Ancient Icon, New Miracle Story

Interfax reports from Syria, with a headline that cannot be improved upon:

A dismembered Arab sheikh raised from the dead after visiting an Orthodox convent

Sounds like we’re in Jim Rutz territory. So what’s the story?

One of the Saudi Arabia sheikhs ‘rose from the dead’ after visiting Panagia Saidnaya [“Our Lady” in Syriac], an old convent near Damascus, the Trud daily writes on Friday.

…According to the newspaper, the sheikh and his wife could not have children. They decided to go on their last journey together to Syria to venerate local Muslim shrines. One taxi-driver there advised them to visit the Sidnay Convent with its miracle-working Icon of the Mother of God, which often helped to childless families.

The sheikh and his wife took the driver’s advice, and shortly thereafter the wife conceived. Nine months on, the sheikh returned to Syria in order to make a donation to the convent, and was picked up at the airport by the same driver. However, the driver knew that his passenger was loaded, and so he and two friends chopped the sheikh up and placed the remains in the boot of the car. But all did not go according to plan:

After a few kilometers the car suddenly stalled. A man who was driving by offered his help, but it was rudely rejected. But this Syrian felt something was wrong and called to the police, who came and caught the three accomplices unawares.

They all experienced an even greater shock after they opened the boot. The motionless and blooded body suddenly began to stir, then revived and stood up slightly rocking. The first words he said were: ‘This same Panagia has just finished sewing up my neck here…’

A few more details are available at the website Ethnikoi, where an English-language account has been compiled by Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes of Boise, Idaho (here the recipient of the miracle is just a “Saudi Arabian”, rather than a sheikh):

The Saudi Arabian went to a medical facility to undergo examination by doctors and medical examiners who confirmed and attested that the stitching was done very recently, thereby validating the miraculous event. The stitches were, and still are, obvious. When the Saudi Arabian came out of the car’s trunk, he had the appearance, literally, of just having been refabricated (put back together) to which he continuously confessed that the PANAGIA had rejoined his body and resurrected him with the help of her Son.

Immediately after this, the Saudi Arabian called his relatives to come to Syria and they all went together to the monastery of Panagia Saidnaya and offered up prayers, praises, and glorification, and instead of the initial gift of $80,000 US (which was promised), he gave $800,000 US to the Theotokos [the “God-Bearer”, i.e. Virgin Mary]. Today, as this man relates the details of that overwhelming miracle, he starts his narration with “When I was a Moslem this happened to me” this indicating he is not longer a Moslem, as neither is his family.

Interfax, however, prefers aliens as an explanation:

The US military medics, who also took part in the expertise, came to the conclusion that it was a result of ‘the UFO interference’ and classified this information as secret.

Serfes tells us that this happened in December 2004.

The icon at Panagia Saidnaya (or Panagia Saydnaya) has been venerated by Christians and Muslims for many centuries. A short essay by Benjamin Z Kedar of the Hebrew University provides some details:

From the late 12th century, the story of the icon of Saydnaya appears in Latin and Arabic texts; in the 13th century it was also told in Old French. There are two main variants about the icon’s vicissitudes before its arrival at Saydnaya, yet all version agree that upon its arrival the icon began to grow flesh and to emit from its breasts an oil-like liquid that would heal the sick. According to the account of Burchard of Strasbourg, whom Emperor Frederick I sent in 1175 as his envoy to Saladin, “all Saracens of that country flock to [Saydnaya] on the Assumption and the Nativity of the Glorious Virgin, together with the Christians, in order to pray there.”

Another site tells us a bit about the icon:

The convent rises above the town like a veritable fortress and is dedicated to the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. One may not enter the small chapel without removing one’s sandals; inside, the walls are covered with myriad signs of gratitude to the All-pure One. The Icon of the All-holy Virgin is believed to be one of four icons extant that were painted by St. Luke the Evangelist himself. In the Syriac language this icon is called the Chahoura or Chagoura, which means “The Illustrious, Celebrated, or Renowned.”

The site itself has been sacred since pre-Christian times. Carol Miller notes:

Priests and monks affiliated with the various cults were commonplace throughout the Near East, and Seidnaya’s rocky bluff was no exception. The site, however, became especially identified with the moon god, or goddess, therefore with the female clergy normally associated with feminine deities. The priestesses of Seidnaya were definitely the precursors of the cult of the sixth century Christian figure of the Virgin Mary expressed in “Our Lady”, who was particularly successful, and celebrated, as a healer, and as such, a guarantor of well-being. When three Syrian cosmonauts, say Andrew Humphreys and Damien Simonis (see: Syria, Lonely Planet, 1999) were chosen to spend a month aboard the Russian space station Mir, they first traveled to Seidnaya to seek her blessing.

But what about our re-membered Saudi sheikh? A similar story has been preserved on a discussion board to do with the Lebanese military (of all things), dated from January last year (sic for typos):

A Muslim Saudi man had a 5-year-old boy that was not walking yet since birth. He met a Syrian Christian man in Saudi Arabia, and that man advised him to take the kid to Deir Saydnaya, just because he had enough faith that Jesus and The Virgin Mary could actually treat the little kid…

He took his kid to the Deir, accompanied by his Syrian friend, and asked the Nuns there to pray for his kid, because he didn’t know how to do so, and swore that he would give them 100 000$ if his child walked.

About a month later, back in Saudi Arabia, the little boy started walking. To fulfill his promise, the man went back to Syria to give the money. The syrian guy in Saudi, called two guys back in Syria to accompany the Saudi.

On the road, thinking that the Nuns have enough money, they killed the Saudi, chopped up his body, put in the trunk and went to dump him in some forest. Along the way, the car stopped and wouldn’t start up again. As they went down to check on it, a police car pulled and asked them if they need any asistance. As they hesitated in answering, the police asked to search the car, and asked the two men to open the trunk. At that moment, they heard a third voice coming from the trunk saying: “just a minute, I’m almost done here, then u can open the trunk”. All surprised, they opened the trunk to find the man, all back together and breathing, with big stitched marks on his shoulders and legs were he was pulled apart.

(Hat tip: The Anomalist)