The Marian Apparitions: Divine Intervention or Delusion?
By Miriam Lambouras
The following article is one that we have wanted to publish for a long time as we
believe that its message is timely and important. We hesitated as it was submitted just
after we had begun St Nicolas Varzhansky's "Whole Armour of Truth," and we did
not want to have two long and serialized pieces, both confessional in content, running
together. Now we are nearing the end of St Nicolas' work and pleased to present
"Marian Apparitions. " The work will be lengthy but we feel that it is well
worth it. It began as a result of a correspondence between the writer and our brotherhood.
She was troubled, as we had been too, by the fact that many Orthodox Christians seem
indiscriminately to make pilgrimages to Marian shrines and that sometimes churches and
parishes actively sponsor these pilgrimages. She asked for guidance, but it soon became
clear that her knowledge of the subject was much more extensive than our own and that her
perceptions were entirely Orthodox. We have been instructed by her work and hope others
will be also. Perhaps one day the whole work might be published, as it well deserves, as a
booklet. The writer, a long-time correspondent with our brotherhood and friend, is a
convert to Holy Orthodoxy and member of the Russian Patriarchal Cathedral Parish at
Ennismore Gardens, in London. (From the editors of The Shepherd, where this article
APART FROM WALSINGHAM in my distant Anglican days, the Marian shrines had never really
interested me. I was of course aware of some of the most important onesLourdes,
Fatima, and more recently Medjugorje, and knew that while many people (the vast
majority being Roman Catholics, of course) considered these apparitions a direct sign from
Heaven, others (mainly Protestant) considered them some kind of hallucination or even
demonic delusion. Not being a member of the Roman Catholic Church, I felt under no
obligation or inclination to give them much thought. But learning that an Orthodox priest
had been on pilgrimage to Lourdes, and that the wife of another Orthodox priest organized
an annual visit by a group of Orthodox women to Lourdes, my interest was aroused, and I
began to feel a strong compulsion to take a closer look at the Marian apparitions and
Books by Roman Catholic authors were the main source of my information concerning the
apparitions and the shrines. I was extremely surprised to find how numerous they were, and
in the end confined myself to just fifteen, with a special look at the Miraculous Medal,
La Salette, Lourdes, Fatima, Garabandal, Zeitoun, Medjugorje, Hriushiw. Walsingham I did
not consider at all, since it seems to be in a somewhat different category, in that its
raison d'etre is a straightforward honouring of the mystery of the Incarnation, with the
Son of God as the central figure. The staunchest Protestant could hardly quarrel with that
intention, however much he might disapprove of the particular way in which the honour is
The more I read the more convinced I became that the whole issue was considerably more
complex than a straight choice between Divine revelation on the one hand and demonic
delusion on the other. Several other factors seemed to play a part in varying degrees of
significance at different shrinespsychological factors, the question of
ecclesiastical manipulation and papal involvement, nationalist and political elements, the
presence of something much older than Christianity, namely the worship of the goddess, and
finally, the possibility of a link-up with New Age syncretism and neo-paganism.
One aspect that particularly interested me, and to which little attention seems to have
been given, was the question of solar phenomena witnessed at most of the apparition sites
from Fatima onwards. I had no idea that this would lead me into the realm of UFOs!
Any conclusion that I finally reachedand sometimes there seemed to be more
questions than answers, and many loose ends which did not tie up, are purely the result of
my own personal reasonings. It may well be that those who are far more competent to judge
these matters than I am would interpret things in a different light. All along it was more
an exploration than anything else. When I began, I really had no idea where it would
A brief resume of the shrines mentioned above may be of help in giving a general
Some Marian Apparitions
1) Around 1295, Duns Scotus, a Scottish Franciscan at Oxford, was defending the
Immaculate Conception against Thomas Aquinas and the Dominicans. By 1708, the Feast of the
Immaculate Conception was declared to be a universal holy day of obligation. In 1830,
Catherine Laboure, a young nun in Paris, had a vision of the so-called Miraculous Medal.
She was prone to visions, having already seen the heart of St Vincent, Our Lord in the
Blessed Sacrament, and Christ the King. Being greatly desirous of seeing the Blessed
Virgin also, she requested the intercession of St Vincent and her wish was granted. A
small child in white (her guardian) led her to the convent chapel late at night, where she
saw, spoke with, and touched the Lady. Later in the year, the Lady, dressed in white,
stood in the chapel with a serpent beneath her feet, surrounded by an oval frame with the
words, "Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us, who have recourse to you." A
voice instructed Catherine to have a medal struck, which would give great graces to the
wearers. The reverse of the Medal was to show an "M," surmounted by a cross,
together with the hearts of Jesus and Mary. Catherine continued to hear the voice of the
Lady in her prayers. The Medal was a huge success, and led to an increased confidence in
the prayers of the Virgin, the Mediatrix of all graces, and a growing popular demand to
have the Immaculate Conception made an official dogma. While wearing the Medal to humour a
Catholic friend, the Jewish convert, later Fr Marie-Alphonse Ratisbone was converted in
1842 after seeing a vision of the Virgin of the Miraculous Medal. (His brother was already
a Roman Catholic priest). He devoted the rest of his life to the conversion of the Jews
and built the Ecce Homo Convent of the Sisters of Zion in the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.
2) In 1842 at La Salette, in France, two cowherds, an eleven year old boy, Maximin, and
a fourteen year old girl, Melanie, saw a sudden flash of light from which a lady appeared,
dressed in white and gold, with a cap of roses on her head. She was surrounded by a
brilliant light and was weeping. The Lady complained that Sunday was being desecrated and
the peasants were blaspheming the saints in swearing. (The Cure d'Ars and other clergy
were regularly complaining about these very sins in their sermons). If there was no
amendment, there would be great disastersthe harvest would fail and people would
starveas the Lady could no longer restrain her Son from inflicting punishment. The
discourse of the apparition was very similar to a "Leter [sic] Fallen from
Heaven" circulating at the time. The parish priest declared the Lady to be the
Blessed Virgin; the apparitions were later approved by the Bishop of Grenoble, and
pilgrimages began. Melanie became a nun and continued to receive visions and revelations.
Maximin tried unsuccessfully to become a priest and was always in debt.
3) In 1854, the Immaculate Conception became an official article of faith in the Roman
Catholic Church. Just four years later, in 1858, a series of visions took place from
February 11th to July 16th, which would result in the establishment of the most famous of
Marian shrines. At the grotto of Massabielle at Lourdes, the fourteen year old Bernadette
Soubirous saw "something white in the shape of a girl." Under questioning she
elaborated this to a "pretty young girl in white dress and veil, with a blue sash and
a yellow rose on each foot." Later still, she said the vision most resembled
"the Blessed Virgin in the parish church for the clothes and the face ... but alive
and surrounded by light." The Lady, who carried a rosary over her arm, spoke in the
local dialect, in a very polite manner, and, called for penance. Bernadette was given
three "secrets," asked to pray for the conversion of sinners and told that the
Lady promised to make her happy not in this world but in the next. The apparition asked
for a procession and a chapel, and instructed Bernadette to dig for a spring, which was
already known to exist. Bernadette recited the rosary and went into trances. The Lady
announced her name as "I am the Immaculate Conception," thereby confirming the
recently defined dogma. In the following October, the ecclesiastical authorities took
charge, the results being that the apparitions were confirmed as of the Blessed Virgin,
the cult of Our Lady of Lourdes was authorized, and plans were put in motion for building
a sanctuary. In 1933, Bernadette was canonized.
4) In August 1879, fifteen people aged from six to seventy-five years old saw an
apparition at the south gable of the parish church at Knock, in Ireland. The vision was in
the form of a tableau, with an altar on which stood a Lamb, with angels hovering overhead,
and three figuresthe Virgin crowned, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist dressed as
a bishop and apparently preaching. The figures were a little way out from the church wall
and about two feet above the ground. They were motionless, except that from time to time
they receded and then moved out again. No word was spoken. Some of the witnesses remained
for up to two hours in the pouring rain, reciting the rosary. This is the only known
apparition of the Lamb. An international runway was eventually built in anticipation of
huge numbers of pilgrims, but somehow the shrine never achieved great popularity. In 1954
Pope Plus XII blessed the Knock banner at St Peter's and gave permission for the crowning
of Our Lady of Knock. In 1960, John XXIII presented a blessed candle, and in 1967 Paul VI
renewed indulgences to pilgrims and those connected with the shrine. John Paul II visited
Knock in the centenary year, raised the church to the status of a basilica, and presented
the Golden Rose.
5) In 1917, at Cova da Iria, near the village of Fatima in Portugal, three cousins who
were all young peasant shepherdsLucia, aged ten, Francisco aged nine, and Jacinta
aged sevensaw flashes like lightning after which "a pretty little lady"
appeared above a tree, who said she had come "from Heaven." The children were
told to come to the same spot on the thirteenth day of the month for the next six months,
then they would be told who the Lady was and what she wanted. In reply to Lucia's
questions, she said that Lucia and Jacinta would go to Heaven, also Francisco, but he
would "have to say many rosaries." One little friend of the children who had
recently died was in Heaven, but another was in Purgatory "till the end of the
world." The boy Francisco could not see the vision at first and never heard anything.
Jacinta both saw and heard, but never spoke to the Lady. On other occasions they were told
to say the rosary and pray especially to be "saved from the fires of hell."
Lucia was told "secrets" and saw a terrifying vision of bell. The Lady promised
to work a miracle in October. Lucia was beaten by her mother for telling lies, and the
local atheist administrator interrogated the children and imprisoned them for two days,
but they continued to stick to their story.
On October 13th, a day of pouring rain, a crowd of seventy thousand people assembled at
the Cova, expecting the promised miracle. According to a Roman Catholic priest, they were
highly excited, kneeling, weeping and praying. The Lady appeared, announcing that she was
Our Lady of the Rosary and that the war would end that day (in fact it did not end till
thirteen months later). Then she disappeared and the famous "miracle of the sun"
took place. The rain had ceased, and when Lucia cried out "Look at the sun!" (in
which she claimed to see in turn Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St Joseph
with the Holy Child, and Our Lord), the crowd stared at the sun which appeared to spin,
give out coloured rays, zigzag from east to west, fall towards the earthmaking those
present fear that it was the end of the world,and return to its place. This was not
seen by everyone in the crowd, although some people ten kilometres from Fatima saw it.
Other reported solar phenomena, both during the period of the apparitions and afterwards,
were a sun casting rainbow-coloured light over everything, a "luminous globe," a
"night-time star" and a "rain of flowers" (similar to the "rain
of roses" following the death of Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower).
Like Melanie of La Salette and Bernadette of Lourdes, Lucia became a nun, and like
Melanie she continued to have visions and revelations. In 1925, the Lady appeared to her
with the Child and the message that devotion to the Immaculate Heart should be spread. The
following year, the Infant appeared alone. Then in 1929, the Lady commanded that Russia
should be consecrated to the Immaculate Heartthis was the first mention of Russia.
In 1937, Lucia wrote a detailed account of the apparitions, which grew in the telling and
included previous appearances of an Angel to the children. In 1915, he had appeared
"like a person wrapped in a sheet;" in 1916, as a youth of fifteen or sixteen
years old, "whiter than snow," who announced himself as the "Angel of
Peace," and instructed them to pray for unbelievers with their foreheads touching the
ground. Later in 1916 he told them he was Portugal's guardian angel, that they must pray
and make a sacrifice of everything they did (similar to Therese of Lisieux) in order for
peace to come, and that "the most holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary" had plans for
them. Later still in 1916, the angel appeared "like a cloud in human form, whiter
than snow, almost transparent," and gave the children Holy Communion.
In 1941-42, Lucia revealed still more, writing a description of her terrifying vision
of hell on July 13th, 1917, in conventional terms of red fire, black demons, screams of
pain and despair, and relating that the Lady had warned of a great sign of a night
illumined by an unknown light that would signal some terrible Divine punishment which
could only be averted by the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart. This was done
in 1952 by Pope Pius XII, as the conversion of Russia was promised unconditionally. The
Roman Catholic priest Fr Martindale somewhat sceptically pointed out that "the
conversion of the world was not unconditionally attached to Calvary itself"! Pope
John Paul II repeated the consecration in 1981.
In 1960, Pope John II opened the sealed envelope containing the Third Secret of Fatima,
but refused to reveal it; it remains unrevealed. The Second Vatican Council officially
recognized the apparitions and the cult of Our Lady of Fatima.
6) At Garabandal, in Spain, a series of apparitions took place between 1961 and 1965,
during which time the visionaries, four girls aged from ten to twelve years, claimed to
have been favoured with two thousand appearances of the Virgin and the Archangel Michael.
On June 18th, while they were playing, after a flash of light and the sound of
"thunder," the Archangel Michael made the first of his nine appearances that
month. The girls described him as about nine years old, dressed in blue with rose-coloured
wings, swarthy skinned, dark eyed, with well kept hands and nails. The following month,
watched by crowds of people, the girls went into a two hour trance. The next day, during
another trance, they saw the Virgin in white and blue, with a crown of stars. She spoke to
them about hay-making and everyday things. Sometimes she appeared with the Baby, which the
girls were allowed to hold. The trances lasted from a few minutes to nine hours, and while
in trance the girls would give the Virgin holy objectsrosaries, medals and
crucifixesto kiss for the pilgrims. A large crowd saw the Host appear on Conchita's
tongue when the Archangel Michael gave her Communion. This "miracle" had been
announced in advance.
The messages contained warnings of great punishments, which could only be averted by
many sacrifices and penances. The girls were told to visit the Blessed Sacrament often,
and try to be perfect. There would be a great miracle at Garabandal in the future, which
would be seen by the Pope and Padre Pio (who, of course, died without doing so), and
Russia would be converted as a result of the miracle. A young Jesuit priest saw a
"vision" of the miracle, pronounced that day the happiest day of his life, and
promptly died the next day. Padre Pio is said to have believed in the apparitions. The
local hierarchy did not, and at one stage, Conchita confessed, under lengthy
interrogation, to having doubts about her visions. The present bishop, appointed in 1991,
is asking Rome to re-open the case. Some people have seen the sun dance, and a red star
with a tail like fire was seen during the apparitions. Once the Virgin came in a
mysterious cloud of "fire."
7) In many ways the appearances over the Coptic Church of St Mary at Zeitoun, Cairo,
were the most interesting and the most credible. They concerned not the Roman Church, but
the Coptic Church, and Coptic bishops, including the Coptic Patriarch's representative,
were among the millions of Christians, Muslims, Jews and non-believers, who many times
witnessed the apparitions over a period of three years, from 1968-1971. The Coptic Church
recognized the apparitions as true appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as did the
Coptic Catholic Church, the Greek Catholic Church, and the then Head of the Evangelical
Church and Speaker on behalf of all the Protestant Churches of Egypt. Even the Egyptian
Government Director of General Information and Complaints Department submitted a report to
his superior stating that it was "an undeniable fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary has
been appearing on the Coptic Orthodox Church at Zeitoun ..." The vision maintained a
complete silence. There were no threats of punishment, pushing of Latin dogmas and
practices, apocalyptic warnings and no trances.
The apparition appeared on the domes of the church for up to two hours or more at a
time, always at night, but not every night and not at regular times. The Lady appeared in
glittering lightso bright that her features could not be clearly seenwhich
streamed across the church. She was invariably preceded or accompanied by luminous
"doves," "strange bird-like creatures made of light," which did not
flap their wings but glided. The figure moved across the domes bowing and greeting the
enormous crowds, estimated at times to be as many as 250,000 people. Sometimes she blessed
them or held out an olive branch. The Patriarch's representative described her as
"very quiet, full of glory." Occasionally she was seen holding the Child, or as
part of the Holy Family. All prayed in their own wayMoslems reciting the Koran on
their prayer mats, Greeks saying prayers, Copts singing hymns. The "doves" were
consistently mentioned by eyewitnesses. Other phenomena were a "shower of
diamonds," a glowing red cloud, and billowing clouds of incense. Spectacular and
medically authenticated cures took place, although as at the other shrines, these were few
in number compared with the multitudes of sick people.
8) With the apparitions which began in 1981 in Medjugorje in Yugoslavia, it was back to
the familiar atmosphere of youngsters, trances and secrets. Four teenagers, three girls
and a boy, aged fifteen and sixteen years old, saw a light on a hillside one evening in
June. In the light was a young woman holding a child. She called to them, but they ran
away. The following evening they returned with two more friends, a girl of sixteen and a
ten year old boy, and all saw, on the opposite hill this time, the same great light
encircling the woman as if she were "clothed with the sun," but they were too
frightened to approach her. On the third evening the six young people were joined by a
crowd of five thousand. After three flashes of light the Lady appeared, but only the six
could see herdark haired, blue-eyed, in a grey dress, with a crown of stars,
standing on a white cloud just above the ground, so close they could have touched her. One
of the girls, clutching a jar of holy water, said to the apparition, "if you are
satan, go away," (!) and received the reply, "I am the Virgin Mary," come
to "convert and reconcile." Later they saw her in a cross of rainbow-coloured
light, sad, and repeating, "Peace, peace. Be reconciled."
The vision appeared weekly at about 6 p.m., during the recitation of the rosary, over
the past few years. She was dressed in grey with a white veil, but wore a gold-sequinned
dress at Easter and at Christmas, when she held the Child. Sometimes the "Gospa"
[Lady] came to the young people at home, especially if they were ill, praying with them
for five minutes to half an hour. They were shown visions of heaven, hell and purgatory.
(In heaven angels flew and people in grey, pink and yellow robes walked about, singing and
praying. Purgatory, a place of mist, resounded to the noise of hammering on prison bars.
In the fires of hell, men and women emerged unrecognizable as human beings.) The Gospa
gave them messages calling for peace, conversion, prayerthe daily recitation of the
Creed, followed by seven Paters, Aves and Glorias (a local devotion)penance, fasting
on Wednesdays and Fridays, and respect for other religions.
The Gospa told the seers that she suffered because of the sinfulness of humanity, and
that she and satan were engaged in a great battle for souls. Medjugorje would be the last
place where she would appearall future visions would be false. There would be a
great sign on the hillside to convert unbelievers. Ten secrets were given to the young
people, believed to be apocalyptic and warning of possible disasters to come. As the
Vatican refuses to reveal Fatima's third secret, so the Franciscans are believed to be
playing down the more sensational aspects of the Gospa's revelations.
The former Roman Catholic Bishop of Mostar refused to accept the Apparitions as genuine
but the Franciscan parish priest, Fr Jozo, supported later by the Archbishop of Split,
enthusiastically supported the visionaries. Fr Jozo was imprisoned by the Communist
authorities for his activities in connection with the apparitions. On his release, he was
sent to the parish of Tihaljia, where, in the gleaming new church, services of healing
took place for the many pilgrims who came to see and speak with the man who was the
confidant of the visionaries. The laying on of hands was accompanied by embracing, weeping
and fainting. Between 1981 and 1990, before the Bosnian conflict, ten million pilgrims
from all over the world including many Americans and Australians, also Lutherans,
Anglicans and Orthodox, had come to Medjugorje. The usual crop of hysterical stories had
circulatedChrist had been seen in the sky, one woman's rosary had turned into
gold24 carat in another case, and someone had taken a snap [shot] of the
In 1993, four of the young people were still seeing visions. Cures have been claimed,
and various phenomena reported. The sun has rotated, mysterious "fires" and
"rainbows" without rain have been seen, a thirty foot high stone cross on the
mountainside has spun round and round, and the word "MIR" (Peace) appeared over
the mountain in letters of white light, and could be seen by everyone in Medjugorje.
9) The Ukraine has been visionary territory for centuries, and in 1987 the Virgin was
said to have appeared at fifteen places. On April 26th, 1987, a thirteen year old peasant
girl from Hriushiw saw a light above a derelict chapel. A woman dressed in black, with a
child in her arms, appeared in the light, saying that the Ukrainians had been chosen to
lead the Russians back to God. The girl called her sister and mother, who immediately
declared that it must be the Bogoroditsa [Theotokos]the
Virgin. From then on, streams of people flowing into the village increased, until half a
million claimed to have seen the Bogoroditsa, whose outline even appeared on television on
May 13th, the anniversary of the Fatima appearance. Communist authorities failed to stop
the crowds and "Pravda" pronounced it the work of extremists trying to wreck
It is not clear whether everyone heard the messages or whether they were relayed
through the peasant girl, Marina, who was examined by a psychiatrist and declared to be
normal. Certainly not everyone in the crowds saw the Virginmany,
including monks and nuns, saw nothing. The purport of the messages appeared to be that the
Virgin sorrows for the state of the world, that the Last Times are approaching, and
Chernobyl had been a warning for the world. The rosary is a great weapon against satan;
the Ukraine, "my daughter," is under the special protection of the Virgin, and
would become an independent state. Because they had suffered the most under Communism, the
Ukrainians had been chosen as Apostles to convert Russia, and if Russia was not converted
there would be a third world war. If they stayed loyal to the Pope, the third secret of
Fatima would be revealed.
As at Zeitoun, the appearances were irregular, they were seen by many, and the light
surrounding the apparition was "lunar," not "solar," and the words
used to describe the light were very similar"moonlight but not moonlight,"
"phosphorescent," "silver glow," "streams of light." But
there was no ecumenical spirit at Hriushiw. The messages were not conducive to any
lessening of tensions between the Uniats and the Orthodox.
Is God really speaking through all, or any, of these apparitions? Are any of the
related solar phenomena genuine signs from Heaven, or are they counterfeit?
Believing, as we do, that the Orthodox Church Is the Church, wherein is to be
found the fullness of the Catholic Faiththat is, the Apostolic Faith in all its
purity and wholenessthere can be no question of accepting anything contrary to
Orthodox teaching and practice. This must immediately render suspect any shrine or
apparition involving the dogma of the Immaculate Conception or encouraging the un-Orthodox
cult of devotion to parts of the bodythe hearts of Jesus and Mary. (In seventeenth
century France, there had even been devotion to the Virgin's left foot and the soles of
Equally doubtful would be any suggestion of replacing "Christ our God,
long-suffering, all-merciful, all-compassionate, Who loves the righteous and has mercy on
sinners," with a distant, impersonal figure of wrath, bent on punishment and
vengeance. The apparition of La Salette said, "I can no longer hold back the heavy
arm of my Son;" the apparition of Fatima: "... already He is deeply
offended." At San Damiano, 1961, 'The Eternal Father is tired, very tired.... He has
freed the Demon, who is working havoc. " At Oliveto Citra, Italy, in 1985, again we
hear, "I can no longer hold back the righteous arm of my Son." The sayings echo
the unbalanced but very popular teachings of some of the Latin saints and preachers of the
past, whereby Christ's Kingdom of justice was opposed to Mary's Kingdom of Mercy. "If
God is angry with a sinner, Mary takes him under her protection, she withholds the
avenging arm of her Son and saves him" (Alphonsus Liguari). "She is the sure
refuge of sinners and criminals from the rigour of the wrath and vengeance of Jesus
Christ;" she "binds the power of Jesus Christ to prevent the evil He would do to
the guilty" (Jean-Jacques Olier).
Absurdities from La Salette speak for themselves, with the apparition claiming that she
had given the people six days for work and reserved the seventh for herself (l). Desmond
Seward in The Dancing Sun states that,
According to the visionaries, the Virgin (of Medjugorje) has said that
the world is passing through a period of unparalleled darkness.... Satan ... is waging a
great battle for souls with the Mother of God, who has been sent from the Eternal Father
to warn and hearten them, for, as God told the serpent in Genesis, the woman "shall
crush thy head."
If so, this perpetuates the Roman Catholic mistranslation in the Douay Bible of
Genesis, chapter 3, verse 15. It is not the woman, but the seed of the
womanChristWho will crush the serpent's head, by His Passion and Resurrection.
The more cautious and sober Latin theologians have often been uneasy with the excesses
of their contemporaries, but on many occasions the weight of popular enthusiasm has proved
too strong for sound theology to prevail. Louie-Marie Grignion de Montfort (d.
1716)a master of Marian excessclosely connected the Virgin to eschatology.
With the Second Coming she must be revealed by the Holy Spirit so that Christ may be made
known, and she must shine forth in power against the enemies of God, since in some way the
devil fears her more than God Himself. The idea of the Virgin as always being the one who
prepares the way for the coming of Christnot only His first physical coming at the
Incarnation, but of His coming into the souls of men, and of His Second Coming, has
continued into modern times. "As there would have been no advent of Christ in the
flesh in His first coming without Mary, so there can be no coming of Christ in spirit ...
without Mary again preparing the way." "As she prepared His body, so now she
prepares souls for His coming" (Archbishop Fulton Sheen). At Zeitoun, "one can
perceive the salvific role of the Blessed Virgin in evidence, as it was at Fatima in 1917.
This role is essentially that of preparing the way for her Divine Son, by opening the
souls of mankind to His redeeming grace." "
[H]aving prepared His way 2,000
years ago among His own people" she "now prepares His way into the souls of
millions of Gentiles of all faiths and none with a new and greater Visitation"
(Francis Johnston: When Millions Saw Mary). One wonders if there is anything left
for the Holy Spirit to do.
This thinking accords well both with the current belief, prevalent in some Roman
Catholic circles, in a Marian Age which is to precede the Second Coming, and with the
strongly apocalyptic tone of the majority of the apparitions. But as such a role for the
Mother of God is to be found neither in Scripture nor in Tradition, it inspires little
confidence in the authenticity of the apparitions.
One of the most disturbing features of these apparitions is that the Virgin appears as
an autonomous figure, while Christ is strangely absent. It is she who weeps for the sinful
state of humanity, she who decides who will be healed ("some I will heal, but not
others"). Whatever the messages actually say, it is the Virgin through whom Heaven
speaks, not Christ. The Orthodox Church never separates the Mother from the Son, and an
absent or distant Christ would be an impossibility, since without life in the God-man
Christ, lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church would cease to be the Church.
In the majority of the apparitions considered, children or adolescents were the sole or
main visionaries, making it likely that an element of child psychology might well be
involved. For a thorough evaluation of the visions and messages, it would be necessary to
know a great deal more about the childrenwhat kind of religious art they had been
exposed to, what sermons they had listened to, what teaching they had received at school
and catechism classes, and what religious books they had read.
In the case of Bernadette, for instance, her visions did not come out of the blue, as
is often thought. She was already familiar with the Miraculous Medal (as a nun, she was
said to have worn it constantly), and the Immaculate Conception had been declared an
official dogma in 1854, so for four years she must have heard it repeatedly mentioned both
at church and at catechism classes, even if she did not fully understand its meaning.
In addition, visions were a familiar occurrence in the Lourdes area. The essential
elements of the Lourdes visiona Lady, a shepherdess (Bernadette had at one time been
engaged temporarily to mind sheep in the nearby village of Bartnes), a chapel,
processions, and a spring with miraculous powershad all featured in shrines across
the Pyrenees, which in Medieval times had been on the route to Compostella. In 1475, a
young shepherd at Betharvam had seen a vision of a Lady who asked for a chapel to be
erected. In 1520, a young shepherdess at Gavaison had seen a vision of a Lady and the
request for a chapel was repeated. Besides Gavaison, other nearby shrines of the Virgin
were Poeylanum, Heas and Pietat. There was also Our Lady of Sarrance, of Bourisp, of
Medous, of Nestes, of Buglose. There were also four other pilgrimage centres in the
region, making fourteen established centres close to Lourdes. Whether genuine or not,
Bernadette's vision fitted easily into the local pattern. The area had earlier been
infected with the Albigensian heresy. In a crusade against this particular heresy by Pope
Innocent III, the heretics had been put to the sword, and the Inquisition moved in. The
usual methods of the Inquisition had been employed leaving behind a people orthodox in
(Latin) doctrine, but no lovers of the clergy. Consequently visions were very popular, as
they dispensed with the need for clerical mediation.
It is well known that children of a certain stage of mental development, which can vary
considerably with different children, love to have a secret world inaccessible to adults,
and often play out in their minds situations where they can be important. There are a
number of similarities between La Salette and Fatima, and Lucia admitted that her mother
had read her the story of La Salette. And how far were Bernadette's visions an unconscious
form of compensation? The Lady was small, no taller than Bernadette herself, and addressed
the sickly, under-sized girl, generally referred to as "the little idiot," very
politely as vous. The attention given to the youthful "seers" on account
of their visions would be further enhanced by the "secrets" delivered to
thema standard feature of apparitions to adolescents and children from La Salette
onwardsincreasing their importance in adult eyes.
Also well known is the fact that a small number of peoplenearly always children
and adolescentsdemonstrate considerable eidetic ability, that is, vivid visual
images of specific objects that are not present in actuality, but are present to their
conscious or sub-conscious imagination, are "seen" by the persons concerned.
Hilda Graef mentions in her book MaryA History of Doctrine and Devotion, a
very interesting experiment carried out by a psychologist, C. M. Staehlin, in which he
tested the suggestibility of six boys aged fifteen to eighteen, letting there appear to
them by suggestion a battle of medieval warriors above a tree. Two boys saw nothing at
all, two "saw" the battle but heard nothing, and two both saw and heard the
noise, even the shouts of individual knights. None of the boys had been able to
communicate with each other, yet even the two who saw and heard agreed in every detail. In
the apparitions we have the same thingthe agreement of children, their apparent
telepathic communication with each other, the fact that some only saw, while others both
saw and heard the apparition speak.
How much were suggestibility and eidetic gifts in evidence when twelve year old Eugene
Barbadette saw a Lady in a blue robe with gold stars in the sky at Pontmain, France, in
1871? The ceiling of his parish church was painted blue with gold stars. Adult neighbours
who gathered saw nothing, although other children claimed to see the apparition. Once the
local priest arrived on the scene, the vision became more elaborate, with a blue oval
frame with writing inside it (echoes of the Miraculous Medal), small white crosses, a
large red cross, and four candies that lit themselves. The parish priest had previously
had white crosses erected all over the parish, he was leading the small crowd in the
recitation of the "red rosary" in honour of twenty-six Japanese martyrs (which
may have suggested the red cross), and he himself always lit four candies after Sunday
vespers in front of a statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception.
However, eidetic ability and ordinary developmental factors are not sufficient by
themselves to account for the children sticking to their stories when in some cases they
were repeatedly questioned, mocked, physically punished for "lying," and even
imprisoned. Nor would they account for the trances, sometimes lasting for hours, during
which the young peopleat Garabandal, for instancewere impervious to flashing
lights, cigarette burns, and having pins stuck in them. A neurologist from Barcelona
medical school, who examined the Garabandal visionaries during and after at least twenty
trances, could find no explanation, declaring them to be perfectly normal young people.
Trance is acknowledged by psychologists to be connected with religious ecstasy and
visionary experiences, but also to be linked with mediumistic ability, whereby paranormal
physical effects and materializations can be produced. Trance states are, of course,
well-known to pagan shamans and medicine men.
On the occasions when many adults saw the apparitions or accompanying solar phenomena,
not all those present did, in fact, see anything. An interesting example of adult
susceptibility to telepathic suggestion or mass hallucination is recorded in Orthodoxy
and the Religion of the Future by Fr Seraphim Rose. At the end of the nineteenth
century, some passengers, mainly English, were aboard a ship that docked at a Ceylonese
port en route to India. Having some time to spare, they visited a local magician-fakir
who, while appearing not to notice them, caused the crown of the tree under which he was
sifting to fade, and an incredible scene to appear of their ship sailing the seas. The
amazed spectators had a bird's eye view of the deck and could see themselves laughing and
talking, the Captain giving orders, the crew working, and even the ship's monkey, Nelly,
eating bananas. The source of the story, a Russian priest-monk, in fear began silently to
pray the Jesus Prayer, as he had previously dabbled in the occult and realized who the
real power was behind the false vision. For him the scene disappeared, while the others
continued to see it and marvel.
The Return of the Goddess
Why is it always the Mother of God who supposedly appears in these visions? Was Canon
John of Satge, an Evangelical Anglican, right when he said that the Marian cult (here
Orthodox would draw a clear distinction between Mariolatry and the Orthodox veneration of
the Mother of God) had its roots in an older paganism, in the recurring tendency of
mankind to worship a mother-goddess?
Gnosticism is clearly linked with the present clamour for the ordination of women and
the use of inclusive language for God, but the ancient pagan goddess seems more closely
linked to the Marian apparitions. Gnostic heretics allowed women to minister equally with
men as priests and bishops, and adopted some Christian beliefs, distorting them
unmercifully to fit them into the Gnostic religious / philosophical system, but their
interest lay not with Mary, the human Mother of God, but with God "the Mother,"
that is, the Holy Spirit. Some Gnostics developed an immortal Sophia figure, and at times
saw the Virgin Mary as one of her incarnations, but there seems nothing that would lead to
a Christian cult of Mary such as prevailed in the Roman Church.
The one Great All-Mother of the pagans showed herself in various forms of nature on
earth and in the sky. Having no human shape, she was worshipped at sacred sites and high
places marked with pillars. Later she was represented in human form, attended by doves and
snakes, symbolizing her power in the air and on earth. Pre-eminently she was the Bringer
and Sustainer of life, the bearer of fertility to man and nature, and, in her later role
as Muse, the inspiration that gave birth to music, art and poetry.
As societies merged and influenced each other, the Goddess became fragmented and
identified with local deities, taking on their characteristics. As Neith, brought from
Libya to Egypt, she was a cosmic virgin-mother, who "gave birth to the Sun, and
became a mother when none else had yet borne children." As Isis, she tells a
supplicant that in many different places, she, the one, is "worshipped in many
aspects, known by many names"Mother of gods, Artemis,
Aphrodite, Mother of the Corn, Persephone the Maiden par excellence. Likewise the Lady of
the apparitions is venerated in many localities under a variety of names and
aspectsOur Lady of the Rosary, Virgin of the Poor, Mother of Consolation, The
Immaculate Conception, and so on.
A Babylonian hymn to Ishtar hails her as Queen of all, who in her pity makes the dead
live, heals the sick and saves the afflicted, yet nevertheless has a "dark"
side, and in the Gilgamesh epic decides capriciously on the destruction of mankind. The
nineteenth century Roman Catholic writer, Robert Hugh Benson, discerned this dark aspect
of the Lady of Lourdes. He wrote,
Mary, then, has appeared to me in a new light since I have visited
Lourdes. I shall in [the] future not only hate to offend her, but fear also. It is a
fearful thing to fall into the hands of that Mother who allows the broken sufferer to
crawl across France to her feet and then to crawl back again. She is one of the Maries of
Chartes that reveals herself here, dark, mighty, dominant and all but inexorable: not the
Mary of an ecclesiastical shop who dwells amid tinsel and tuberoses.
Doubtless men thought like this of the Magna Mater long ago, or of Artemis, benign
enough at Athens, but dark and terrible as Diana of Ephesus. Geoffrey Ashe (Miracles,
1978) commenting on the "miracle of the sun" supposedly performed by the Lady of
Fatima wrote, "Even to accept it as Mary's doing is surely to admit that she has an
alarming and inscrutable aspect, which does not sit well with Christian ideas of
If the Goddess does play a part in the Marian visions, France would seem to provide a
naturally fertile ground for them, since there, on the whole, the Goddess seems to have
been benign and helpful. There had been a temple of Isis at Soissons, a strong mother cult
in the region of Treves, the cult of the Earth Mother prevailed in the Seine, Oise and
Tarn regions, and there were many shrines to minor goddesses, who protected springs. There
were also enchanting nymphs who protected springs, rocks and water, and a multitude of
"white ladies," descendents of the Earth Mother.
In Rome, Cybele, the Great Mother of the gods, a divinity imported from Asia Minor was
credited with the defeat of Hannibal and developed a lasting following. A special feature
of the statues of Cybele was that they were crowned and carried from place to place.
Similarly, a further development of the apparitions has been the solemn crowning of Marian
statues and their procession, especially at Fatima, from place to place. In 1864, the
Garaison Virgin had been crowned with Papal permission (Pius IX), followed by La Salette
(Leo XIII) and Fatima (Pius XII). In 1954, Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, was
crowned. Earlier, in 1732, by permission of Clement XII, the Virgin of Svata Hora in
Slovakia was crowned with the diadem of the Holy Roman Emperor. That the Mother of God,
representing redeemed humanity, is glorified and reigns with Christ is beyond doubt, but
this earthly crowning tends to set her apart from us and to obscure the fact that her
heavenly crown is not the "diadem," the royal emblem of monarchy, but the stephanos,
the crown of laurels given to those who are victorious in the battle of life, the reward
for faithfully striving, attained through suffering and purification, the crown with which
all Christians hope and pray to be crowned.
Universally worshipped, the Goddess supplied a deep need in the human psyche for the
Eternal Feminine. Sometimes she acted in her own right as sole superior deity, sometimes
as co-equal partner to a male divinity, and sometimes in a Goddess-Spouse / Son
relationship. Only among the Hebrews, led by their fiercely monotheistic and
uncompromising prophets, was there no place for the Goddess, and even the Hebrews,
surrounded as they were by polytheistic societies, sometimes relapsed into pagan worship.
With the Hebrews, the serpents of the Goddess, benign symbols of healing and wisdom, were
reduced to an evil tempter, and Eve, the mother of all the living, became a Pandora figure
unleashing sin and death on mankind. The dove, the other attendant of the Goddess, was not
demoted, most likely because of its connection with Noah and the Ark. The Lady of Zeitoun
has her attendant "doves," and the serpent appears, in the accepted
Judaeo-Christian form as the symbol of evil, beneath the feet of the Lady of the
Miraculous Medal, while the vision of Medjugorje is engaged in a battle to crush the
If the assumption of a Goddess connection with the apparitions is correct, how did she
gain a foothold in the Latin Church and remain undetected?
The Apostolic missionaries moved out from a strictly monotheistic background to
encounter societies steeped in a world of gods and semi-divine human beings. Doubtless for
many converts to Christianity, the old ways of thinking could not have been easily shed,
even after Baptism.
From the Church Father, Epiphanius, we learn of a sect, composed mainly of women,
nicknamed the Collyridians. Originating in Thrace, it had extended to Upper Scythia
(roughly to the west and north of the Black Sea) and into Arabia by the fourth century. It
seems to have been inspired by the Gospel events, combined with an Elias-type legend of
Mary's purity and "non-death." St Epiphanius states that the "priestesses
of Mary" worshipped her as a goddess in her own right, the Queen of Heaven, with
rituals far older than Christianity, and "adorn a chair or square throne, spread a
cloth over it, and at a certain solemn time, place bread on it and offer it in the name of
Mary." Recalling the Jews, condemned by the Prophet Jeremias, who made similar
offerings to the "Queen of Heaven"in their case, Astartehe warns
against the worship of the Virgin as strongly as he had also warned against a lack of
proper respect for her. This is the seventy-ninth heresy in a long list, challenged by
Epiphanius, yet somehow it seems more like a different religion than a Christian deviation
the ancient pagan religion of the Goddess, under her new manifestation: "Mary."
While it is unlikely that the Collyridians as such influenced the Church, this shows how
such distortions of true belief can arise and it might be that a more orthodox version of
some of their ideas might well have been congenial to some new converts from a pagan
background, lying dormant until the right combination of circumstances caused them to take
root. While working on this study of the apparitions, I began to feel what seemed to be
the presence of another religion, running side by side with Christianity; so I was
interested to discover that the nineteenth century French novelist Emile Zola had
experienced a similar feeling, and believed he perceived "almost a new religion"
Within the Church, Christ [is] the Second Adam, but once the Virgin had been seen in a
certain sense as the Second Eve (without, of course, the slightest surrender to paganism)
this was likely to have recalled to the spiritually weak the Goddess-Son / Spouse
relationship; while the title Theotokos, although solely concerned with teaching that
Christ was God, might surely have evoked the memory of Cybele, Great Mother of the gods,
except that this was in fact an even greater title, the Mother of God. As paganism
crumbled and local deities were dethroned, it was more often than not the Mother of God
who was put in their place as patroness of healing springs and holy mountains, for long
centuries associated with pilgrimage. In the West, where the theological and liturgical
foundation was perhaps weaker, during the Middle Ages "Our Lady" of one district
came to take on an almost separate personality from the Virgin of a rival shrine. Sir
Thomas More, the Roman Catholic Tudor martyr, commented, "They will make comparisons
between our ladie of Ippiswitch and our ladie of Walsingham, as weening that one image
hath more power than the other."
Nothing like this happened in the East. Rooted soundly and soberly in the solid
theology of Orthodoxy, and spiritually nourished by a vernacular liturgy, the Lord's
Mother fitted naturally into her rightful place in a perfectly balanced and harmonious
whole. The Western distortion of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity resulting from the
Filioque with its (almost unintentional) down-grading of the Holy Spirit, together with
the historical events that overtook the Western Empire in the shape of the invasion of
barbarian tribes and the resultant consequences, increasingly isolated the Church in the
West from the pure Orthodoxy of the Church in the East.
With the restoration of order and stable government at the end of the Dark Ages, the
Church in the West found itself with a largely illiterate and semi-barbarian laity.
Churchmen had to supply the clerks and lawyers needed by the lay rulers. In consequence,
the Papacy found itself relying on ecclesiastical lawyers, and this was to give the Roman
Church the legalistic outlook and systematic philosophy which are its hallmarks. The
ecclesiastical establishment acquired an overriding authority, and with the enforced
celibacy of priests, "the Church" in common parlance came to mean the clergy. A
faulty Trinitarian theology, and an undue emphasis on the Augustinian teachings on
original sin and the Atonement, together with an all-male hierarchy, led to the loss of
the feminine element in Western Christianity and created a "Goddess-shaped gap."
The Virgin Mary was the obvious candidate to fill that gap.
In contrast, the Tradition was handed on unchanged from generation to generation in the
Eastern Church. Apart from the treacherous Fourth Crusade, the Roman Empire in the East
remained unconquered until the arrival of the Turks. There was always an independent and
highly-educated laity. With a powerful Emperor there was never any opportunitynor
was there any need or the desireto subject all lay power to the authority of the
Patriarch, and "the Church" continued to mean the whole body of the faithful,
past and present, including the angels. Married priests ensured that the priesthood was
not a class apart. (As today, the priest lives in the same kind of house as his
parishionersa village priest in Cyprus may also be the village bootmaker, and a
Greek papas, in cassock and stove pipe hat may be seen clasping a small son or daughter
with one hand and a shopping basket with the other). There was no Goddess-shaped gap to be
filled in Orthodoxy, and anchored safely in Orthodox theology and hymnology, the holy
Virgin, more honourable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the
seraphim on account of her Divine Maternity, remained a woman with a human nature in
all points like our own, completely purified by the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation in
order that she might be able to give a human nature to the Eternal Logos.
In the Latin Church, Marian exaggeration soared to ever new heights, checked only
briefly by the Protestant Reformation. The Virgin had "added certain perfection to
the Maker of the universe" by giving Him a human naturequite the opposite view
from that taken by Scripture and Orthodoxy, which saw the Incarnation as a kenosis, a
self-emptying, of Christ"though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became
poor." Bernadine of Siena's weirdest fantasy, the "seduction of God," was
described in language more appropriate to a Greek legend of Zeus than to the Great Mystery
of the Incarnation. The Virgin was higher than the Church ... she had authority over her
Son in heaven ... she appeased the Divine justice and prevented God from chastening
sinners ... she and the Holy Spirit produced Christ in souls. "Even the tongue of the
Holy Spirit" was "scarcely sufficient to celebrate her praises worthily"!
Unfortunately the authors and preachers of such offensive nonsense were frequently
canonized, which was naturally taken as a sign of official approval. Such distortions
could well be the stuff of which Marian apparitions are made. The Goddess, or at least a
semi-divine being, had returned.
It is interesting to note that John Henry (Cardinal) Newman was appalled at all the
excesses. While accepting the Immaculate Conception, he considered the popular
exaggerations and other deviations from Patristic teaching to be "calculated to ...
unsettle consciences, to provoke blasphemy, and to work the loss of souls." In a
quaintly nationalistic touch, he noted that all these devotions and teachings were clearly
the work of foreigners and not Englishmen!
Pope John XXIII still found it necessary to remind his flock, "The Madonna is not
pleased when she is put above her Son." Needless to say, such excesses are out of
favour in the present ecumenical climate. What the current guide book says I do not know,
but the Lourdes Official Guide for 1980 spoke against "a superfluous devotion to the
Virgin, relying on trinkets, rosaries and medals: a perversion of authentic religion,
bordering on superstition." Somehow I do not think that Goddess will be so easily
Politics, Nationalism and Ecclesiastical Involvement
How did these apparitions acquire national and even international fame? How is it, for
instance, that a young girl's real or imaginary visions turned Lourdes not only into a
major religious centre of the Roman Catholic Church, but into a major tourist industry, a
"religious Disneyland," with more pilgrims than the Holy Land, more hotels than
any city or town in France other than Paris and Nice, a factory that produces over a ton
of candles daily, and souvenir shops where one may purchase Virgins in snow-storms,
Virgins in TV sets, and Madonna shaped holy water bottles, a metre high, with removable
golden crowns for filling? Of course, all the regrettable and tasteless commercialism has
no bearing on the authenticity or otherwise of the visions.
Politics and ecclesiastical manipulation (as well as the coming of the railway) played
their part. In France, reaction had set in against the anti-church French Revolution and
the spirit of rationalism. The Marian visions were in line with popular demand, and
encouraged by the ecclesiastical authorities, were important in reviving a declining
Catholicism. In fact, Lourdes gave such an impetus to Marianism in the nineteenth century
that a rival movement was started to encourage pilgrimage to shrines directly connected
with Christ. Here again we see the separation of the Mother and the Son. The fact that her
own devotion was Christ-centred, rather than Marian-centred, may have been one reason why
Bernadette's novice mistress, Mother Vauzou, was never convinced that Bernadette's visions
Fr Peyramale, the parish priest of Lourdes, who had supported Bernadette and built a
chapel at the grotto, was quickly bypassed by the Garaison Fathers, professional
revivalists, who had been sent by the Bishop of Tarbes to take over Lourdes as part of the
revivalist campaign. The Bishop had from the first recognized the apparitions and
authorized the cult. The Garaison fathers were installed to run the mission to the
pilgrims as distinct from the parish church, and apparently exchanges between them and Fr
Peyramale were extremely acrimonious and vindictive. The feud between the parish and
grotto continued after Fr Peyramale's death, involving lawsuits of "horrible
complexity." Zola's "savage satire of dog-collar-eat-dog-collar was based on
solid fact" (Alan Neame: The Happening at Lourdes).
The Third Republic regarded religious demonstrations as pro-royalist, and anti-Catholic
riots broke out with attacks on pilgrims. The response of the ecclesiastical authorities
was to stage a national Catholic rally at Lourdes in 1872, attended by nine bishops and
twenty thousand people, further encouraging Lourdes as a religious centre.
All modern Popes have been Marianists, and John Paul II has given an extra boost to
Lourdes by his personal support, and his visit to the Shrine, the first by a Pope.
At the time of the Fatima visions, Portugal was going through a period of severe
anti-clericalism. A left-wing republic had replaced the old monarchy, and there were
strikes, crime, corruption, bomb-throwing, inflation and food shortages together with the
added complication of the First World War. The Roman Catholic Church was regarded as a
major supporter of the deposed monarchy, and clergy were restricted in their preaching and
forbidden to wear clerical dress. After 1926, the Church recovered its former position.
The Vatican, encouraged by the success of Lourdes, was instrumental in launching Fatima as
a shrine of rival status and authenticity.
Papal involvement with Fatima has been very marked. Pius XII, very pro-Fatima and
violently anti-Communist, consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1942,
and in 1954 made a special consecration of Russia as directed by Lucia, the surviving
visionary. Paul VI, who was to give the Virgin yet another title, "Mother of the
Church," visited Fatima in 1976. Pope John Paul II, whose motto is "I am
completely yours, Mary," and who apparently has the letter M embroidered on his
robes, is also a keen Fatima supporter, and after the unsuccessful attempt on his life (he
attributed his deliverance to Our Lady of Lourdes), had the bullet set into the crown of
the Fatima Madonna. The supposed directives concerning Russia are behind the present
unprecedented Vatican campaign of proselytism in Russia.
There was also a political dimension at Turzovka in Slovakia, Medjugorje, and Hriushiw,
in the clash with Communism, and in the latter two a very strong nationalist and Vatican
element. Medjugorje is a Croat enclave in predominantly Orthodox and Moslem Herzegovina.
Croat nationalism has always gone hand in hand with Roman Catholicism ("to be a Croat
is to be a Catholic,"). In World War II, Pius XII, in his paranoid fear of Communism,
did nothing to stop the massacre of 750,000 Orthodox Serbs by the fascist Croat Ustashi of
the puppet "Independent State of Croatia" set up by the Nazis. Cardinal Stepinac
of Zagreb saw the Orthodox Church as an evil "almost greater than
Protestantism," and Franciscan friars ran the most notorious of the concentration
camps. In the Medjugorje vicinity, fifty men, women and children were thrown from a
cliff-top, and all the monks at a nearby Orthodox Monastery were buried alive. It is
interesting to note that while the former Roman Catholic bishop of Mostar, Mgr Pavao
Zanic, denounced the visions as "all the fruit of fraud, disobedience to the Church
and disease," they were enthusiastically taken up by the Franciscan parish priest of
Medjugorje, who heard a "voice" telling him to protect the visionaries. If and
when the troubles in the former Yugoslavia get sorted out, Medjugorje is set to take up
where it left off as part of the (Roman Catholic) tourist industry and an international
For centuries there has been tension in what is now the Ukraine between the Orthodox
Church and the Vatican on account of the activities of the Uniats, who are once again
conducting a militant, aggressive campaign engineered by nationalist and religious
extremists. Hriushiw fits easily into this pattern, with its echo of Fatima in the call
for the conversion of Russia and the messages from the apparition that the Ukrainians have
been specially chosen for this work.
In passing, mention might also be made of the nationalist / religious mix in the
Virgins of Guadalupe, Mexico, and Czestohowa, Poland. In 1531, a "dark" or
Indian Virgin appeared to an Aztec peasant and told him to request the bishop to build a
shrine on the spot of the apparition's appearance, which just happened to be an important
sacred place in the native Indian religion. Her image was miraculously imprinted on the
peasant's cloak. Indian self-respect in the face of the white man was restored while the
ecclesiastical authority rejoiced at gaining a vital aid in converting eight million
Indians to Roman Catholicism in the space of four years. In 1910, Pope Plus X proclaimed
the Virgin of Guadalupe the "Empress of the Americas."
The Virgin of Czestohowa, in the Jasna Gora monastery, is synonymous with Polish Roman
Catholicism and nationalism. The chapel housing the icon is in the centre of "a huge
complex, a highly organized pilgrim centre," run by the Pauline fathers. The Virgin
is unveiled four times daily, when to a fanfare of trumpets, a silver curtain slowly
rises. It would seem that all the great Marian shrines bear the twin stamps of Roman
efficiency and professional stage management. In 1717, the "Queen of Poland and Grand
Duchess of Lithuania" was solemnly crowned by formal decree of the Polish Parliament.
Such secular titles sound somehow strangely incongruous when bestowed on her to whose
sublime title, Mother of God, no further glory can be added. The words of a Roman Catholic
writer, spoken of Lourdes, seem equally applicable to other Marian shrines"a
bastion of the temporal power of an infallible Papacy."
[Editor's note: two points might be noted here. The first is that at Czestohowa, the
icon itself is, of course, an Orthodox icon and has its place in our calendarthe
objections raised here are to the cultus which surrounds it. Secondly there is one Marian
shrine, Knock in Ireland, whose first promotion may well have been instigated by anti-
nationalist rather than nationalist sentiment. It has been suggested that the British
found the promotion of the cultus extremely useful in distracting nationalist attention in
a rather tense period. Of course, at the time of the "apparition," and until
quite recent times, the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authorities, as supporters of the
"Establishment," were pro-British, rather than, as is now generally perceived to
be the case, pro-nationalist.]
The Solar Phenomena
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaimeth the work of His
hands (Ps. 18:1Septuagint numbering).
Allowing for auto-suggestion, over-active imagination, pretending to see things so as
to be like other people, there remain enough solid witnesses to make it clear that there
have been many instances of spectacular solar phenomena at the shrines. Are they natural
phenomena, signs from heaven that accompany the presence of the Mother of God, or part of
the "signs and lying wonders" campaign in preparation for the Anti-Christ?
In the Old Testament, the sun stands still for Joshua (Jesus, son of Navi), and moves
backwards for Hezekias, while in the Gospels we have the Star of Bethlehem and the
darkening of the sun at the Crucifixion. In the Church, we know the Cross of Constantine
the Great, the Cross seen over Jerusalem in 357, and the Cross over Athens in 1925.
Throughout history, strange things in the sky have been seen and recorded. At the
beginning of the tenth century, Bishop Radbod of Utrecht recorded a sky filled with stars
which seemed to "crash one upon another," a sign which was followed by many
natural and historical disasters. Halley's Comet, visible in England in 1066, is
embroidered on the Bayeux Tapestry. During the Wars of the Roses, a contemporary
chronicler recorded "three suns in one" appearing before a battle, which the
leader of the Yorkists, the future Edward IV, declared was a good omen as it signified the
Trinity, thus calming his frightened troops. Shakespeare used this account when he
mentioned this sign in his play, "Henry VI." In 1646, a book was published
called, Strange Signes from Heaven, recording sightings of many phenomena, and in
1882 Walter Maunder, a Greenwich astronomer, published an account of the most remarkable
thing he had ever seen in the course of many years sky gazing. Together with hundreds of
people all over Britain, he witnessed a great circular disc of greenish light which
lengthened out into a cigar shape, more than a hundred miles above the earth, at least
fifty miles long, and moving very rapidly at about ten miles a second. Scientists today
can explain it as part of an auroral display. There had been a violent magnetic storm at
the time, and charged particles from the sun plunged into the earth's atmosphere and lit
up like a neon light. A beam of particles would create the appearance of a solid object
moving at speed. When the beam had spent its force, it would simply break up like a cloud,
which it did, over Europe. No doubt many "strange signs from heaven" are in fact
A well-known natural phenomenon is the "halo," when the sun's image,
refracted through ice crystals, forms a cross with the sun at its centre. There are
"mock" suns and moons known to astronomers, and the planet Venus, when viewed
through the polluted air near the surface of the earth, appears to change colour and make
erratic movements. A programme appeared on television, Christmas 1993, about the
Star of Bethlehem. One scientist / astronomer said that natural phenomena occur every
year, and if the Church could give him a definite date for the Nativity, he would be able
to say what it was the Wise Men saw, as all the dates for the movements of the planets are
[Editor 's note: Although, as our authoress doubtless intended, this demonstrates
the number of extraordinary natural phenomena there are, the scientist was mistaken
because the Bethlehem Star was not a natural phenomenon but a spiritual one (see Homily VI
of St John Chrysostom on the Gospel of St Matthew). Furthermore, despite the frantic
preparations by Mammonites to celebrate the second millennium of an event they do not seem
to believe in (!), the exact date of the Saviours birth is not known to us.]
Some of the solar phenomena seen at the very many shrines all over the world are
undoubtedly purely natural in origin. But hundreds of people who claim to have seen the
sun "dance" have been able to look at the sun with ease for long periods with no
damage to their optic nerves. But not everyone present saw exactly the same thing, and
some saw nothing at all, so obviously the dancing sun does not have a natural cause, and
perhaps has to do with a mass hallucination of some kind. Certainly the sun could not
physically have spun and zigzagged, or that would have been the end of the solar system.
All the well-documented accounts of the "miracle of the sun" at Fatima stress
the terror of the crowd, many of whombut not allsaw the sun spinning in a mad
whirl, then detaching itself from the sky, spin towards the earth in a huge fiery mass,
and return to its place. The movements were repeated twice. While some people at the
shrine saw nothing, others fifty kilometres away saw the spectacle and believed that the
end of the world had come. The sun changed colour, giving off red, then yellow, then
purple light, In The Dancing Sun, Desmond Seward quotes a passage from an
unpublished account of events at Turzovka. In 1958, the Mother of God is said to have
appeared to a forty-two year old forester, a "vague believer," who saw a
beautiful woman in white holding a rosary and floating in the air. Altogether there were
seven appearances, in the same place and at the same time weekly. The forester was told to
pray for reconciliation and atonement by the world for its sins; there were the usual
apocalyptic warnings and the stressing of the rosary. Crowds from all over the Slovakian
countryside came to the mountain, a spring burst forth on the spot of the apparition and
healings took place. The Communist authorities put the forester in an asylum, but later
released him. Strange lights were reported, and in 1963 the miracle of the sun took place.
"The fiery orb ... seemed to be ablaze, burning, with flames bursting out of it....
among over 500 people who were watching in consternation there was only shocked
astonishment. After a few moments an enormous cone-shaped light spread above and around
us, like an over-sized tent made of long, vividly hued strips. It consisted of every
colour in the spectrum, from red to violet ... All around, coloured strips covered the
sky, the trees and their branches, the ground and the people. The strips fanned out from a
single focal point in which was the sun. I saw deep blue and bright yellow people next to
me, whose colour changed when they moved." Three local brass bands with the pilgrims
formed up and played fortissimo the hymn, "We salute you a thousand times,
Mary," as everyone believed this to be a sign of the presence of the Mother of God.
Reading about it at second hand, one rather gets the impression of a sort of supernatural
religious disco, but to the writer it was "strange and deeply moving, overwhelming
It had never occurred to me that there could be some connection between UFOs and the
shrines, until quite by chance a book about UFOs in a pile of second hand books in a local
antique shop caught my eye. Glancing through it, I was astonished to find, among many
sightings reported in England in 1967, two that immediately sounded familiar.
The first concerned two women neighbours living on an estate in Stoke-on-Trent, who,
together with some children playing in the street, saw a "flying saucer" land in
a field not far from the estate about 9 p.m. on September 2nd, 1967. The field
"looked as though it was on firelike a bonfire," "it was just as if
someone had got a great big bonfire." Within minutes the police, summoned by the
women arrived, but all was in darkness, and a daylight search revealed nothing. At
Medjugorje in August 1981, along with a spinning sun sending out multi-coloured rays,
rainbows without any rain, and other phenomena, a fire appeared to break out on the Hill
of the Apparitions, but when the firebrigade arrived there was no sign of it.
The second concerned the Flying Cross. Between 1959 and 1967, 808 investigations into
UFO sightings were carried out by the Ministry of Defence, with help from the Royal
Observatory, the Meteorological Office, the Royal Air Force, the United States Air Force
stationed in Britain, radar establishments, Air Traffic Control and the police, although
there seems to have been no inquiry at the highest scientific level. The vast majority of
the sightings proved to be purely natural in originsatellites and debris,
meteorological balloons, celestial objects (Venus, etc), aircraft, natural phenomena such
as mock suns and moons, cloud reflections and the inevitable few hoaxes. Of the 84
unexplained sightings, some involved those where information was insufficient to make a
decision, but the Flying Cross was one of the remainder, well-documented, but for which no
explanation could be found.
During October 1967 lights that flew slowly, hovered, formed a cross, and moved off at
tremendous speed were seen by over a dozen reliable witnesses, including policemen and BBC
engineers. The light was "not piercing but it was very bright. It was
star-spangledjust like looking through wet glass. "The Thing" was always
seen at night or in the early hours. A retired RAF Wing Commander was driving with his
wife in Hampshire one October night when they saw seven flying lights that made no noise,
seven bright lights in formation in the sky. At first the lights formed a perfect V but
later rearranged themselves into a cross. "They certainly seemed to be under some
sort of controlthe formation was perfect," said the Wing Commander.
This sounded strangely similar, indeed at times identical, to descriptions by witnesses
of the apparitions over the Coptic Church of St Mary at Zeitoun, Cairo, six months later.
A Coptic Bishop, Gregorios, in charge of Higher Studies, Coptic Culture and Scientific
Research, who saw the apparition on many occasions said, "Before the apparitions take
place, some birds that look like pigeonsI don't know what they areappear in
different formations.... They do not flap their wings, they glide.... Whatever formation
they take, they keep. Sometimes as many as seven of them fly in the formation of a cross.
They fly very swiftly. They are ... completely lighted. One does not see feathers at
alljust something bright. They are radiant creatures, larger in size than a dove or
pigeon." A special committee of Coptic clergy appointed by the Coptic Pope said in
their official report, "... Another night we saw doves with the bright colour of
silver and with light radiating from them. The doves flew from the dome to the sky direct.
We then glorified God Who has allowed the terrestrials to see the glory of the celestials
..." The Coptic Pope Kyrillos VI said in his statement confirming the authenticity of
the apparitions, that the glittering apparition was "preceded by some spiritual forms
such as doves which moved at great speed."
I read and re-read the UFO accounts and the Zeitoun accounts. Was it possible that
"The Thing" seen briefly in England in October 1967 had turned up again in Egypt
six months later for a lengthy stay of three years to become the Coptic clergymen's
"celestial beings" and the Coptic Pope's "spiritual forms"?
By a strange coincidence, while I was writing this article, my husband called to me one
evening early in June to come and look at a most unusual sunset effect. Lit by the most
glorious rose-gold glow were clouds in an amazing deep pink and purple hill and valley
formation. "It's the Judaean Desert!" exclaimed my husband. Next to it was a
"map" of the Mediterranean, with the boot-shape of Italy clearly showing,
together with the whole Mediterranean coastline. From behind surrounding deep
rose-coloured clouds came powerful rays of golden light. Neither of us had ever seen
anything like it, and we stood watching until it had faded. It was incredibly beautiful
and awe-inspiring, and in a way a spiritual experience, because the overriding thought was
"glory to God," and yet it was entirely natural.
I thought afterwards of the English Math teacher at Garabandal in 1974, who saw the
dancing sun, a disfigured Christ in the sky, "maps" of various countries
together with rays of great light which she felt meant the presence of "an
All-Powerful Being," which she took to be "the Eternal Father", who was
sending out "rays of terrible anger" onto London on the map. I wondered what she
would have made of "my" sunset if she had seen it at Garabandal or some other
Discounting the natural phenomena, unless we believe that the "doves" and
dancing suns are genuine signs from Heaven sent to confirm faith, to indicate the gracious
presence of the Virgin, and to warn of disasters which can only be averted by repentance,
then it seems we are left with the possibility of some kind of mass hallucination, or with
part of a "signs and lying wonders" campaign in preparation for the Anti-Christ.
According to St Luke's Gospel, in the last times there will be "terrors and great
signs from heaven." St Ignaty Brianchaninov, writing over a hundred years ago, warned
that a time was approaching when there would be numerous and striking false miracles.
"... the miracles of Anti-Christ will be chiefly manifested in the aerial realm,
where satan chiefly has his dominion. These signs will act most of all on the sense of
sight, charming and deceiving it. St John the Theologian, beholding in revelation the
events that are to precede the end of the world, says that Anti-Christ will perform great
signs, and will even 'make fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of
men' (Revelations 13:13). This is the sign indicated by Scripture as the highest of the
signs of Anti-Christ and the place of this sign is the air." Several of the
apparitions have prophesied a Great Sign to come.
Why is it that these apparitions are accepted so readily by the visionaries themselves
and by countless pilgrims? Heterodox Christians have very little idea of one of the key
concepts of Orthodox ascetical teaching prelestspiritual deceptionwhereby a
mirage is mistakenly accepted for truth. There are many examples in the Lives of the
Saints where monastics and ascetics, many of whom went on to achieve genuine holiness,
fell into delusion, entertaining demons in the form of angels, and even "Christ"
Himself, receiving "revelations," seeing "light" in their cells and
hearing "the Lord" speaking to them. Sometimes "Christ" granted them
gifts of "prophecy' and astonishing powers. St Diadochus of Photiki warned against
accepting the deceit of the evil one under the form of light or some fiery form, and St
Symeon the New Theologian warned of evil spirits who cause many and various deceptions in
Imageless prayer, as taught by the ascetics and elders of the Orthodox Church, is in
direct contrast to that of, for instance, a person seeking help from a Protestant Healing
Mission, who may be told at the prayer session preceding the healing service to imagine a
golden light streaming down on him from heaven, and to the meditation practices common in
the West for centuries, whereby one was encouraged to imagine a chosen scene and try to
visualise the Child in the manger or the Crucified Christ. St Mark the Ascetic warns that
"Once our thoughts are accompanied by images, we have already given them our
assent." This image-producing faculty may, in the spiritually advanced be used
creatively, as in the iconography of St Andrei Rublev and devout iconographers generally,
but time and again we are warned that those not yet possessing spiritual discrimination
should beware of being enticed and led captive by illusory appearances.
What many Marian apparition enthusiasts do not realise is that spiritual phenomena are
almost commonplace these days. The Pentecostal / Charismatic groups are very quick to
identify their experiences with the Holy Spirit, just as the Protestant revivalists in
Indonesia in the 1970's unquestioningly accepted their "voices,"
"angels" (invariably quoting Scripture by chapter and verse), visions of
"Christ," healings, miraculous lights accompanying evangelists, and mysterious
fires from heaven that consumed Roman Catholic statues, as genuine. People who bring
"Christian" ideas to their experiences often assume, all too readily, that they
actually are Christian experiences, the work of the Holy Spirit, and they seldom pause to
ask if they might possibly originate from quite another kind of spirit.
Even when these experiences are genuinely Christian, the words of a saint of the Roman
Catholic Church, John of the Cross, sound a timely warning: "All visions, revelations
and impressions of heaven, however much the spiritual man may esteem them, are not equal
in worth to the least act of humility; for this brings forth the fruits of charity, which
never esteems or thinks well of self, but only of others."
The Cure d'Ars did not accept the La Salette visions, the ecclesiastical authorities at
Garabandal were unimpressed, and the former Roman Catholic bishop of Mostar denounced the
Medjugorje apparitions. Certainly some of the visions would appear to be initially the
result of psychological factors. Most of us do not have a strongly developed sense of
self-awareness. We know very little about ourselves and have little understanding of the
mysterious, but entirely natural, workings of the sub-conscious mind and the effects it
can produce. Apart from self-delusion, there is a possibility of unconscious mediumistic
participation or even more direct demonic delusion.
If Bernadette, waving her rosary at "Aquero," and the Medjugorje youths
clutching their holy water jars and admonishing "the Gospa," "If you are
satan, go away," really suspected the presence of a demon, they surely seriously
underestimated the power they were dealing with. "Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but
who are you?" (Acts 19:15). The aged God-bearing Elder and Confessor of Mount Athos,
Fr Sabbas (+ 1908), when asked to deliver a monk possessed by a demon, prayed and kept a
complete fast for a week before doing so, and delivered another monk who had been deceived
by a false "guardian angel," who had prayed and spoken with him daily for two
years, by prostrating himself as "with pain and tears he prayed to the Lord to take
pity on His servant and rebuke the evil demons."
Staretz Amvrossy of Optina, who as a great monastic [and] spiritual guide, was
frequently asked for advice on visions and voices, relied on the basic teaching of the
Fathers, and warned those who sought his guidance on such matters not to trust in voices
heard during the time of prayer or in changes in the iconsfragrance or fiery flames
coming from themwhich might seem to be good, but to attach no significance to them
as such things also come from the deceit of the enemy.
In a question and answer session with a Franciscan, one of the Medjugorje
"seers" was asked why Ivanka, the girl who first saw the apparition, said at
once, "It's the Blessed Virgin." The reply was, who else could she have thought
of? A wonderful young mother with a child and a crown on her head. It was clear." The
apparition was accepted unquestioningly as being the Virgin and was spoken with before any
throwing of holy water (advised by the older women of the village) was resorted to.
"My angels," as the apparition repeatedly called the young people, asked for a
sign, and the vision obligingly made the hands turn on the watch of one of the
At Ivanka's last vision on May 7th, 1985, the Gospa, in answer to Ivanka's request,
caused the girl's mother, who had died some months before the apparitions began, to
appear. "Our Lady asked me what I would wish and I asked to see my earthly mother.
Then Our Lady smiled, nodded her head, and at once my mother appeared. She was smiling.
Our Lady said to me to stand up. I stood up, my mother embraced me and kissed me ... She
then spoke to Ivanka and disappeared.
Complete trust was given by the young people to the apparition of Medjugorje, a trust
that would be encouraged by the Franciscans, who acted as their confidantes and spiritual
directors. There was no concept of prelest, there seemed to be no recognition of the fearful
darkness of the fallen mind. The same argument used to support the authenticity of
Medjugorje"the tree is known by its fruits"fervent prayer,
conversions, healings, sense of peace and joyhas been used by
"Charismatics," Protestant Revivalists, the Evangelicals in Indonesia, and
various heretical movements throughout history. Hindus and Buddhists doubtless say the
same thing as they point to the intense devotion of their own followers on mass
pilgrimages to the temples, and the reported healings at the shrines of their own holy
St Ignaty Brianchaninov, in his warning to Orthodox Christians, reminds us of the
frightful danger of being deceived by evil spirits. "If the saints have not always
recognized demons who appeared to them in the form of saints and Christ Himself, how is it
possible for us to think of ourselves that we will recognize them without mistake! ... The
holy instructors of Christian struggle ... command (us) not to trust any kind of image or
vision if they should suddenly appear, not to enter into conversation with them ..."
but in resolute awareness of one's unworthiness and unfitness for seeing holy spirits, to
entreat God that He might protect us from all the nets and deceptions, which are cunningly
set out for men by the spirits of malice." ... "The only correct entrance into
the world of spirits is the doctrine and practice of Christian struggle. The only correct
entrance into the sensuous perception of spirits is Christian advancement and
The Healing Aspect
Some people assume that the apparitions must be genuine because cures take place at the
shrines, but there is not necessarily any connection between the two. The number of cures
is actually very small considering the multitudes of sick people who flock to the shrines.
At Lourdes, in the one hundred and twenty-two years from 1858 to 1980, only sixty-four
cures were finally pronounced miraculousthat is, not attributable to any known
natural or medical causeout of a possible five thousand. While the medical
authorities naturally need to be cautious, it does seem somewhat artificial and
presumptuous for a group of human beings to solemnly declare that God has not only
performed a miracle, but has performed it properly, to their satisfaction.
At several shrines the Virgin was reported as saying that she would heal some, but not
others, and to read that "the finger of God would flash down unpredictably"
somehow introduced a certain element of capriciousness which was disturbing, however much
one might want to rejoice at the cures themselves. But the Marian shrines are not alone in
claiming healings for people of all faiths and of none, although they tend to get the most
publicity. The Anglican London Healing Mission lists many astonishing cures every month,
the Pentecostal / Charismatic groups also claim cures, as do Spiritists (The National
Federation of Spiritual Healers), and, in its heyday, the Christian Science movement had
an impressive healing record.
It is said that no-one is infected by bathing at Lourdes, but there is no record kept
of infections, and, in any case, people in seventeenth and eighteenth century England were
exposed to the same risk in the fashionable spa waters (Samuel Pepys at Bath had grave
doubts about the wisdom of using the waters), yet there were no recorded outbreaks of
typhoid or cholera. The authorities at Lourdes know that they cannot risk an outbreak of
infection or the baths would have to close, and healthy pilgrims are encouraged to wash at
the taps instead of bathing. It is interesting to note that Bernadette herself did not use
Lourdes water for her own ailments, but sought relief at the nearby spa instead.
God works in different ways as He sees fit, and it would be foolish to attempt to
impose limits on His mercy, but Orthodox Christians themselves do not need to seek healing
outside the Church. We have always known wonderworkers and healers. Staretz Amvrosy,
mentioned earlier, was a healer, as were countless others, and innumerable healings
continue to take place at the intercession of the Mother of God, for instance through her
Tinos and Malevi icons, and at the intercession of St Xenia of Petersburg, and of St John
(Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco.
Many non-Orthodox would be very surprised if they knew how often healing of the body is
mentioned together with the healing of the soul in the Church's prayers. In the prayers of
Preparation and Thanksgiving for Holy Communion particularly, we pray repeatedly for
"the healing and purification and enlightenment and protection and salvation and
sanctification of soul and body," and for the Divine Grace to fill our five senses,
joints and bones, as well as our mind, soul and affections. Likewise, the service of Holy
Unction has never been kept solely for the dying, but is held on the eve of Christmas and
on the Wednesday in Holy Week, when all the faithful are anointed, and anyone may request
a service at any time in case of need.
Some people emphasize the great compassion shown for the sick at Lourdes, and the time
and energy spent on their behalf year after year by devoted helpers, and feel that the
visions must be true if so much good comes from them. But compassion is not a solely
Christian prerogative. Compassion to every living creature is the hallmark of Buddhism,
and plenty of people of all faiths and none are quietly doing unpublicized voluntary work
in hospitals or among the mentally and physically disabled in their neighbourhoods. The
healings and compassion are not proof of the authenticity of the apparitions. That cures
take place is not in doubt, but the exact nature of a cure may vary from case to case, and
since both Protestant and spiritist bodies also show tangible results, it would be unwise
to accept unreservedly the religious implications of cures at the Marian shrines and
invest them with an interpretation that they cannot logically be made to bear.
Ecumenism, Syncretism and the anti-Christ
As the apparitions have been manipulated by various interested parties for the purposes
of Roman Catholic propaganda, proselytism, nationalism and commercialism, so they are
eagerly taken up by supporters of ecumenism. Anglicans, Lutherans, even Orthodox all visit
the shrines. "The Madonna is for everyone." Or, "Come into my parlour, said
the spider to the fly"? Just as the Pope has spoken of the "conversion of
Russia" under one shepherd, "the successor to St Peter," so the Vatican's
unchanging reunion plan for the rest of us is an open secretsubjection to the Roman
At the same time, ecumenism beyond Christianity continues to gather pace in "the
dialogue with non-Christian religions," although honest dialogue does not appear to
be what the WCC has in mind. "The great religious communities will not
. Jews will remain Jews, Moslems will remain Moslems, and those belonging
to the great oriental religions will remain Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists"yet
somehow everyone, still keeping to his errors and rejecting Christ, "will abide in
the Kingdom of God without ... having first become Christians like us."
God cannot be contained, and He is the source of whatever truth is present in other
faiths, but as C. S. Lewis pointed out, being a Christian does mean thinking that where
Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. He
used the illustration of a sumthere is only one right answer to a sum, and all other
answers are wrong, but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.
Marian ecumenists believe that the Virgin is bringing an ecumenical message at Zeitoun
and Medjugorje and that as mother of the entire human family she has a special role to
play as a centre of unity and reconciler of quarrelsome children, so to speak. They point
out that at Zeitoun the Mother of God remained silent. This is interpreted as a gesture of
motherly tact and an invitation "to everyone present, regardless of their beliefs, to
unite in God through prayer" (which is now quite normal at meetings for
"dialogue with non-Christian religions" and in keeping with the ideas of the
WCC). Had she declared herself to be the Mother of God, the Moslems would have rejected
the vision; and had she identified herself as the Immaculate Conception, the Copts would
have rejected it. They emphasize that the Virgin is mentioned in the Koran as the chosen
of Allah and her purity and virtue extolled, but they omit to follow this by stating that
Christ Himself is regarded as no more than one prophet among othersand inferior to
Mahommedand that His Crucifixion and Resurrection are utterly rejected.
An Anglican correspondent for the Eastern Churches Review described his visit to
Zeitoun in the Spring 1970 edition. He related the story of a leading Moslem who lived
near the church and used to throw stones at the pilgrims. The Virgin appeared to him,
requested that the stone-throwing cease, and ordered him to paint the cross on his house.
This convinced him of the authenticity of the visions and he painted forty large white
crosses all over the walls of his house. Somehow this seems a rather pointless exercise,
as the man remained a practising Moslem and did not turn to Christ, Who seems not to have
been actually mentioned and Who, as usual, seems strangely absent from the proceedings.
At Medjugorje the Virgin announced that she had come to "convert and
reconcile." The shrine is seen as a possible key to peace in the region as only the
"Gospa" can reconcile Catholics, Orthodox and Moslems, since they all reverence
her. Once again we encounter this extraordinary idea of reconciliation and unity without
Christ. The Gospa has chided Catholics of the region for mocking their Orthodox and Moslem
neighbours, although this has not curbed anti-Serb propaganda in some of the books about
the Medjugode apparition.
She has declared that "basically religions are similar," which sounds very
much like the teaching of Swami Vivekananda, the late nineteenth, early twentieth century
Hindu missionary to the West, who said that all religions are the same at heart. The
foundation and heart of Christianity is the Holy Trinity and the Resurrection of the
God-man Jesus Christ. Judaism and Islam also believe in a God who requires men to live in
a "good" way and oppose "evil," while Hinduism, as far as I can
understand it, believes that God is beyond "good" and "evil," that
everything in this world is part of God, that if only we could see things from the divine
point of view, we should see that things we call bad from our own limited human viewpoint
are also "God." Swami Vivekananda, speaking of the goddess Kali, the Terrible
Mother, who unites opposites within herselflife and death , creation and
destruction, mercy and terrorsaid, "Who can say that God does not manifest
Himself as Evil as well as Good? But only the Hindu dares worship Him as the Evil."
All religions share some things in common, but there are fundamental differences.
The Gospa has also said that the Pope is to be a father to all people, not just to
Catholics. Pope John Paul II, who is said to believe in the apparitions, seems to have
taken her sayings to heart and made them the inspiration for further ecumenical moves.
Apart from his Assissi World Day of Prayer, he refers to the Jews as the older brothers of
Christians, and in his speech to young Moslems in Morocco, referred to the Father God
sixty-six times. This in addition to the Vatican "missionary campaign" in Russia
and the Ukraine, and Vatican interference in the Balkans, in Croatia, Bosnia and Skopje.
The Pope apparently sees the third millennium as a new time for mission, a new era of
faith, and has given his support to "Evangelization 2000," which has plans for
world-wide evangelizing activity, with Europe, West and East, a priority. All these are
"signs that indicate not only the gathering of Christians, but the embracing of all
faiths and cultures within a common human identity before God" (Dudley Plunkett: Queen
of Prophets). Archbishop Frane Franic of Split says, "... I especially see the
importance of the role of Medjugorje in the ecumenical work of the Church."
Might it be that the visionaries of Medjugorje are being used (albeit unconsciously) as
part of a much wider softening-up process to prepare the way for the setting-up of a
universal world religion in preparation for the coming of the Anti-Christ? It is, after
all, of the essence of subtle demonic deceit to make things appear good and Christ-like,
to present the kingdom of satan as if it were the Kingdom of Christ. The eighteenth
century Anglican divine, Samuel Horsley, would grieve to see his words coming true today:
"The Church of God on earth will be greatly reduced ... in the time of Anti-Christ,
by the open desertion of the powers of the world. This desertion will begin in a professed
indifference to any particular form of Christianity, under the form of universal
toleration ... from toleration of the most pestilential heresies, they will proceed to
toleration of Mahometanism and Atheism, and at last to the positive persecution of the
truth of Christianity."
Meanwhile, the earlier fifteenth century Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa would rejoice at the
prospect of his vision in which he saw "warring sects permanently reconciled in a
vast system of religious unity," wherein "pagan and Christian are jumbled up in
a remarkable order, ... a Greek, an Italian, a Hindu, an Arab, a Chaldean, a Jew, a
Scythian, a Persian, a Syrian, a Spaniard, a Tartar, a German, a Bohemian, and finally an
Englishman," because "each system possesses a certain degree of truth" and
"only through a study of the various systems can one have an inkling of the 'unity of
the unattainable truth'."
If there is an Anti-Christ aspect at Medjugorje, it would fit in well with an
increasing interest in signs and wonders. The supernatural has been largely removed from
life by rationalism, materialism and intimidation by science and technology. An increasing
number who feel this lack have tried to fill the gap with UFOs, dancing suns, drugs,
"faith" healing, charismatic revivalism, spiritism, New Age paganism, even
satanismand apparitions. Superstition continues to flourish. A statue of the Virgin
weeps blood from one eye, and the neighbours pour in to recite the rosary before it. (In
the opinion of the manufacturers, the resin used to fix the eyes had probably
meltedquite a frequent occurrence.) A Mexican woman fries a tortilla for her
husband's supper, sees it take on a resemblance to the face of Christ crowned with thorns,
and a miracle has taken place! Over the following twelve months, 8,000 people have
venerated the batter, encased in glass and surrounded by flowers and candles, while an
embarrassed Archbishop tries in vain to halt the holy pancake cult.
Thousands of people make a sober claim to having had their lives spiritually
transformed by the shrines. Traditionalist Catholics, especially Marians, see the shrines
as confirmation of their faith. Waverers who have been shaken by modern liberal changes in
Catholicism seek and find reassurance. Liturgical innovationists feel free to indulge in
services with "increased amounts of spontaneity and informality," such as the
Party Mass for sick children at Lourdes, where following the consecration, balloons and
streamers filled the air, and the celebrants joined hands and skipped up the aisle singing
"Lord of the Dance" (actually the Hindu god Siva). Some nuns continue to live
the old life, but most of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers (Bernadette's order) have put
aside the religious habit and become part of the modern world. Even Bernadette herself has
been manipulated by different groups who claim her as their heroinethe
"revolutionaries" of Christ the Worker, because she was poor, working-class and
generally disadvantaged; the "charismatics" because she had visions and heard
the voice of heaven directly, apart from the official hierarchy.
Spiritual power-houses, places of hope and healing, an outlet for superstition, a
paradise for petty thieves (according to Patrick Marnham, a large plain-clothes police is
required at Lourdes in high season) and commercial exploiters, a boost for tourism, an
excuse for nationalism and proselytism, a way of satisfying the recurrent popular demand
for the Goddess under a respectable Christian guisethe Shrines seem to be many
things to many people.
Too Much of Everything
I conclude as I began by emphasizing that this a purely personal view of the apparition
events. That one or more of the factors considered has played some part in each case I
have no doubt, but beyond that I will not venture. Everyone is entitled to his or her own
opinion, to accept or reject the apparitions, to visit the shrines or to stay away, but
any Orthodox who might consider seeking healing at these shrines or going on pilgrimage
there to honour the Mother of God, should, I believe, give very careful consideration
indeed to what these places are all about.
The Russian Orthodox priest, Fr Sergius Bulgakov, after his own pilgrimage to Lourdes,
wrote: "The remembrance of this place embalmed by the presence invisible to our eyes,
but clearly perceptible to our souls, of the most holy Mother of God, ...will remain among
the dearest memories of our lives. At least in our hearts the interior dividing wall which
separates us from the Roman Church has lost much of its opaqueness." Everyone's
experience is his own, but this should be balanced by that of the Roman Catholic Robert
Hugh Benson, quoted earlier, who experienced the dark side of the Lady of the Grotto. It
should, perhaps, also be borne in mind that Fr Sergius' sophiology, considered very
suspect by Orthodox theologians like St John (Maximovitch), may have affected his
experience"the Holy Spirit is manifest through the Virgin Maryshe is a
creature but also no longer a creature." Contrary to what some Orthodox, including
priests, have been led to believe, there is no Orthodox chapel at Lourdes.
[Here, as is her wont, Miriam is erring on the side of kindness, Bulgakov's
teachings were not simply considered suspect but were formally condemned by the hierarchs
of the Church Abroad and, in 1935, by the Patriarchate of Moscow.ed.]
It is not obligatory for Roman Catholics to accept the apparitions even when their
church has approved them, although some Marianists would like this changed, saying that
official approval goes beyond permission to believe and involves infallibility.
After a great deal of serious thought, I am unable to accept a divine origin for any of
the apparitions (although some may very well be supernatural in origin), or to believe
that God is speaking to the world through them. As an Orthodox, they seem to me
unnecessary. We have the Scriptures, the teaching of the Church and the accumulated
spiritual wisdom of 2,000 years to guide us. Above all, we have the Holy Spirit as the
Pilot and Guide of the Church, and the Lord Jesus Christ as the ever-present and only Head
of the Church. With the exception of Zeitoun, the apparitions have all appeared within a
church which has pushed the God-man back into heaven and appointed a man as His infallible
vicar on earth, a man whose position and power are reinforced and extended by these
visions. The great Serbian theologian, [Archimandrite] Justin Popovich [of Blessed
Memory], commented: "Vicarius Christiwhat tragic illogic: to appoint a vicar
and representative for the omnipotent God and Lord."
For me, there are simply too many visions. The psychologist Staehkin, mentioned
earlier, investigated over thirty sets of apparitions of the Virgin, involving three
hundred appearances, between 1930-1950. Apart from the Miraculous Medal, which seemed to
spark the whole thing off, and the apparitions already mentioned, we have also had Akita,
in Japan (where a nun saw sheets of light in her cell and had over a hundred visions in
which a statue of the Virgin spoke, wept, and bled), Rwanda, Argentina, Nicaragua,
Venezuela, Korea, Hungary, Belgium, Holland, the USA, China, Syria, the Philippines, Italy
and Ireland. Forty-seven other visionaries appeared outside Medjugorje in other parishes
in the Mostar diocese.
It is not the experiences that are in doubt, but the origin of the experiences, as
visions may be caused by various psychological factors, natural psychic and mediumistic
ability or demonic delusion. The demons do not hesitate to make full of our fallen
intellects, false assumptions, spiritual pride, and psychologically based delusions, which
is why the Church warns us, through the ascetics and great spiritual fathers, to be
spiritually sober and constantly aware, lest self-deception turns into demonic deception.
There are too many solar signs. Ever since Fatima, solar phenomena have been a feature
at most of the shrineslights, fires, rainbows, dancing suns, showers of petals,
fiery crosses, with a particularly dramatic display at Zeitoun. When to these are added
the Protestant Revivalist signspillars of fire, "Christ" in the sky,
clouds that follow evangelists and shelter them from heat, and all the earlier UFOs, one
cannot help wondering if there is a programme afoot purposely geared to cater for a
generation that seeks after signsthe demons obligingly providing what we are ready
to receive. One or two visions and signs might be convincing, but not literally hundreds.
The apparitions are too public. Private revelations are one thing, but most of these
apparitions have taken place amid a surfeit of publicity. The "heavenly" visitor
comes with a global message and the visions frequently take place in front of crowds of
spectators. The visionaries have frequently been the centre of a most unhealthy amount of
interests and adulation. The Grotto at Lourdes was filled with police, the police
commissioner, the mayor, his deputy, and crowds of up to 20,000. Bernadette was constantly
taken from lessons for questioning, waylaid in the street and pestered by the crowds which
besieged her home, anxious to catch a glimpse of her and ask for keepsakes and prayers.
Similar crowds followed the Fatima children, kneeling to them and begging them to enter
their homes and pray for sick relatives. Even Lucia's plaits were snipped off in the crush
by relic hunters. The Zeltoun visions were seen by millions, believers and unbelievers
Amid the full glare of modern publicity, the Medjugorje visionaries quickly became the
centre of world-wide attention, giving advice to those who crowded to their homes and
relaying answers from the Lady of Medjugorje in response to questions from the crowd. They
have been interviewed endlessly and investigated by doctors and psychologists. The
Medjugore events have been promoted by an efficient and aggressive propaganda campaign
using every possible means: printing presses dealing solely with the events, international
dial-a-numbers for those wishing to receive the Gospa's monthly message, world-wide radio
and TV programmes and lectures, videos, cassettes, and numerous books. (The mariologist
Rene Laurentin alone has written at least ten.) One of the visionaries is co-author of a
book, A Thousand Encounters with Our Lady in Medjugorje; another, via the American
Ambassador to the European Community, wrote to Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev (Reagan
replied). There are special Medjugorje Centres across the world. And all this before any
official decision on the apparitions has been reached by the appropriate ecclesiastical
authorities. It seems doubtful whether any commission will finally be prepared to give a
negative verdict in view of the highly successful propaganda and the degree of popular
religious enthusiasm, especially as the Pope has said he thinks there is nothing but good
Medjugorje, the Charismatic Movement and the Hercegovina Case
While reading about the Medjugorje events I was struck by certain similarities with the
Charismatic Movement, especially in the messages and attitude of the supporters, so it
came as no surprise to find that almost from the beginning the events of Medjugorje were
in the hands of charismatic people: Friar Jozo Zovko, Friar Tomislav Vlasic and others, or
to learn that "In May 1981, an international conference for the leaders of the
Charismatic Movement took place in Rome. One of the leaders present from Yugoslavia was Fr
Tomislav Vlasic.... One of the leaders praying with him, Sister Briege McKenna, had a
mental vision of Fr Vlasic sitting down surrounded by a big crowd: a stream of water was
flowing from the chair. Emile Tardif, O.P, said as a prophesy, 'Don't worry, I am sending
you my Mother.' And so Fr Vlasic returned to Yugoslavia. Two weeks after his return, Our
Lady started to appear to a group of boys and girls in the Franciscan parish of
Medjugorje. New Life was flowing."
The Father Vlasic mentioned was the spiritual guide, interpreter and protector of the
visionaries for three years. To some he is "a man of irreproachable sanctity,"
to others "a Charismatic magician."
There is the same incredible ease with which the visionaries accept their apparitions
and the charismatics accept their "gifts of the Spirit" as coming from God.
Something that is not mere hallucination, but is outside the limits of human knowledge and
experience, is still not necessarily a genuine, grace-given vision. It can be simply a
trust in pleasant psychic experiences. There is also the same emphasis on "love"
and "peace" and "joy" in the messages.
Here there would appear to be similarities with another phenomenon spiritism. Mediums
do not hesitate to accept their spirit guides as Messengers of Light, and their messages,
too, are invariably loving and consoling, usually reverent, with frequent references to a
Deity, and with moral teaching. Mediums claim to convey messages from a higher world. The
visionaries have conveyed messages from the Gospa to those who have sought answers through
them. Even the Archbishop of Split asked one of the visionaries if she could ask the Gospa
if there was any message for him.
A charismatic, speaking of the prophesies in her American meeting, says, "The
messages have always been those of great solace and joy from the Lord." A Medjugorje
supporter, speaking of the Gospa's messages, says, "The messages are a mine of
beautiful counsels and reassurances."
"I reach out my hand to you. You need only take it and I will lead you"
(Charismatic). "Today I want to wrap my mantle around you and lead you all along the
road to conversion" (Gospa). "Be like a tree, swaying with his will, rooted in
his strength, reaching up to his love and light" (Charismatic). "Open your
hearts to God like the flowers in the Spring yearning for the sun" (Gospa).
Obviously the healing services at Fr Jozo Zovko's church, mentioned earlier, were
charismatic ones, which explains why the people fell about embracing, weeping and
fainting. Fr Jozo's ministry now includes Resting in the Spirita less dramatic
version of the Pentecostal / Charismatic Slaying in the Spiritto which he was
introduced by an American, and which has apparently caused "some embarrassment"
in the parish.
Conflict with the Franciscans in Hercegovina stretched back to Turkish times, when the
friars continued to minister to the Catholics in the absence of a bishop. In 1881 a
regular hierarchy was reestablished, the intention of the Holy See being that secular
clergy would gradually replace the Franciscans in charge of parishes. This caused deep
resentment and tension between the friars and the people on the one hand and the diocesan
authorities on the other. Medjugorje remained a Franciscan parish. Dr Zanic, the Bishop of
Mostar at the time of the apparition beginnings, continued to implement this policy in the
face of widespread opposition. Two friars openly rebelled and were jointly suspended by
the bishop and expelled from their order by their own superiors. The two friars promptly
enlisted the help of the visionaries who referred the matter to the Lady of Medjugorje on
no less than thirteen occasions. She came down firmly on the side of the two friars
innocent, blameless, and punished in this way! ... The Bishop does not act according to
the will of God ... The Bishop has been hasty ... The Bishop is guilty." "She
(the Gospa) spoke about this (Hercegovina) case and burst our laughing and said that she
alone would sort out everything. Then she began to laugh. Then Jakov and I had fits of
laughter..." "If he (the Bishop) doesn't accept these events (the authenticity
of the apparitions) and behave properly, he will hear my judgement and the judgement of my
The Bishop (and others) remained sceptical, calling the whole thing a deceit and
swindle and claiming that a group of friars led by Fr Tomislav Vlasic were exploiting the
"Visionaries" for their own ends.
"By their fruits"
The supporters see in Medjugorje a great stirring of religious renewal and are wildly
enthusiastic, while others, both clergy and laity, even families from the village remain
indifferent or opposed.
The supporters bring out the usual argument, the same one used for all shrines, as well
as by heretics of the past, and the charismatics, both Catholic and Protestant, today.
"By their fruits ye shall known them." They ask how Satan can be at work when
the vision emphasizes prayer and fasting, and when there are conversions and healings.
Dr Franic, Archbishop of Split, uses this argument in a letter to Rome in 1985,
writing: "For the last three and a half years over three million pilgrims have come
to Medjugorje, from all five continents, and all, after the pilgrimage, have returned home
converted or brought back to the Christian life from religious indifference or from
absolute atheism, renewing contact with prayer and religious practices like fasting,
generally on Friday, and in some homes also on Wednesday, their food consisting of bread
and water, in a word completely reconciled with God and men."
That most returned home in a state of temporary euphoria is very likely; that some,
perhaps a good many, began to live a more serious Christian life and came face to face
with Christ for the first time is certainly possible, but that all three millionif
there were three million to start withwere completely reconciled to God and men
would indeed be a miracle, the miracle of Medjugorje, but it is much more likely to
be wishful thinking on the Archbishop's part. We only have to recall the Parable of the
Pharisee and the Publican to know that prayer and fasting or any other "religious
practice" are not sufficient in themselves to reconcile us to God and men.
Healings, as we know, occur in many places other than Marian shrines, also in
non-Christian religions. Healing, like the numbers of pilgrims, has been cause for
dissension, with opponents claiming that there is no proof for many of the healings, that
the Medical Bureau at Lourdes gave a negative response, and that some of those claimed as
"healed" had in fact died. At one pilgrimage, the Bishop of Mostar declared
there were only 30,000 pilgrims as against Fr Vlasic's possible 200,000. The visionaries
asked "Our Lady of Medjugorje" for the precise number. She replied 110,000.
There are also rotten fruitsthe disagreements with devotees of other Marian
shrines (echoes of Our Lady of Walsingham versus Our Lady of Ipswich), and another sorry
saga of dog-collar-eat-dog-collar, again with exceedingly acrimonious exchanges at high
levels. On a lighter note, Desmond Seward (The Dancing Sun) gives us an amusing
account of the lengthy sermon at an English mass by a priest from Kentucky, which included
a moving account of his agonies in giving up Coca-Cola after he had responded to the
Virgin's call to do penance.
How convincing are the visionaries themselves, who all believe that they have seen the
Mother of God? A real cause for concern is what would appear to be an extraordinary lack
of spiritual caution, resulting in unquestioning acceptance of their visions as indeed the
Blessed Virgin. Recall the words of one Medjugorje visionary"Who else could it
be? It was obvious!"
Zeitoun stands out as a different from the other apparitions because, as mentioned
earlier, the figure was seen over three years by senior members of the Coptic clergy,
Catholics, Protestants, Moslems, Jews and atheists. Had it not been for the striking
similarity between the descriptions of the Zeitoun solar phenomena and the earlier
descriptions of UFOs, I would have found this group of witnesses solid and impressive,
although it would still have been difficult to see why the Virgin should appear in this
public way to all and sundry, when Christ Himself never took the opportunity to convince
unbelievers by appearing over Jerusalem, where He could have been seen by Pilate, Herod,
Calaphas, and all the people, as proof of His Resurrection.
Catherine Laboure, who saw the Miraculous Medal, was a lover of visions, and embarked
on the unwise (in Orthodox eyes, exceedingly dangerous) course of seeking more visions.
Knowing how the demons can deceive us, the ascetics always spurned visions, saying that
they were unworthy to see angels. The Miraculous Medal prayer proved excellent propaganda
material for the Immaculate Conception dogma, and Catherine died knowing that millions of
medals had been distributed throughout the world. Her own identity, which was supposed to
have been kept a secret, was somehow discovered, and she was canonized by the Roman
Maximin and Melanie of La Salette seem to have been an unprepossessing pair as
children, and their adult lives were not very reassuring either. Bishop Doupanloup found
Maximin "disgusting in every way," and the cure d'Ars, who also interviewed him
said, "If what the child tells me is true, one cannot believe in it." However,
the voice of popular enthusiasm prevailed and the official conclusion was in favour of the
Bernadette comes across as refreshingly normal, with plenty of rough peasant wit and
commonsense. After entering a convent she had no further visions and did nothing to draw
attention to herself or engineer the fame she was to acquire. Her physical illnesses were
suffered courageously and borne with dignity. She apparently believed that she had never
willed to do anything wrong in her life, and she also believed that she had never
[previously] heard the words "Immaculate Conception." The latter is almost
impossible to accept because the people of the Pyrenees had been celebrating the Feast of
the Immaculate Conception as a holy day of obligation for the previous one hundred and
fifty years, that is, since the decree of Clement XI in 1708. (Plus IX merely defined the
dogma and imposed it as an article of faith.) Throughout her Catholic childhood in a
Catholic culture, Bernadette would have been taken to church on 8th December, just as she
would have gone at Christmas, Easter and the Assumption. After the definition of the dogma
in 1854, and in connection with the popular Miraculous Medal, with its prayer to
"Mary conceived without sin," the Immaculate Conception must have been referred
to countless times in her hearing.
The small seers of Fatima were paragons of virtue according to Sister Lucia, the
surviving visionary, with a chillingly unnatural brand of piety. They wore ropes round
their waists, next to the skin, until their Lady assured them that God did not wish them
to sleep with the ropes on, but only to wear them during the day. They mortified
themselves in every possible way, at times refusing food and drink, and deliberately
stinging themselves with nettles, and they made a sacrifice of absolutely everything,
saying each time the words the Lady had taught them: "O Jesus, it is for love of You,
for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the
Immaculate Heart of Mary." The two younger seers both died in childhood; Lucia
continued to receive visions and revelations as a nun.
Marlette Beco, a Belgian girl, was visited eight times in 1933 by an apparition who
bore an uncanny resemblance to the Lady of Lourdes, who likewise asked for a chapel,
produced a spring, and gave the child a secret. Marie was eleven years old, at an
emotional pre-adolescent age, and was frequently reduced to tears on account of the
apparitions, crying during some of the visions and "weeping uncontrollably at the
non-appearance of her Lady" on evenings when nothing happened, and feeling ill and
tired and fainting, although the doctor declared that there was nothing physically wrong
with her. At the end of the final apparition, at the departure of the "Virgin of the
Poor," the girl "flung herself to the soggy ground where she lay in a crumpled
heap, hiccuping and sobbing convulsively, while attempting to say her prayers."
Marlette Beco was recognized by the ecclesiastical authorities as having seen the Blessed
Virgin, and Banneux blossomed into a pilgrimage centre with the usual parade style ground
for blessing the sick, a hospital and camping area. A society of Banneux organizes
pilgrimages and disseminates information.
The young people of Medjugorje have been described as living in an exalted spiritual
world, shining examples who live "exemplary lives of prayer, fasting, detachment from
the evil of their age and peers manifesting true love towards the Church and the
Pope." They have also been called "little liars," "ignorant pawns in a
game they do not understand," with "inflated egos" and behaving like
"domesticated robots." One visionary, Mirjana, no longer sees the apparitions
but instead hears an internal voice. Two other girls (other than the visionaries), Jelena
and Marijana, initially under the direction of Fr Tomislav Vlasicthe charismatic
leader who had been spiritual director to the visionariesalso hear an inner voice,
which they believe to be the Virgin's, giving them personal messages, messages for the
local prayer group, the parish and the world. Over a million copies have been distributed
free of books by the same Fr Vlasic which contain meditations on the messages and include
"formulae of consecration to the sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of
Mary, dictates by Our Lady to Jelena." Other priests associated with Medjugorje and
the Charismatic Movement also receive "inner locutions," said to be an explicit
internal awareness of a message unlike any human form of communication.
Lest anyone should hesitate to accept the apparitions on account of their doubts about
the visionaries, they need not worry, Rome has the answer. A special category of divine
favours to cover unsatisfactory visionaries"gratiae gratis
datae"favours given by God with no regard to the spiritual state of the
The Mother of God or the Goddess?
Who is this Lady who has appeared thousands of times and is acclaimed by millions'? Is
she the Mother of God, whom we know within Orthodoxy from the Scriptures and the services
and teachings of the Church? It is almost as if the Marian apparition cult has a life and
ethos of its own, almost as if it were a separate religionChristianity overlaid with
the worship of the Goddess and spiritism. The Virgin, not Christ, is the central figure.
Heaven speaks through her, not Him. Despite Rome's official teaching, which still
precludes placing Mary on a level with her Son, she is predominant. Geoffrey Ashe seems to
have put his finger on it when he says that "the vitality of Christ's own (R.C.!)
Church has often seemed to depend on her rather than on Him."
My sense of the autonomous Virgin, acting in her own right, was confirmed by Fr Michael
O'Carroll, who says that God has chosen to entrust His mission of mercy and renewal to the
Blessed Virgin Mary. Speaking of Medjugorje, he says, "It was not God the Father, nor
God the Son incarnate, nor God the Holy Spirit who took the initiative at Medjugorje. It
was Our Lady." He goes on to say that the main feature of Medjugorje is the
manifestation of the "dominant, continuing, utterly self-assured role given to Our
He seeks to reassure those who feel that God has been displaced at Medjugorje by
speaking of the Gospa's "recurring mention of the Holy Spirit." In the two
hundred and three messages I read, the Holy Spirit was mentioned just six times, twice in
a way that made Him merely a witness to the Gospa"I am inviting you, dear
children, to pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit which you need so as to witness to my
presence and all that I am giving you
. The Spirit of truth is necessary for you in
order to convey the messages just as I give them to you."
Fr O'Carroll's "assurance" is couched in terms that will sound very strange
to Orthodox ears. "The recurring mention of the Holy Spirit is notable and accords
well with the revival, within the last lifetime, of doctrine and devotion about him: he
was always part of the Christian creed, accepted by believers, honoured in certain common
prayers." He adds significantly, "But it is not so long since a spiritual work
about him appeared with the title 'The Forgotten Paraclete,' or since a great master of
the spiritual life, Dom Columba Marmion, could assert that for some the attitude would be
that expressed in an important text in Acts: 'We have not even heard if there be a Holy
Spirit."' This confirmed my earlier reference to the Latin filioque with its
subsequent downgrading of the Holy Spirit, and the large part I believe this distortion of
Trinitarian doctrine has played in the Marian apparitions. The need for the Eternal
feminine lies deep in the human psyche. That need is met in the Holy Trinity, the heart of
Orthodoxy. Where Trinitarian teaching is unbalanced, and the Holy Spirit neglected, the
Goddess is likely to re-emerge either under the form of Marian excess, or in the guise of
Gnosticism, with its demand for women priests and inclusive language for God.
In the New Testament we see the incomparable spiritual beauty of the Mother of the
Lord. In her shining humility she always points away from herself. Mother of the Messiah,
she humbly refers to herself as God's handmaiden. Her kinswoman Elizabeth's praise of her
is immediately referred to God, Who has regarded her lowliness. She does not presume to
issue her own orders to the servants at Cana, but quietly advises them to obey her Son's
instructions. The Acts leaves her not engaged in some private initiative, but waiting in
prayer with the whole body of the believers.
The lady of all the apparitions, by contrast, remains firmly centre stage, with the
spotlight fixed permanently on herself. She decrees new titles for herself: The Immaculate
Conception, Our Lady of the Rosary, Mother of Consolation, Virgin of the Poor, Queen of
Peace. She seeks amendment and consolation for injuries done to herself:"Dry
the tears on my face, which I pour down as I observe what you do" (Medjugorje),
"Look at my Heart, surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce me at
every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. There are so many souls whom the
Justice of God condemns for sins committed against me that I have come to ask for
reparation: sacrifice yourself for this intention" (Fatima).
In Goddess-language, the Lady of Medjugorje tells us, "I am tireless, I am calling
you even when you are far from my heart. I am the Mother, and though I feel pain for
everyone who goes astray, I forgive easily and I rejoice for every child who comes to
me." She appeared on the mountain with five angels in 1986, declaring to the
visionaries that what they were experiencing was "like the Transfiguration on Mt
Tabor." She would give the people all the graces they needed. She blessed them and
told them to "go down from Tabor and take the blessing to others."
"Wherever I come, my Son is with me," she says. The truth is, that where the
God-Man is, so also, in Him, His Mother, His saints, His angels and His righteous ones are
present. In Himand only in Himwe have fellowship with them and ask their help.
His Mother is truly Mother of us all in the Church, where she holds the most exalted
position, closest to Christ, but she does not act independently from Him. She is not the
Mother of the Church, nor the Mediatrix of all graces, nor the Co-Redemptrixboth
these latter titles being implicit throughout the Medjugorje messages.
"Divorced from her setting in the Gospels and evolved from man's subconscious
fancies, she may become anything, from a dream of sentiment to being dark, inscrutable,
inexorable, akin to the gloomy goddesses of pagan thought" (Newbolt: The Blessed
In the end it must be the content of the messages themselves which inspires acceptance
or rejection of the visions. As stated previously, this was why we have not included
Walsingham among the Marian shrines, as the message, whether revealed to Richeldis in a
private vision or a dream, was a simple request for a chapel in honour of the incarnation.
At Zeitoun, and earlier at Knock, no message was given, so the purpose of those visions
is a matter for conjecture. There are differences of emphasis in the still an underlying
unity, although Lourdes messages at the various shrines, but still appears to be the odd
one out in several ways.
Firstly there is the air of politeness and courtesy. "Come nearer, children, don't
be afraid: I am here to tell you great news," at La Salette. "Will you do me the
kindness of coming here for a fortnight," at Lourdes The Lady of Zeitoun bows in
greeting to the assembled crowds. The Gospa of Medjugorje repeats her parrotlike refrain
at the end of every message, "Thank you for responding to my call."
There is the same absence of Christ, or at least His marginalization as a distant
figure of vengeance, whose just wrath is held back by the Virgin. At Medjugorje He is
equally distant, though not fearful, and we are invited to "think more about
Jesus" on Christmas Day and "do something concrete for Jesus
Christ,"that is, "bring a flower as a sign of abandonment to Jesus. I want
every member of the family to have one flower next to the crib so that Jesus can see and
see your devotion to him."
There are the same secrets, apocalyptic warnings, good advice on church going and
behaviour, and exhortations to "love," "do penance," and
"pray." The message of Banneux was quite literally, "Pray a lot."
Prayer means the rosary, which is constantly mentioned. Although Medjugorje supporters
claim that the Mass is emphasized as the central prayer, the rosary has general
preeminence. It is "the one form of prayer preferred by Mary" (O'Carroll).
"The rosary is a powerful weapon against Satan ... We must defeat Satan with rosaries
in our hands ... " (Medjugorje). Assistance at the hour of death is promised at
Fatima to those who confess, receive Communion on the first Saturday of five consecutive
months and recite a set umber of rosaries for a set amount of times with the correct
intention. All the visionaries have recited the rosary, and the apparition at Medjugorje
appeared regularly during its public recitation. The boy seer of Fatima was given the
promise that he would go to heaven but would "have to recite many rosaries." One
of the Medjugorje visionaries received a rosary from the Lady personally (whether this was
actually a materialization is not clear) and the Pope was sent one specially blessed for
him by the Gospa.
There is the same teaching of purgatory and Papal supremacy, and the same emphasis on
the sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Pope John Paul II likewise
emphasizes the Immaculate Heart and associates it with the sacred Heart. Those who embrace
the Immaculate Heart are offered salvation at Fatima, and the Gospa of Medjugorje invites
us to consecrate ourselves to the Immaculate Heart and make atonement for the sins by
which the Heart of Jesus has been offended.
There are the same bargains, promises and threats, inducements to right action through
self-interest. If you do this, I promise to do that: if you omit to do so and so, such and
such will follow or not follow. "Those who wear the Medal will receive great favours,
especially if they wear it round their neck." "If sinners will only repent, the
stones and rocks will turn into heaps of wheat" (La Salette). "If people do as I
tell you, many souls will be saved and there will be peace" (Fatima). "If we do
not change, the punishment will be very great" (Garabandal).
Lourdes is in many ways a striking contrast. The rosary is as prominent, and the
apparition holds a rosary on her arm and lets the beads slip through her fingers as
Bernadette kneels and recites her prayers. But while there is no mention whatsoever of
Christ, there is also no mention of Hearts, purgatory, apocalyptic threats or bargains.
The utterances are few and concise, consisting in the main of short commandments: "Go
and kiss the ground for the conversion of sinners; Go and drink at the spring ...; Go and
tell the priests to have a chapel built here." The contrast with the garrulousness of
the Gospa of Medjugorje could not be more marked.
The vision's short statement, "I am the Immaculate Conception," has had a
greater impact than any other message from the shrines. Protestants are inclined to see in
it no more than a reflection of Bernadette's mental ability and the state of her grammar.
Roman Catholic theologians at the time puzzled over it and felt uneasy because it was
uncomfortably similar to Old and New Testament statements made by God and Christ, and
seemed to parallel "I am the Resurrection," "I am the Way, the Truth, and
the Life." Marian maximalists rejoiced at what they saw as divine honours given the
Virgin in heaven, and hopefully awaited further revelations by future apparitions, saying,
"I am the Mediation of all graces," and "I am the Co-Redemption." To
their chagrin, they were disappointed, and had to make do with "I am the Lady of the
Rosary" and "I am the Virgin of the Poor." Marian minimalists, on the other
hand, insisted that the Virgin was purposely limiting her privileges to the Immaculate
Conception and thereby implying that she was not the Mediatrix of all graces or
Co-Redemptrix. Some Orthodox, in an attempt to justify their own acceptance of the Lourdes
apparition, try to attach significance to the the date on which the statement was made,
namely March 25th, saying that the Virgin was referring not to her own conception by St
Anna, but to the (only) Immaculate Conception of the Lord Jesus Christ on the day of the
[Editors note: Not a very convincing argument, as at the time of the apparition
in 1858, all Orthodox Christians were following the Ecclesiastical or Old Calendar, which
at that time was running twelve days behind the papal reckoning.]
The statement would seem to be as enigmatic as many from the Delphic oracle. What it
did do was precipitate and confirm the dogma of Papal Infallibility. In imposing the dogma
of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, the Pope acted on his own authority without the
consent of a General Council. For this he was greatly criticised in some ecclesiastical
circles. When the Lady of Lourdes announced her name by privilege as "I am the
Immaculate Conception," she not only proved that the Pope had been right about the
dogma, but confirmed his ability to act on his own, in other words that the supreme
authority belonged to the Pope alone. Papal Infallibility became an official dogma in
1870. As Alan Neame puts it, Our Lady of Lourdes was to some degree the mother of Papal
Infallibility and the grandmother of the Old Catholics who went into schism rather than
If someone should inconveniently recall that [St] Catherine of Sienna [fourteenth
century], during her vision, was told by Our Lady that she was not immaculately conceived,
again, Rome has the answer. Even saintly people can misinterpret their revelations, and
Catherine was so influenced by her Dominican teachers, who opposed the teaching, that
"even in her mystical rapture this holy woman could not sufficiently immerse herself
in God to overcome the suggestion" (Archbishop of Split).
Unsatisfactory messages, then, are as easily disposed of as unsatisfactory visionaries.
According to Dr Franic, Archbishop of Split, not only human suggestion but even evil
spirits can easily infiltrate the messages, and therefore every message must be looked at
separately. In effect, inconvenient messages can be deleted, leaving a laundered
revelation. What with visionaries of doubtful reliability who may be entrusted with divine
revelations, divine messages which may be misinterpreted by holy visionaries, or even
twisted by evils spirit, and parapsychological causes which may be the sole origin of
visions, it would seem that all is shifting ground and there is nothing that can be relied
The new factor of the Medjugorje messages is the ecumenical one. The century of trial
for the Church is coming to an end, and the Gospa has particularly prophesied an outburst
of faith in Russia "where God will be more glorified than anywhere else." Link
this with the Fatima pronouncement on Russia, the Hriushiw call to the Uniats to be
missionaries to Russia, the Pope's keen interest in Russia and his support for
Evangelisation 2000, with its emphasis on Europe West and East, and we cannot say we have
not been warned!
The Gospa has said that divisions in religion are man-made, and is also said to have
declared that God commands in all religions as a king does in his realm, although I did
not find this latter statement in the books I read, which is not surprising as the
apparitions have been going on for so long, with hundreds of messages, that it would be
impossible to include everything. Also, as Fr Rene Laurentin has noted in one of his
articles, Rome has shown concern that some of the messages seemed to be implying religious
indifference, and therefore it is quite likely that such a controversial statement would
be suppressed in any publication favourable to the apparitions, since such an all-out
ecumenist position is not (yet) generally acceptable. I wrote to the London Medjugorje
Centre for clarification on this point but received no reply. It seems that some kind of
unity without Christ is envisaged for non-Christian religions. For some time now Western
ecumenists have been tentatively discussing the need for a possible revision or
modification of the traditional Incarnational view whereby Christ is unique and final
revelation of God to man, on the grounds that it is incompatible with inter-religious
dialogue. Be that as it may, my impression from studying the messages from some of the
shrines (Fatima, Zeitoun, Hriushiw, Medjugorje) and different writers' comments on them,
is that the Pope is to be the symbol of unity for Christians, who will be reunited despite
doctrinal differences (subjection to the Papacy without unity in the faith) and the father
of people of all faiths and cultures (the new world religion).
My initial reaction on reading the messages from the shrines was one of intense
disappointment. They hardly seemed to justify a heavenly visitation. The messages from
Medjugorje particularly seemed bland, banal, and boringly monotonous. And there were far
too many of them. If God really was trying to speak, it would be almost impossible to hear
Him for the Lady's incessant chattering. It was with a feeling of grateful wonder and
tremendous joy and relief that I turned once more to the richness and depth of our
There are very few places in the Gospels where it is recorded that the Mother of God
spoke, but each one of them is highly significant. One could spend a life-time meditating
on her sayings and never exhaust their meaning. Otherwise she is silent in order that her
Son, the Word, may speak. Nothing can ever surpass the holy Virgin's two sublime titles:
her own choiceHandmaid of the Lord, and that which the Church has given herTheotokos,
Mother of God. Neither can anything of greater importance be added to her last recorded
utterance, which remains an eternally true, relevant and universal
message"Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it."
1) Ashe, GeoffreyThe Virgin, 1976
2) Chapman, RobertUFO, 1976
3) Condamin, Rev'd A.The Religion of Ancient Babylonia and Assyria
4) Eysenck, H.J., Arnold, W, Meili, R.,Encyclopaedia of Psychology,
5) Graef, HildaMary, A History of Doctrine and Devotion, 1963/65
6) Hadas, Moses and Time LifeImperial Rome, 1966
7) Johnston, FrancisWhen Millions Saw Mary, 1980
8) Karambelas, Archimandrite CherubimContemporary Ascetics of Mt Athos,
9) Kerr, Lady CecilThe Miraculous Medal, 1990
10) Khan, Muhammad ZafrullaThe Quran, 1981
11) Kondor, Fr Louis, ed.Fatima in Lucia's Own Words, 1989
12) Laurentin, Fr ReneMedjugorje: Thirteen Years Later, 1994
13) Lewis, C. S.Mere Christianity, 1958
14) Mallon, Rev'd A.,The Religion of Ancient Egypt
15) Marnham, PatrickLourdes: A Modern Pilgrimage, 1980
16) Martindale, Rev'd C.C.,Bernadette of Lourdes
17) Mascall, E. L. and Box S., ed.The Blessed Virgin Mary, 1963
18) Maximovitch, Rev'd J [Saint John]Orthodox Veneration of the Mother
of God, 1978
19) Neame, AlanThe Happening at Lourdes, 1968
20) New LarousseEncyclopaedia of Mythology
21) Newbolt, Rev'd M. R.,The Blessed Virgin Mary, 1926
22) O'Carroll, Fr MichaelMedjugorje: Facts, Documents, Theology,
23) Plunkett, DudleyQueen of Prophets, 1990
24) Rose, Fr SeraphimOrthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, 1983
25) Seward, DesmondThe Dancing Sun, 1993
26) Walne, Damien and Flory, JoanThe Virgin of the Poor, 1983
27) Wiles, MauriceChristian Theology and Inter-religious Dialogue,
This was reprinted with the kind permission of The Shepherd. I regret that I was not able to
duplicate the foreign accents that were in the original text.