“Weeping” Icon in Toronto Greek Schismatic Church Exposed as Fraud (Joe Nickell, 1996)

On September 1, 1996, an icon in a non-canonical, schismatic Greek Orthodox Church in Toronto[1], Ontario, Canada, began to “weep.” CSICOP paranormal investigator Joe Nickell was invited by the Toronto Sun to the site for a promised opportunity to examine the “miracle.” However, permission to conduct an examination was subsequently withdrawn, but Nickell’s observation of the icon (actually a color photographic print) persuaded him that the substance was probably a non-drying oil (e.g., olive oil) applied to the surface. It was not freshly flowing and did not emanate from the eyes.

From the Toronto Sun, September 4, 1996 article, entitled, Expert unmoved by crying icon’s tears: 

Dr. Joe Nickell of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, came here from Amherst, N.Y., to study the phenomenon in an East York Greek Orthodox church at the request of The Toronto Sun.

“It’s a far cry from anything looking vaguely like a miracle to me,”  said Nickell, whose group was founded in 1976 by Carl Sagan and other leading scientists.

“I’m troubled by the fact I was not allowed to get close to it and the fact I was refused a sample of the tears,” he said, after spending 15 minutes inside the Glebemount Ave. church run by controversial priest Father Ieronimos Katseas.

Church officials had earlier promised The Sun a chance to remove the Madonna print from the wall so it could studied, but at the last minute changed their minds – saying they would only agree to do so on live TV.”

The icon of the Virgin Mary which had been “weeping” from the crown area of the head since September 1996.
The icon of the Virgin Mary which had been “weeping” from the crown area of the head since September 1996.

As it happened, the priest had formerly preached at a church in Queens, New York (St. Irene Chrysovalantou Greek Orthodox Church), which had also been embroiled in a controversy over a weeping icon[2]. Worse, he had been defrocked for having worked in a brothel in Athens, Greece[3].

Subsequently, Nickell was re-invited to Toronto— this time by the Greek Orthodox parent church authorities who had regained control of the church. With a police fraud squad detective standing by, and two constables posted outside, Nickell examined the picture and took samples for the lab to analyze. He told the media, “There is nothing that distinguishes this icon from a fraud.” (See Joe Nickell, “Something to Cry About: The Case of the Weeping Icon,” Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 1997, pp.19-20.)

This display shows photographs from that event. At the left is a votive candle and at right some oil-soaked cotton recovered by Nickell from the site.


Also see Joe Nickell’s video.


1. The Holy Synod in Resistance, of which this parish was a part (under the Archdiocese of Etna (California)), united itself to the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece and formally ceased to exist.

2. An icon of St. Irene began crying and drawing hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, some as far away as India and Japan. More than a year later, after that icon had been investigated by NY Area Skeptics who concluded that the phenomenon was bogus, the icon was stolen at gunpoint. Supposedly, Fr. Ieronymos Katseas refused to cooperate in producing the key to the Plexiglas case that housed it and was pistol-whipped, after which the bandits broke the lock and made off with the “miraculous” icon. It was subsequently returned— minus $800,000 in gems and golden jewelry that decorated it—under conditions that still remain controversial (Christopoulos 1996).

3. Fr. Ieronymos Katseas was also defrocked in 1993 when it was learned he had previously worked in a brothel in Athens. A church document on the priest’s excommunication states that a New York ecclesiastical court found him guilty of slander, perjury, and defamation, as well as being “in the employ of a house of prostitution” (Goldhar 1996). In fact, in 1987 sworn testimony before a Greek judge, Fr. Ieronymos Katseas admitted he had been so employed (Magnish et al. 1996).

Also,  shortly after this 1993 excommunication, he refused to leave the parish in Toronto to which he had later been assigned. This parish was in the midst of financial difficulties when the icon began to weep as well, and was also attacked by Greek Orthodox leaders. Fr. Ieronymos Katseas also owed C$95,000 in back taxes and mortgage payments.

Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Martyrs Raphael, Nicholas, & Irene in Toronto, Canada.
Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Martyrs Raphael, Nicholas, & Irene in Toronto, Canada.

Also see:

Connie Hargrave, Visit to the Weeping Madonna Icon in Toronto, (March 1997)

Joe Nickell, Adventure of the ‘Weeping’ Icon (2001)

Toronto Star, Church of ‘weeping’ Virgin headed by defrocked priest (September 4, 1996)

Toronto Sun, Icon of Virgin Weeps in Toronto (September 1, 1996)

Toronto Sun, Priest’s 2nd ‘Miracle’; $800Gs From ‘Crying’ N.Y. Icon Stolen (September 8, 1996)


Figure 10.1


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