By Kristin Giannas
Monday, November 9, 2015
TARPON SPRINGS, Fla.
To a toddler, the story of Archangel Michael is simple- he fights the dragon at his feet and wins.
That’s how Nikki Miceli explains it to her 3-year-old son Anthony, who is battling neuroblastoma, or tumors in his lungs.
“I’ll never give up on trying to find a cure for him, and I’ll never give up on a miracle happening,” Miceli said, standing outside the shrine of Archangel Michael at 113 Hope St.
Hundreds gathered there on Sunday, believers who attribute countless miracles to the shrine, and a small icon of Archangel Michael inside.
According to the Orthodox Christian faith, Archangel Michael is the highest ranking angel, believed to defend mankind from danger, and is commemorated every year on November 8.
The shrine is evidence of that faith, built after Goldie Parr’s 11-year-old brother Steve Tsalickis, was cured of a terminal brain tumor in 1939.
“He asked to hold a small icon of Archangel Michael that my mother had gotten from her island of Symi,” Parr said, adding that her brother was confined to a hospital bed and given two weeks to live by a team of doctors at St. Josephs Hospital in Tampa.
“As soon as she gave it to him, he put the icon on his chest and he started mumbling, and my mother thought that would be the end- but Archangel Michael came to him and brought him to where it’s built right now- we had an empty lot to build a house, and he said, ‘Steve, I will make you well if you promise to build a shrine for me here,’” Parr said.
Steve was cured of his tumor, and Parr’s family was obedient to the 11-year-old’s vision, building the shrine to house the small icon of Archangel Michael.
According to Parr, Abbot Chrysanthos Maroulakis gave her mother the icon during a visit to The Panormitis in 1937, a centuries-old monastery located off the coast of Greece, built by the Symian people in honor of their island’s protector, Archangel Michael.
A Visit to The Panormitis: Symi, Greece
“Here we become witnesses of the living faith of the people,” Georgios Petropoulos said, theologian and author of the book, History and Miracles of the Panormitis.
Petropoulos says over 7,000 pilgrims come to celebrate the Feast Day of Archangel Michael every year.
“You see people that come on their knees from the ship all the way to the icon inside, in order to offer their prayers and their supplications to the Archangel; to either ask for a request, a favor, or to offer thanks for that which has already been given to them,” Petropoulos said.
The 17th century church, located in the center of the monastery’s courtyard, is filled with “tamata” or offerings of oil lanterns and gold, much of which has been pinned in front of a 2-meter high silver-leafed icon of the Panormiti.
“I think it takes something to knock you over, to shock you to sort of start believing,” Rev. Fr. Manuel Lykopandis of Australia said, who credits the Panormiti for his decision to become a Greek Orthodox priest.
Lykopandis says about twenty years ago, when he was doubting the existence of God, he wrote a letter to the Panormiti, placed it in a glass bottle along with a donation, and threw it into Apollo Bay in southwestern Victoria.
“I forgot about it, to be quite honest,” Lykopandis said, who went on recount that two years later, he received a receipt on monastery letterhead, thanking him for the donation that washed ashore.
“From that making it’s way to the Panormiti was the biggest miracle for me, where my faith just grew, and I started to believe there was something eternal,” Lykopandis said.
What Lykopandis experienced is a recurring miracle unique to this monastery, according to Petropoulos.
“There are people nowadays as well as in the past, who couldn’t come here for some reason, so they would send through the waves of the sea a small bottle with a letter in which they would write the problem that either they themselves were having or that of their loved ones, and many times there is money inside these bottles, even jewelry, which they would send in this uncertain way to the Archangel,” Petropoulos said.
Dozens of these bottles from all over the world are now on display inside a museum at the monastery.
The Perceived Will of Archangel Michael
The exact date of the founding of the monastery is unknown, but frescoes inside the church and the silver plating on the icon of the Panormiti date back to the 1700s.
Petropoulos points to tradition that tells of a pious woman named Maria, who found a small icon of Archangel Michael on land she owned near the monastery.
After bringing the icon into her home in Symi, it miraculously returned back to the exact same place where it was discovered, according to Petropoulos.
“The woman along with the clergy and the people of the island perceived the will of the Archangel and they built the first small church where they placed the icon of Archangel Michael,” Petropoulos said.
Watching the Passing of Miracles
Many believe the shrine in Tarpon Springs was also the will of Archangel Michael, revealed through an 11-year-old boy.
Steve Tsalickis would become a high school guidance counselor and business owner before passing away in 2007 at the age of 78.
“I’m glad that I’m here to take care of it, and maybe God will give me a couple more years,” Parr said, who lives next to the shrine and opens the doors at 7 a.m each day.
Parr has been around long enough to know that not every prayer is answered, but she says, that’s part of the mystery.
“A lot of people come, and they kneel and they pray, and you see them crying…I think that’s wonderful- there’s still faith, there’s still hope,” Parr said.
Little Anthony is going into surgery on Monday, to replace his chemotherapy port before receiving more treatments this month.
His mother has been taking him to the shrine for the past six weeks, and believes Archangel Michael is hearing her prayers.
“We’ve noticed a dramatic change- his energy level is different, he’s eating, he started responding to treatment,” Miceli said.
She’s learning to take life one day at a time and understands that nothing is guaranteed.
“If you get that miracle- that’s great, if not, there’s a reason for everything that happens, I don’t know the reason, but God gave us this path to go down,” Miceli said.
In the meantime, Miceli will continue visiting the shrine and lighting her candles. She’s inspired by the angel who always wins.
Fr. Michael Marcantoni blesses Anthony Miceli, 3, on the Feast Day of Archangel Michael on Sunday