Leading up to this past weekend’s Orthodox Easter, thousands of faithful have been visiting an icon of John The Baptist. As reported by The Chicago Tribune, worshipers have made a “pilgrimage” to The Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Homer Glen, Illinois to witness a “miracle”. Since July 2015, tiny drops of oil have been trickling down the front of the altar of John The Baptist.
Bishop Sotirios Demetrios is the auxiliary bishop of Mokissos of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago. He has been collecting the oil using cotton balls, and then distributing the oil-laden cotton balls among the parishioners. The bishop has asked the parishioners to share the cotton balls with their friends and relatives so they might visit the parish. Bishop Dmetrios’ marketing plan seems to have worked to the tune of thousands of visitors.
Parishoners believe the oil is myrrh. It has been detected on the wings, hands, halo, and beard of the icon. Myrrh is a pungent resin secreted by the tree species genus Commiphoria. The scent has a perfume-like quality. Myrrh is an ingredient used in some health-related products such as toothpaste, mouthwash, liniments, and healing slaves for minor abrasions. So when the parishioners say they believe the oil has healing properties, they are not entirely incorrect.
However, what is entirely incorrect is that the “healing properties” of the oil are being taken to absurd levels. According to the article:
One man reportedly went to the doctor concerning a blockage in his artery, but it had disappeared. Another reports being cancer free after touching the oil.
The painter of the icon, Peter Mihalopoulos, said he believed the oil was the reason why he was in his garage painting two days after a hip replacement.
Dimitriou himself, who before the oil began to flow, frequently passed out at the altar or in his office because of nerve damage, said he has not been hospitalized for his nerve condition since September and he stopped taking his medication in January.
Such is the inherent danger in believing in “miracles”.
Has the oil been tested by scientists? No. Has the source of the mysterious appearance of the oil been investigated? No, nor is it likely to be, as any investigation as to the cause of the oil’s appearance would be bad for business.
Historically, investigations in to religious icons which appear to secrete oil, water, blood, or other liquids reveal mundane explanations, including natural chemical processes, leaky pipes, condensation, bacteria, and sometimes, outright fraud. There has yet to be a case of a “confirmed” miracle of the type being described by the faithful at this Greek Orthodox church.