Sometimes, better examples of miracles occur—someone lost in the wilderness with only a bag of peanuts is found alive after weeks alone. Someone sitting in just the right seat and approaching earth at just the right angle falls from the heavens and survives an airline crash. Someone outlives a medical prognosis. Thirty-three miners survive underground for 70 days. A dead patient revives on the operating table. Or, in my case, I am warned not to eat at the grimy diner down the road, yet I somehow survive the explosive outcome.
A miracle either is or isn’t. We’re all to blame for the waning excitement of miracles. We overuse them. The last truly great miracles cast Lazarus and Jesus in the starring roles, so it’s no honor for modern man to disparage the notion of miracles and the faithful who find comfort in them by claiming things like, “I got so drunk last night, it’s a miracle I passed my midterm.”
How far have miracles sunk? They’re not even front-page news, that’s how far. They’re now in the second section, below the fold, and jumped to an inside page. I was reading The Salt Lake Tribune on Oct. 26 and stopped at the story about events in the Greek (or Eastern) Orthodox Parish in Salt Lake City. The story was about a potential split of the current single parish into two new ones. It was a good story, despite containing a quote from me about a recent vote on the split. There’s not enough space here to explain the nuances between a parish general assembly (boring stuff like deciding if the petty-cash account is sufficiently funded) and a legal meeting of the members of the community (boring stuff like keeping in accordance of state charters and bylaws). The meeting I attended was a membership meeting. It was an open meeting. It had open dialogue and had an open vote—a stark contrast to how things have operated lately at that church.
I ordinarily wouldn’t comment on that, since operational items in a private church as transpired this past week are better left to reporters. But, I’ve decided to comment because of words attributed to a local parish priest, Father Michael Kouremetis—words that are now public. He says he is witness to a miracle.
I wasn’t bothered that he downplayed the importance of more than 400 Greek Orthodox meeting in unity this past Sunday. He said the meeting wasn’t “sanctioned by the church at all.” He’s right, but it didn’t have to be. I wasn’t bothered that he said, “You have to follow the rules” despite that another part of the story hinted at financial rules being broken at his church, Prophet Elias. I wasn’t bothered by his claim that Prophet Elias is filled each Sunday with “happy, joyful people who want to worship” despite sensing—as one who quit attending the services of Kouremetis and who now travels downtown to Holy Trinity instead—his words are a wee bit exaggerated.
STAFF BOX: Have you ever experienced a miracle?
What bothers me is that he spoiled an opportunity to speak about healing and growth by politicizing a “miracle” at Prophet Elias. Kouremetis and his higher authority, Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, in very short order apparently interpreted the miracle to be a sign of God’s favor.
The miracle? An icon of Christ the Archpriest (that’s right, I don’t know what that icon represents, either) is said to have recently began exuding oil. Besides the fact that the icon resides beneath an oil lamp; and besides that, at least one observer of the wet icon considered it an oil spill (exuding?); and besides that, others were told it was a spillage—the official message to the local parish is clear: The “miracle” is an answer to prayers that the local parish should become independent. You lose! God’s on our side! On the count of three: Laugh at the Greeks.
One can question the timing—thanks to the community gradually becoming aware of months of dubious, behind-the-scenes machinations and Bourne-like secrecy, enthusiasm for splitting the parish is waning. One can even point to tradition—it wouldn’t be the first timely “miracle” presented as evidence to keep those dollars coming. Fake miracles occur throughout Orthodoxy, and a website even shows how to produce them.
Last month, I visited St. John the Baptist Monastery, high in the hills above our ancestral home in Megara, Greece. It was founded by my dad’s cousin, one of the most well-known nuns in all of Greece, and in it, I saw holy artifacts few get to see. It doesn’t matter what they mean to me—I know and respect what they mean to others. My own first cousin is a Greek Orthodox monk. Mocking what someone terms a miracle is not of my nature—unless the miracle requires a basketball.
Kouremetis invited the press into this one. I hope he’s right about it, because if this is a tease of the Greek Orthodox people—a ridicule of the core believers and most faithful of the parish, a chance to woo the children, or played as evidence that hundreds are wrong about the future of the Orthodox parishes in Salt Lake City—then this is a very bad thing. And if so, it will be a miracle if anyone remains faithful to Kouremetis.