True to her Greek Orthodox faith, Rose Tsakalos believes in the miracle of the weeping icon.
Still, the Dundalk resident wants a first-hand look at the painting before she's really sure it's shedding tears.
Early today, Tsakalos and about 40 other women from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in the Greektown section of Highlandtown were to board a bus bound for St. Irene Chrysovalantou Greek Orthodox Church in Queens, N.Y. They to be back in Baltimore tonight after viewing the icon and attending a service at the church.
The painting of St. Irene, the patron saint of peace and the sick, reportedly has been weeping since Oct. 17. It's said that the tears began to flow just after a service for peace in the Middle East was held at a Chicago Greek Orthodox church where the icon had been on loan. The glass-encased icon, painted on wood by a Greek monk in 1919 and displayed at St. Irene's since its founding 18 years ago, was returned to the New York church on Oct. 23.
Thousands of true believers of various denominations, along with the merely curious and the downright skeptical, have crowded the church daily during the past month. They have come from as far away as the Midwest, standing in a line that spills out onto the sidewalk, anxious to determine if the icon actually has been moved to tears over events in the Persian Gulf.
A worshiper prays to a saint to petition God's help in curing an illness or solving a problem. If the help is deemed to have come, the grateful worshiper usually will attach a gift to the frame of the icon depicting that particular saint, such as flowers, candles or home-grown basil.
Tsakalos, the president of the Philoptochos Society, the woman's auxiliary at the staunchly traditional St. Nicholas parish, said yesterday she was looking forward to the trip "because we don't normally get to see miracles for ourselves. We hear about them, we believe in them, but we want to see this with our own eyes."
Tsakalos conceded that the miracle may prove false. "I'm prepared for that possibility," she said. "I'm open to that. But it won't shake my faith."
Marian Campanaris, a Greektown resident and a lifelong member of St. Nicholas, organized today's trip. She said several other churchwomen recently visited St. Irene's and came back with the news that the icon's tears were for real.
"It just gives you a funny feeling hearing about it," Campanaris said.
The primary purpose of the trip, she said, is to pray.
"Something bad is happening in the world," Campanaris said. "Some people say [the icon] is crying because war is coming. The world today is in such turmoil, so we need to pray."
The Rev. Manuel Burdusi, associate pastor at St. Nicholas', said he has given his blessing to the trip. However, he has cautioned the women that St. Irene's is not part of the archdiocese that governs most Greek Orthodox churches in North and South America. The New York church was founded as part of a schismatic group called the Greek Orthodox Metropolis Genuine Orthodox Christians of North and South America.
"That doesn't mean the icon isn't worth seeing," said Burdusi, a Greektown product whose mother is going on the trip today. "I do believe this is a miracle. But our ladies aren't supposed to take communion there. They see the priests there and hear the prayers, which are similar to those of our church, and they might think it's part of our archdiocese."
The Rev. Constantine Monios, dean of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation downtown and the vicar for Maryland's Greek Orthodox churches, agrees that the schismatic nature of St. Irene's "doesn't minimize the miracle."
Monios was a parish priest 31 years ago in Manchester, N.H., when three icons of Mary were seen weeping at St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Hempstead, N.Y.
"I came down from Manchester to see them," he said, "and one of them had tears just brimming in its eyes, while the eyes of another were opening and closing. I was overwhelmed. I felt at that moment that I'd received a great gift from God."
According to Monios, weeping icons of Mary were sighted at Orthodox churches in Chicago and Pittsburgh within recent years. However, he said, church leaders prefer to downplay such "miracles" because of the controversy they generate outside the circle of the faithful.
"The way the church feels is, for those who don't have faith, no amount of proof is enough. And for those who do have faith, no proof is necessary," Monios said.