Adapted from an account at Monastiriaka, a website selling arts and crafts from the monasteries of Mount Athos.
In the days of the Byzantine Emperor Theophilus (829-842), it was illegal to possess religious art depicting people. Houses were searched, and offenders saw their precious icons destroyed with dishonour.
A WEALTHY widow from Nicaea near Constantinople kept an icon of Mary, a criminal offence at the time. Rather than see it harmed again - a soldier’s sword had already left a scar on its cheek - she set it afloat on the Aegean Sea.*
That was the tale her son, a monk on Mount Athos across the sea in Greece, told his brethren. But it did not end there.
Two hundred years later, a curious shaft of light appeared out on the sea near the same Greek monastery.** At its foot was an icon of Mary, with a scar on her cheek.
A monk named Gabriel brought the icon ashore and laid it reverently in the chapel, but as a sign of Mary’s protection it moved itself overnight to the wall over the monastery gate, where it remains to this day.
And every year, in the week after Easter, the monks hold a service on the shore, where Gabriel took the widow’s icon out of the sea.
* Actually, the icon would have to start off on the Sea of Marmara, pass through the Hellespont (the Dardanelles), and then bob out into the Aegean. Click the map below to enlarge it.
** It is known as the Monastery of the Ivíron.