Our Lady of Perpetual Help
“To the Theotokos let us run now most fervently; as sinners and lowly ones, let us fall down in repentance, crying from the depths of our soul: Lady, come and help us, have compassion upon us; hasten now for we are lost in the host of our errors; do not turn your servants away, for you alone are a hope to us.” (from the Paraklesis service)
In 1999 a small group of Orthodox faithful, under the pastoral guidance of (then) Bishop Nicholas, started a Mission Parish in the beautiful Traverse City, Michigan. The next nineteen years were a continuous display of God’s grace and blessings, hard work of many people, and growth of the Orthodox community in Northern Michigan. In 2012, a five-acre parcel was purchased in the area known by the thousands of visitors as “God’s country” and earlier this year, the corner stone has been set in place by Metropolitan Nicholas with the entire community, which has grown to about sixty families.
Dormition Lent and Paraklesis services had gained a special meaning this year, as faithful regularly gathered to pray to the Theotokos for intercessions and protection of the building project, so that these efforts come to fruition for the glory of God and the establishment of a permanent Orthodox presence in Northern Michigan. After the last Paraklesis service before the Feast of Dormition, one of the Parishioners asked permission to go metal detecting on the newly stripped property in hope to find an old coin, ring or any antiques. Few minutes later, on the area where the sanctuary is being build, just underneath the topsoil a beautiful treasure revealed itself: a small, metal icon of Virgin Mary on one side and Saint Cristopher on the other side with the words “My Protector” inscribed below. Saint Christopher, which means the Christ-bearer and is commemorated on May 9th, is depicted with the infant Christ on his shoulder. This depiction is the sources of the proverb: “If on Christopher thou shouldst gaze, thou shalt safely wend life’s ways.”
Beneath the icon of the Virgin Mary there was the inscription: O.L.OF PERPHELP. Upon some research, we found the story of the original icon. The icon, whose title is Our Lady of Perpetual Help, was originally in the Monastery of Keras Kardiotissas in Crete, Greece, from where it was stolen by a merchant and taken to Rome. It remained in the private possession of the merchant family until March 27, 1499 when it was transferred to the church of San Matteo, where it remained for 300 years. The picture, which was believed to be miraculous, gained in popularity under the name of Madonna di San Matteo. Currently the icon is located at Saint Alphonsus di Liguouri Shrine in Rome. The original icon depicts the Ever-Virgin Mary, wearing a dark red mantle (representing the Passion of Christ,) with a blue mantle (representing her perpetual virginity) and a clocked veil (representing her pure modesty.) She is facing the faithful while pointing at her Son, Jesus Christ. On the left side is Archangel Michael carrying the lance and sponge of the crucifixion of Christ and on the right side is Archangel Gabriel (the Patron Saint of our Parish in Traverse City) carrying a three-bar cross and nails. The Greek inscriptions read MP-ΘΥ (Μήτηρ Θεοῦ, Mother of God), ΟΑΜ (Ὁ Ἀρχάγγελος Μιχαήλ, Michael the Archangel), ΟΑΓ (Ὁ Ἀρχάγγελος Γαβριήλ, Gabriel the Archangel) and IC-XC (Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Jesus Christ), respectively.
The property, on which the icon was found and the new sanctuary will be built, overlooks East Bay of Traverse City and has one of the most beautiful views. The last use of the land was a cherry orchard back in 1951. It is such a blessing to know that this icon has waited more than a half of century to be discovered on the very place where an Orthodox Church is being erected for a Parish, whose patron saint is Archangel Gabriel. God has ordained this sacred place long before any Orthodox presence in the area, or anyone could conceive that one day this will be the home of the only full-time Orthodox Parish North of Saginaw and Grand Rapids. The building started in August and is expected to be completed in the summer of 2019.
The Archangel Gabriel community continues to grow by welcoming people from all backgrounds to the Orthodox faith and is asking for your continued prayers and support in this important ministry! For more information about the Church or building project, please visit www.tcorthodoxchurch.com. Through the prayers of the Theotokos of Perpetual Help, the protection of Archangel Gabriel, the Patron Saint of our Parish and of all the Saints, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.