After a three-week stay at Holy Trinity Monastery, culminating with me being received into the Orthodox Church, my brain was overloaded with spiritual knowledge and a list of tasks I wanted to complete to begin learning about my new faith. I was ready and eager to go home. The only stop remaining was to meet Gab founder Andrew Torba on his homestead in Pennsylvania.
When I left the monastery, my godfather told me that the spiritual experiences would diminish. I would have to manage a transition from interacting daily with priests, monks, and seminarians who constantly strove to have Lord Jesus Christ in their hearts, with providential events occurring to me daily, to a bizarro secular world where people cared more about gay people than God. This transition was on my mind as I drove to Northeast Pennsylvania to meet with Andrew Torba and his family.
Torba and I got along immediately. We are both fighting the good fight and have the same enemies. His enemy list, however, is much longer than mine since he is providing a platform that reaches many millions of people each month. We exchanged war stories over dinner and then lunch the next day. During one of our conversations, he asked me if I heard of the myrrh-streaming icon that was in a nearby Orthodox church. I had heard of myrrh-streaming icons before, whereby an icon leaks myrrh, but I was not interested in seeing it because of fatigue. I repeat: I was not interested in seeing a miracle within my new Church because I was tired, and besides, myrrh-streaming icons may not stream continually. Maybe I could visit it during a future trip. When Torba, who is not in the Orthodox Church, mentioned the icon to me a second time, I gently ignored him and changed the subject.
The day before I was set to drive back home, Torba showed me his land and farm machinery, which made me jealous because I own practically nothing useful besides electronic equipment to conduct internet live streams. I went back to my hotel room and checked my email. I read one from an Orthodox man who suggested that, if I were ever in Northeast Pennsylvania, to check out the Kardiotissa myrrh-streaming icon. I had not publicly shared that I would be in Pennsylvania. Why was I being told to visit this icon by two men within a 24-hour period? I leaned back from the computer screen and thought for some time before concluding that the email suggestion was from God, as was Torba’s. I can only remain turned away from God for so long when he speaks to me, so I picked up the phone and called St. George’s Orthodox Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania. I was invited to Vespers the next day at 6pm to see the icon. I extended my hotel stay and messaged Torba to join me.
I met with Torba in front of the church at the appointed time. I did not expect the icon to be streaming. I simply wanted to venerate the icon and ask the Theotokos to pray for me. Torba and I walked into the church and stood in the back row on the right side. As Vespers began, I looked around the church but did not know where the icon was. I would have to wait until the service was over. As hymn after hymn was sung praising the Theotokos, I wondered what Torba was thinking, since his background was in Protestantism, where the Theotokos often seems relegated to the role of a surrogate baby donor.
After Vespers was completed, the priest said the icon was not streaming and then motioned towards it, located in the center of the church. The usher then released one row of parishioners at a time to get in line to venerate the icon, starting at the front. Our row was eventually released and I waited in line, which moved quickly. When I finally arrived at the icon, I venerated it by kissing the Mother of God’s hand and shoulder through the glass. Then a priestmonk anointed me with the icon’s myrrh on my forehead.
Many of the faithful left but I felt the urge to stay. I circled around the entire church to return to the front to venerate the other icons. Then I sat in a front pew and stared at the Kardiotissa for a minute before the usher came up to me and asked, “Did you see the streaks of myrrh?”
“I didn’t look carefully,” I replied, and stood up. Before I could take a step towards the icon for a closer view, the priest took it out of its glass case and held it in the air at a titled angle. It had just started streaming. A woman in front of me approached the icon and placed her right hand underneath. I watched as a bead formed in the bottom corner of the thin-slabbed wooden icon and dropped onto her hands. The priest turned the icon towards me and I approached with my hand. A drop of myrrh landed in my hands and I immediately made the sign of the cross, giving glory to God for allowing me to experience the miracle. I looked towards the back of the church and saw Torba. I motioned for him to come and he also received a drop of myrrh.
I returned to the pews in the back. I could not hold back tears. I knew I was experiencing God’s grace and so began to pray for all those I loved, hoping that my prayer at this moment would have more power. Torba came to sit beside me. I didn’t make eye contact with him so as not to disturb any moment he was experiencing. The grace was heavy so I could not talk, but I managed to whisper to him, “It’s just a piece of wood.”
Tens of thousands of Orthodox Christians have experienced myrrh-streaming icons firsthand, and it’s not hard to find their stories, but to be there myself, to watch drops of liquid fragrance come forth from inert wood and paint bearing an image of the Theotokos; to watch the earthly intersection between the Uncreated and Created, only possible because of the providential steps that allowed me to be present in Taylor, Pennsylvania, made me feel an overflowing love for God and the Mother of God, for it had only been three weeks since I was received into the Church. I saw how God was allowing my faith to start strong, and how lucky Torba was for seeing this miracle when he wasn’t even in the Church, and what sort of plan God had for us both.
“God arranged this,” I said to Torba. “He wanted us to see this together.” I stared at a large Orthodox cross in the front of the church, trying to retain the feeling of grace, but the tears soon ended and back out into the world I went, retaining only a memory of what had happened.
Less than four months later, the Lord God showed me the wonderworking Kursk Root icon and then another myrrh-streaming icon, the Hawaiian Iveron icon. The more I see and the more grace that falls upon me, the more unworthy I feel, the sinner that I am.