Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe that a person long dead can influence the lives of the living? Do you think that holiness has a fragrance?
If you had asked me these questions over ten years ago, I would have answered with a qualified no. I mean, as a Christian I had to believe in miracles, right? But, I wasn’t too sure about miracles happening in our time. And, saints and smells? Crazy!
If you had asked me these questions even just a few years ago after I became Orthodox, I would have said yes with my lips. My heart, however, was filled with doubt.
I want you to know and understand this about me before I tell you of an experience that I had just two weeks ago. I am by nature a skeptic, and even the very worst kind skeptic–an Orthodox skeptic who tries to hide it. My friends would call me organized, a planner, a doer, a goal-setter, not easily prone to emotional excess (perhaps you can blame my Midwestern upbringing?).
And yet this practical skeptic experienced something that has filled me with great joy and peace, though I cannot explain it.
Near the Saint
It began at the Ancient Faith Writing and Podcasting Conference two weeks ago. The event was held at the Antiochian Village in Pennsylvania. One of the most extraordinary things about this lovely retreat center is that it is the burial place for St. Raphael of Brooklyn.
St. Raphael of Brooklyn is a North American saint (born in Syria but lived and ministered in the United States) who was bishop of Brooklyn–the first Orthodox bishop consecrated on North American soil. You can read more about his pious life here.
Our group visited the grave of Saint Raphael and had a short prayer service there. During that prayer service and as I was venerating the tomb, I prayed and asked Saint Raphael to intercede for me that I might find a job. You see, I had been worrying for months about this. The worry had so taken me that I found it difficult to pray or think about much else.
After I asked Saint Raphael to intercede for me, I returned to the conference and went about the day as usual.
A Sweet Smell
The next morning we gathered in the chapel for Orthros (an Orthodox morning prayer service). As I entered I venerated the icon and relic of Saint Raphael and sat near them.
At the very end of the service it happened.
It was as though time stopped. I felt like things were suspended–time, sounds, the very earth itself. Though I could still see the sun streaming in on the icons and hear the chanting around me, it felt otherworldly.
A place beyond place. A time beyond time.
And then came the fragrance.
I smelled myrrh–the sweet smell that the Orthodox faithful call the scent of holiness. Some relics will inexplicably carry the scent of myrrh at times. Icons will stream with myrrh in a way that defies explanation.
As I smelled the myrrh, the word “saint” danced in my mind. Then I knew it was Saint Raphael.
A New Peace
Instantly I was flooded with peace and joy. Peace that I had not known for a long time. Tears streamed down my cheeks as the peace entered into my very being–driving the worry and anxiety away.
Time seemed relative. The moment of peace contained a glimpse of eternity.
And then I was back. Back in the chapel, back in time, back in front of the icon of Saint Raphael. And yet the peace remained.
The peace still remains. I do not yet have a job, but I have peace knowing that God will help me find one. Peace knowing that Saint Raphael is interceding for me. That I am loved, cared for, and watched over by God and his saints.
Do I believe in miracles? Absolutely.
Can a man who has been dead for over one hundred years actually influence the lives of the living. Oh, praise God. Yes.
For I have smelled the fragrance of holiness.