετάνοια is a physical action. You are weak, you are small and it is as if you are nothing. It is a statement that says 'I am not worthy to even lift up my eyes and look at you'.
Μετάνοιες are a statement of humility, and as I was bending down, 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. She moved out of the icon 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 filled me up with her presence, then she started to give off a bright light that was so bright 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. An encounter that has made me dependent upon her for the rest of my life. When I stood up I knew my life was dedicated only to her. All my pain, all my doubts, all my fears, all my need for help.
I left that Church knowing 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?