CHICAGO -- The Rev. Nicholas Jonas says he was in disbelief when he saw tears streaming down the face of a painting of Mary holding the child Jesus in his chapel.
"When these things happen, I feel like a little kid when first going into a candy factory, and you're just in awe," said Jonas, the presiding priest at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, in the Belmont Central neighborhood on the city's Northwest Side.
Jonas said he was sitting in his office Sunday morning when a church employee burst into his office and informed him of the "weeping Virgin."
Jonas hurried to the altar in the church sanctuary where the painting stands amid other holy paintings.
"It's common throughout the Orthodox church to see a phenomena like that ... but to have it personally was very overwhelming," Jonas said.
After examining the tears, Jonas placed cotton balls at the bottom of the picture to absorb the streaks of moisture and posted a photo of the weeping Virgin on Facebook Sunday evening.
By Monday morning, the word had spread. Parishioners and visitors came out in large numbers to see what many of them are calling a miracle.
The Rev. Dobrivoje Milunovic, the presiding priest of Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in the O'Hare neighborhood, was one of the first priests to visit to venerate the icon.
Dressed in a black cassock, Milunovic said the weeping icon was a miracle, but also a warning from the mother of God.
"This is a calling on all of us to change our lives," he said. "We need to turn to her in prayer and humility. And cleanse our hearts and souls of inequities so we may find salvation.
His Eminence Metropolitan Nathanael inspected and confirmed the legitimacy of the tears Sunday, Jonas said.
Others also view the phenomenon as a possible sign as the Greek Orthodox Church has worked to keep from losing the church after it experienced financial troubles, with a bankruptcy hearing scheduled for Tuesday.
Monday morning, Greek prayers and hymns played softly in the sanctuary. The aroma from more than a hundred lit candles filled the air as visitors sat in the wooden pews. Other snapped pictures with their smartphones.
The icon was no longer weeping Monday morning, but the residue from the liquid was still visible on her cheek.
"Mary weeping is a sign, and the miracle is actually in our hearts," said Laura Tovar, who was visiting with her sister, who was married at the church.
Many parishioners were hoping that the Virgin Mary's tears forecast a potential miracle that would save the church from closing its doors.
Jonas, however, has a different interpretation of the weeping icon.
"Some people say this is a sign," he said. "I stop short of that. I would just rather say that the Virgin Mary is talking to us; I would just let her finish her conversation. And, let's see what happens."
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