"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday 30 December 2011



Called, at least in Russia, "Mother of God of the Sign", a reference to Isaiah 7, 14: The Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and she will give birth to a son who will be called God-with-us," and to the text from Revelation 12, 1: A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman adorned with the sun and standing on the moon..."   

In this icon Our Lady is seen principally as a sign of Christ's saving presence.   She is called in Byzantine hymns "more spacious than the heavens because That which the heavens cannot contain has been contained in your womb."   Such are the marvels of the Incarnation that she contained Jesus who contained the whole of creation.   You cannot separate Jesus from the whole creation including all human beings from the start of the human race until the end whom he enlightens as they come into the world, any more than you can separate his humanity from his divinity.   Thus he could die for all and rise for all.   The Blessed Virgin, in containing him, became , indirectly but really, the source of all holiness.   Thus, she is never called "Saint Mary" as in the West.   She is called "Panagia" which means "All Holy" that acknowledges her unique relationship to Christian holiness.

In this icon the Mother of God is portrayed in apparel typical of the Byzantine royal family, with a purple-red cloak that veils her head and falls away smoothly to her feet.   She wears red shoes which rest on a red coloured carpet.   To the left and right there are medallions which portray two angels who serve as her escorts.

In a gilded medallion over Mary's bosom is depicted Christ in the features of Emmanuel, the long awaited Messiah.   As in all icons of Mother and Child, Jesus is portrayed more as a little adult or youth than as a baby.   He is holding his hands out to embrace all humanity and the whole of creation as their lord.

In Eastern Christianity they do not call Our Lady "Mother of the Church".   She is the Church itself in its relationship to Christ; just as Christ is the Church in relation to the Father.   In this icon, this is suggested by the raised hands of the Blessed Virgin.   One of the seers at Medjugorje was asked what was the main characteristic of the Blessed Virgin that impressed her, she replied, "Mary is one who prays."   In this icon, the Virgin is praying with raised hands: she is interceding, asking for mercy for the human race as does the Church in the Liturgy and as does each Christian in his heart.   This is further suggested by the fact that the raised arms form the silhouette of a chalice in which there is the eucharistic presence of Christ.   Mary as the Church will also be seen in the next icon.

Like every other icon, this is really a theophany, a manifestation of the divine-human nature of Christ, manifested through his own humanity and through that of the saints.   Mary is great because her holiness is the presence of Christ in her, brought about by the action of the Holy Spirit working in and through her own freely given "I am the handmaid of the Lord".


the Theotokos of Vladimir
The Council of Ephesus decreed that Mary is "theotokos".   Jaroslav Pelikan translates this as "she who gives birth to the one who is God".   This differs from the title "Mother of God" because it puts emphasis on physical childbearing.   "Mother of God" is principally about a family relationship - in one text Joseph and Mary are called "Parents" of Jesus, even though Joseph wasn't the physical father of Jesus.   Ephesus wants to leave no doubt that Mary is the physical Mother of Jesus who is personally God, so that she is physically Mother of God.

This 11th Century icon of the "Theotokos of Vladimir" in the Ukraine is one that belongs to the category of "Eleusa" or tenderness.   The emphasis of this icon of Our Lady of Tenderness is the intimate and tender relationship between Jesus and Mary.   Jesus is looking intently on his Mother, and his arm is around her neck.   The Blessed Virgin is looking at us, not leaning out to us to form a relationship with us, but inviting us to share her relationship with Jesus.   She is quite steady because her love is stable; but she is sad because she knows how much our sharing in this intimate and tender relationship is going to cost her Son.  

 Our relationship with Jesus in the Church is a share in the relationship between Jesus and his Mother, a relationship which was cemented by the Holy Spirit working through the "Behold the handmaid of the Lord.   Be it done to me according to your word" of the Blessed Virgin.   This union between Jesus and us is not less strong than a protestant type unity with Jesus and without the Virgin as an essential component: it is many times more intimate and tender; though I am sure that Protestants share in the same relationship, even if they do not know it.

.To find a post completely dedicated to Our Lady of the Passion as the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is called, click here.


The WAY is Jesus who is the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE.   In this icon, Our Lady is looking directly at the observer, straight into his heart, and she is pointing at her Son with her right hand. 

  Jesus is wearing gold-white clothes, which is the colour of royalty; and he is wearing a stole, a sign in icons that he has been sent by the Father.  He has his right hand raised in blessing, while, in his left hand is a scroll, the Good News, which he is yet to open and announce to the world. Christ's halo has a cross which indicates his destiny, and there are letters in Greek which stand for the Name of God. 

 The Blessed Virgin is wearing a Jewish bonnet under her veil to stand for her roots in Judaism as "Daughter of Sion".   She wears three stars, two on the shoulders and one on the head.   These stand for her virginity which remained intact before, during and after the birth of Jesus.  She is fulfilling her role that she had at the Marriage feast of Cana, and is telling us that we must listen to him and do whatever he tells us: he is our salvation.


The centre of attention in this icon is Jesus in swaddling clothes which could be grave clothes.   He is in a manger that could be a coffin, and in a cave that could be a tomb.   The Word of God, Creator of the universe, has been born and is totally dependent on those around him, on Mary and Joseph and others.   This reminds us of his total dependence and helplessness during his Passion.  The ox and the ass warm him with their breath. They are a scriptural reference to "My yoke is easy" (the ox) "..and my burden light" (the ass that carried Our Lord on Palm Sunday).  

The Blessed Virgin has finished giving birth and is now lying watchful..   Sometimes she is looking towards the lower left hand corner where an old man (the devil) is tempting St Joseph, trying to  make his admit that no divine being could possibly be as helpless as the Baby Jesus and thus deny the Truth.  Mary is offering moral support to Joseph and, by her intercession, delivers him from temptation.   St Joseph is facing some women who are midwives and who indicate to us by their presence that the birth of Jesus was a normal human birth, and that he needed being washed afterwards like any other new-born baby.

Next to Mary on the right are some shepherds with their sheep by a bush which is tree of Jesse from which Jesus was descended.   Across from the shepherds are angels  adoring God in human flesh.  Further up on the right are more angels: two are adoring the invisible Glory of God symbolised by the star over the manger, and one is about to descend to the shepherds to announce the Good News.   Angels are a sign to adoration and proclamation. .  

 The whole scene of the Nativity is set in a world of sharp rocks, inhospitable and cruel, made so by sin.

Sincere thanks to Brother Alex Echeandia for his advice and to various sources on the internet, including Wiki


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