A handful of the parish family members of Saints Peter and Paul parish in Carnegie had been blessed at various times to have interacted with the Kardiotissa icon from Taylor, PA. Some had seen her at All Saints Camp, some had participated with His Eminence Archbishop Daniel on the pilgrimage to Taylor, and some had prayed with her while she was in Parma, OH during Great Lent of 2019. Though, at each experience, the parishioners had a longing for something more. The “something more” was getting the faithful that could not travel outside of Carnegie to be able to experience the icon.
And so, while a couple of parishioners of Saints Peter and Paul were out visiting South Bound Brook for the baby shower of (now) Fr. Oleg and Pani Matka Olha Kravchenko they took the opportunity to speak with His Eminence Archbishop Daniel about the desire to have the Kardiotissa visit Saints Peter and Paul parish in Carnegie. His Eminence took their prayerful request to heart, understanding that there are many of his flock who cannot fully experience the beauty of praying with the Kardiotissa and contacted the caretaker of the icon, Fr. Mark Leasure of Taylor, PA. Shortly after reaching out to Fr. Mark, His Eminence called Fr. John, the rector of Saints Peter and Paul in Carnegie and told him that he, Fr. Mark, and the Kardiotissa would be visiting Saints Peter and Paul parish on the weekend of September 13th.
The news of this was received with great joy by all the parishioners and planning began immediately. The parish family wanted to share this experience with their entire community and began preparing to do so. The parish set up a shuttle system from a parking lot about a mile away, members of the parish wore “greeters’ pins” to be identifiable to any visitors should any need arise while they’re visiting, a sound system was brought in so nobody would miss a moment of service, a live feed of the event was set up to play in the hall in case the church overflowed, the choir rehearsed, invitations to all the local Orthodox churches went out, and an air conditioner was rented to make sure everyone was comfortable. There wasn’t a detail that was overlooked. The parish prayed fervently during the Dormition Fast with a daily Akathist in the church and Fr. John asked the faithful to carry on the fast for a few more weeks so that they would be spiritually ready to welcome in the Kardiotissa.
Finally, the long awaited day arrived. September 13th, the day the church celebrates when the Theotokos gave the Apostle Thomas her sash, one of the many feasts of the Mother of God. His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, lead from the altar by his priests, Rev. John Charest, V. Rev. Paisius McGrath, V. Rev. Robert Popichak, and Rev. IvanTchopko, along with Deacon Evan O’Neil, out to the narthex of the church to greet the Kardiotissa. As Fr. Mark brought the icon to the Church, he was led by children of the parish who honored her with gifts of flowers and their joyous smiles. After an exchange of prayer and welcome, His Eminence received the Kardiotissa from Fr. Mark and asked the rector of Saints Peter and Paul, Fr. John Charest to carry the icon with Fr. Ivan Tchopko, who was celebrating his 40thbirthday that evening, to the tetropod.
As the icon entered the nave, the church filled with prayerful song and the sweet smell of the streaming myrrh. After placing the icon on the flower adorned tetropod Fr. John, Fr. Ivan, and Deacon Evan received the blessing to begin Great Vespers. With the prayers of Vespers being offered, Fr. Mark took the icon from its case and walked among the faithful allowing the myrrh to drip into their outstretched hands while Subdeacons Mykola Zomchak and Ihor Protsak sang responses in melodious harmony.
At the conclusion of Great Vespers His Eminence Archbishop Daniel spoke to the faithful about one of the miracles with which he’s personally connected, that, through the Grace of God, came about through the workings of the Kardiotissa. His story was that of Fr. Oleh Kravchenko and his wife Pani Matka Olha who had wanted to be parents for as long as they had been married but could not conceive a child. Archbishop went on to explain that after they were blessed with the opportunity to pray with the Kardiotissa they conceived and Fr. Oleh, in thanks to the blessed Mother, made a copy of the Kardiotissa out of amber and presented it to His Eminence Archbishop Daniel. The faithful were in awe at the beauty and skill on display in this icon made from amber. While everyone was admiring the copy of the Kardiotissa His Eminence went on to tell a story about another icon he had with him made from amber. As things seem to do, when the Holy Spirit is involved, the story of the icon His Eminence was holding tied into the timing of when he was asked (the baby shower) about how to get the Kardiotissa to Carnegie. His Eminence was holding an icon of Saints Peter and Paul, also made by Fr. Oleh out of amber. He made this for the parish of Saints Peter and Paul as a “thank you” for all the support the parish showed him and his wife during his time at the seminary and throughout the pregnancy. The parish didn’t know the couple had trouble conceiving, they simply wanted to support the future of our UOC and would send care packages and cards to the young couple to let them know they are prayed for and loved. They were able to put together quite a few items from the couple’s baby registry and drive out to the baby shower to deliver them – all of which brought Fr. Oleh and Pani Matka Olha great joy, and as a “thank you”, Fr. Oleh made them an amber icon of their patron saints.
When His Eminence finished speaking, Fr. Mark took over and showed some photos of different interactions people have had with the Kardiotissa and relayed some miraculous stories of healing connected to her. After his accounts the faithful were encouraged to come forward for anointing with the myrrh and to venerate the icon. They were also asked to write down their prayer intentions so that they could be prayed for next to the icon during the night and commemorated at Proskemedia the following morning. The people began moving toward the icons and priests while the church filled with beautiful songs in praise of the Mother of God.
The next morning began in similar fashion with a core of volunteers ready to greet visitors to Saints Peter and Paul parish, shuttle drivers, kitchen workers with a lunch for after the service, and clergy and faithful eager to pray before the Kardiotissa. With the Academic Year opening at St. Sophia Seminary in NJ, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel wasn’t able to join, Rev. John Charest, V. Rev. Paisius McGrath, V. Rev. Robert Popichak, Rev. Mark Swindle, and Rev. Deacon Evan O’Neil for Divine Liturgy celebrating the Ecclesiastical New Year. The five brothers of the Pittsburgh Deanery concelebrated with prayerful joy and anxiously awaited hearing more accounts from Fr. Mark Leasure after the Liturgy. There was no disappointment in the accounts Fr. Mark told, from showing an ultrasound (taken after a father anointed his daughter in her 5thpregnancy so she wouldn’t lose a 5thchild) that had an image of light being emitted (which is scientifically impossible because ultrasounds use sound waves to make images not light), a story of how a priest anointed a cancer patient, who was in isolation, with oil from the Kardiotissa and then two other hospital rooms, unrelated to the one visited by the priest, began to have myrrh streaming from their vents and filled the hospital with its sweet fragrance, or in reading a letter of a boy, Ernie, who wrote to the Mother of God asking that his brother receive a blessing to make his difficult life better, “even if you have to take something from me”. As tears were streaming from the eyes of the faithful, a dad asked Fr. Mark if he could tell his story. He was there with his wife and son. He told everyone that they were there to thank the Mother of God because last year his son had terminal brain cancer and after being anointed with the myrrh of the Kardiotissa his son is now cancer free.
When Fr. Mark finished speaking, the faithful were again encouraged to come forward, venerate the icon, and be anointed with the myrrh. A young family that came both Friday night and Saturday morning returned to their pew after the anointing and gave great thanks with tears in all 7 family members’ eyes. They came because one of the teenage girls has a spine problem and has already had to relearn to walk three times in her life. But after being anointed on Saturday, the young girl began to regain feeling in her legs, thus gaining more mobility. Fr. Mark was in no way surprised by this and thanked God for this healing through the prayers of The Most Blessed Mother.
After everyone had been anointed and taken their time to venerate the Kardiotissa, Fr. Mark and his two Subdeacons sang a beautiful song to the Mother of God and processed out of the church so they would make it home in time for Liturgy in their parish on Sunday. The faithful of Carnegie are extremely thankful to His Eminence Archbishop Daniel for helping arrange this wonderful event, to Fr. Mark for being such a faithful caretaker of the Kardiotissa and for bringing her to them, and most of all to the Mother of God, who through her prays saves those who love her Son.