RTE: You've told us what happened to the relics of the Chinese martyrs. Were there miracle-working icons in China as well?

Albazinskaya icon

IOANNIS: China had at least three famous icons, perhaps more. One was the Mother of God of Albazin, the "Albazinskaya." I'm not sure where the original was, perhaps in Manchuria, but there are many copies. A second is the Mother of God of Lǚshùn (formerly Port Arthur). Lüshun is another city in China. A third icon, which we simply called "the Miracle-Working Icon of the Mother of God," was in the town of Yining (Yi-Ning) in Xinjiang. This is the one I know about.

After the 1917 revolution, Russians brought the icon to Xinjiang province and built a church in Yining where they enshrined it. (I'm not sure what type it was, because people just called it, "The Wonder-Working Icon of the Mother of God.") One day, because they were upset by the construction of the church, a group of local Muslims entered the church and the imam gashed the icon on the face with a knife. The face of the Mother of God began to bleed and the imam was so terrified that he ran out of the church with the others close behind. Needless to say, the people of the city, both Christian and non-Christian venerated this icon very much and there were many miracles, one of which was that the wound on the face of the icon healed by itself. Although the Orthodox Christians venerated this icon with love, I think others did so with fear.

My friend Andre's grandmother, Nina, saw the blood flowing from the wounded icon and she had her first child baptized in this church. Nina's father had been a general in the White Russian army, and they still have an old photo of him with several other men, carrying the icon on their shoulders in a Pascha procession.

The icon remained in the church until the terrible Cultural Revolution when it was taken by young Red Guards and thrown into a fire. Some of the eyewitnesses who are still alive say that the icon was not burnt, it simply disappeared in the midst of the flames. There is a local tradition in Xinjiang that when Orthodoxy is reestablished and people are free, the icon will reappear.

I myself don't care if the icon comes back in a miraculous way or in a normal way — that is, if it is repainted — because every icon is a miracle. The real miracle is the survival of the Chinese Orthodox Church, that by the grace of God and the prayers of the saints we have been able to keep the tradition alive.