It could be said that Icons are the most distinguishing feature of Orthodox Christianity. Whether it be on an Icon screen, or on the walls and stands of a church, or even embroidered on vestments and banners, the place of Icons within the church is meant to convey more than an ascetically pleasing environment in which to pray, or a historical record of past saints and events.
Icons might fill these roles, but their primary purpose is to assert the fact that God has become flesh in the incarnation, (1 Jn. 1-4) and that we are surrounded by “such a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:3), and also make that reality present in our liturgical and prayer life. Bearing witness to our communion with Christ and his saints, not through some kind of magic, but in the love of Christ (Lk. 7:47), through the love of Christ (Mt. 22:37), and for the love of Christ (Jn. 15:12).
The importance of these paintings, frescos, mosaics, and carvings, as testified by the blood of the martyrs during the 8th and 9th centuries, speak volumes about the incarnation, and about the saints who lived their lives in the Holy Spirit.
Countless records and stories have being written, describing the miracles brought about in the presence of some of these icons. Whether it be the defence of a city from a merciless enemy (Vladimir Mother of God, Moscow 1451,1480, 1941) or the deliverance from natural disaster (St. Herman of Alaska placing an icon of the Theotokos on a beach facing a Tsunami), these icons and the most holy persons depicted (namely the Lord and his mother, but others as well) are shown to be present with us in our time of need and poverty. In many cases these icons have suddenly or inexpressibly appeared (the Kursk root icon, discovered by a hunter at the base of a tree), or even disappeared to be rediscovered years later (Port Arthur Icon of the Theotokos), for reasons only known to God. Regardless, their appearance is never a coincidence or accident, even if their intercessions are not visible or proclaimed.
One such occurrence happened in Ottawa, at the tiny St. Nicholas Church (later becoming the present day Annunciation Cathedral). On a Sunday morning (March 25th) A taxi cab dropped off a beautiful pre-Revolutionary icon of St. Nicholas (with silver and enamelled risa). A few days later Fr. Oleg Boldireff, rector at the time received this letter:
“29th March 1979
Dear Reverend Boldireff
A few days ago I took the liberty of sending to you by taxi an old ikon of St. Nicholas as a gift for your Ottawa Church. That ikon has been in my hands now for some time, and came to Canada some 40 years ago. It gives me great pleasure to donate it to a church bearing the name of St. Nicholas, and I hope that you and the priests coming after you will occasionally include my wife, my children and me in prayers. I wish you to know, and if you think it to be proper, you may inform others of that fact, that it appears that this holy ikon has miracle-making powers: Men and women praying from the depth of their heart to God through St. Nicholas in front of this ikon begging that they be cured of the affliction of alcoholism will be heard and their heart’s desire will be granted. May the Lord bless you with many years of service in His house. Anonymous Donor”
No one has ever identified himself as the “Anonymous Donor”, leaving this icon’s past concealed. But in this time, many hundreds from St. Nicholas (Annunciation) and throughout Ottawa and the country, have venerated and prayed before St. Nicholas and his Icon, asking for deliverance from, and consolation for their passions, deliverance especially from addictions as was noted in the letter.
Addictions to alcohol, as well as drugs, pornography etc. can remain hidden, even from one’s family. And thus the miracles and healings brought by prayers in front of this Icon, often remain known only to the recipients, and their confessors. But miracles and healings have happened. One of them is St. Nicholas blessing the search for a new home (in the present day Cathedral building), and the continued survival and health of the Cathedral community.
The arrival of this icon, although not as epic as finding an icon in the ocean (the Iveron Panagia Portaitissa icon), it is none the less a marker in the life of the Cathedral in Ottawa, becoming one of its identifying elements, not only to the community, but also around the country. One can not imagine the Cathedral without this icon, anymore then one could not imagine the Church without such a loving and blessed intercessor as St. Nicholas.
It is a blessing that for the first time, this Icon is travelling with Bishop Irenee, and visiting Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and will be at St. Nicholas for this weekend.
Holy Father Nicholas, pray to God for us.
It is of note, that providently, this holy icon, was received on what would become the Altar feast of this community, The Annunciation, Mar.25th new style. And on a personal note, my father, mother (Igumen John, and Matushka Suzanne) brothers and sisters were also received into the Orthodox faith, that same week, in this very same St. Nicholas parish.)