Every once in a while I’ll read something in the news that triggers my curiosity and it leads into a whole mess of things that I feel compelled to investigate and learn more about. Today it was something about a bust of Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia, who ruled from 1894 until 1917. The sculpture is located in Crimea, and people claim it was “oozing myrrh this year on the 100th anniversary of his overthrow.” What??
The claim of tears of myrrh coming from this sculpture came in March of this year from Russian State Duma Deputy Natalya Poklonskaya, who said during a TV interview that “this is a miracle that neither scientists nor anybody can explain … our sovereigns are helping us. They died for us so that we can make Russia flourish and great.” After these claims were made, a special commission observed the sculpture and found no traces of “tears” either on the bust or on icons in a chapel next to the bust.
Okay, so that’s a nice little story that’s been discredited, but it still brought up the question of why someone would think a sculpture would be “crying” in the first place, and I learned something new here – the idea of “weeping icons” is a phenomenon that has been claimed many times before. And what’s the connection to myrrh as a specific substance? All I know of myrrh is that it was one of the three gifts (along with gold and frankincense) that the Three Kings presented to the baby Jesus in the Bible story. Myrrh is a tree resin that has been used throughout history as a perfume, incense, and for medicinal purposes, and was used by the ancient Egyptians or the embalming of mummies.
Another historical connection to myrrh is the Orthodox Christian belief that myrrh has flowed from the bodies of certain deceased saints, which brings us back to Poklonskaya’s suggestion that Czar Nicholas II was in that same category and therefore this weeping bronze bust was a manifestation of divine grace.
If this all seems a bit “out there,” then just wait until you see this video. A deacon from a Russian Orthodox Church in Hawaii, holds a factory-made icon depicting the Theotokos of Iveron which they are showing to be streaming a light oil with a strong scent of roses, which they are calling myrrh. If you watch carefully, there’s a guy with his hands under the tilted icon to catch the oil, and later uses a plastic bag to collect more … what do you make of this? See what I mean? I’m reading the newspaper with my morning coffee and a story on Russian politics leads to Bible stories and Hawaiian icons.