A Marian apparition is a supernatural appearance by the Theotokos, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to a person or persons in which an important message is communicated. In the Eastern Orthodox Church there is a history of documented and Church approved appearances and miracles by the Virgin Mary, as well as other saints. These extraordinary appearances are usually depicted by an icon and have the name of the Virgin with a title ascribed to her, or the name of the town where it was reported. Examples of these appearances or interlocutions, include such instances as Panagia of Tinos, Our Lady of Nourieh, Panagia Blachernon, Theotokos Bogolyubovo, Zodohos Pighe, etc.
The church has deemed these, and many other appearances of the Virgin Mary, as “theophanies”. The word θεοφάνεια or theophaneia from the ancient Greek refers to a visible manifestation of God or a divine being to a human, or humans. Such manifestations might occur as a single event or over an extended period of time. In the majority of Marian apparitions (appearances of Mary) only one person or a few people report having witnessed the apparition. Exceptions to this include Zeitoun, Fatima and Assiut where thousands witnessed seeing her over a period of time, and these occurrences were documented and recorded in the newspapers and press of the time.
In some apparitions where an actual vision is reported, the individuals do not initially report that they saw the Virgin Mary, but describe that they saw “a Lady” or “a Beautiful Lady” and report a conversation with her. In these cases the individuals report actual experiences that resemble the visual and verbal interaction with a physical person present at the site. In some apparitions an image is reported without any verbal interaction.
An authentic apparition is believed not to be a subjective experience, but a real and objective intervention of God. The purpose of such apparitions is to recall and emphasize some aspect of the Christian message. The Church, whether Orthodox or Catholic or other denominations, follows strict procedures and difficult requirements that can take many years before affirming officially that an apparition has occurred. While oftentimes apparitions include miracles and supernatural signs, the Church upholds that such cures and other miraculous events are not the purpose of Marian apparitions, but exist primarily to validate and draw attention to the underlying message. Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary are held as evidence of her continuing and active presence in the life of her children on earth.