One of the most spectacular apparitions of Mary was seen not by the usual visionaries in an altered state, but by multitudes of ordinary people—and in a suburb of Cairo, Egypt:
“It was…witnessed by at least a million Egyptians…and yet the Western press…and Christianity in particular all but totally ignored it…. Scholars and government leaders saw her…!
Mary [had] appeared in a dream to a devout Egyptian named Khalil and told him to build a church on his land…[and] she’d return in fifty years to bless it. Khalil did as he was told, and exactly five decades after, on April 2, 1968, at about 8:30 P.M., several women pedestrians and a group of Moslem workmen noticed movement up on the dome of the church Khalil had built…. ‘I heard some people shouting in the streets,’ recalled Farouk Mohammad Atwa. ‘I ran to them. I saw a lady in white on the church dome at the north….’
Atwa and his colleagues thought the woman, who was kneeling at the cross o top of the dome, was ready to commit suicide. ‘Lady, don’t jump! Don’t jump!’ A rescue team was summoned…. As the newspaper Watani later reported, ‘They all saw her dressed as if in a bright gown of light in a view similar to that associated with the virgin Mary…. The apparition returned a week later and soon was seen up to three times a week…on occasion visible for hours. Huge crows formed around the church…at times the crowds swelled to an estimated 250,000…and for the first time in Egyptian history, Catholics, Orthodox, and Moslems prayed together in public. The Moslems chanted from the Koran, ‘Mary, God has chosen thee. And purified thee; He has chosen thee. Above all women.’ Witnesses saw Mary emerge from a blinding glove of light…. The main message seemed to be ecumenism.”
In Eastern Orthodoxy, icons are the counterpart to apparitions of Mary and other saints. As one scholar says, “Icons are absolutely central to Orthodoxy, distinguishing it from both Catholicism and Protestantism. In the…first Sunday of Lent…liturgy is an anathema on all those who reject icons…. Icons are…a source of revelation.” Icons are considered to be windows to heaven. The Orthodox prostrate themselves before icons and kiss them. To attribute such power to a physical object opens one to the occult.
One of the most influential figures in Russian Orthodoxy (he greatly influenced Tolstoy) was theologian, philosopher, author, and mystic Vladimir Sergejevich Soloviev. At age nine he had his first vision, not of “Mary” but of the goddess Sophia. This pagan deity remained the guiding figure in his life. One of her appearances came when he fainted while passing from one car to another on a train and would have fallen under the wheels had she not rescued him. This moved him to write, “Only now do I understand that there is God in man, that goodness exists, along with true joy in life….”