Who is the Mother of God? What does her icon tell us about her? In all Orthodox Churches around the world, so many prayers are directed to the Mother of God. Faithful supplicate her so that she may intercede with her Son Jesus Christ for the salvation of our souls. She is the closest human being to God and this is why the faithful put so much trust in her and ask for her prayers. She is not only the greatest human being to have ever lived; she is also called in Church hymns as “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim”. This tells us that her personality and holiness is even above the angelic nature. The question is: why is it, and how is it that the mother of God has all these attributes? Let’s start from the beginning…
When God created Adam and Eve, he wanted them to be communicators with God. However, when through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, the human race separated itself from God, they failed to attain to communion with God, which was designated for them. God, as good and merciful, never left human beings, and He was visiting them through His prophets and holy people in the Old Testament. However, all this was just a preparation for what He truly wanted to do. God wanted to bridge the gap between human beings and God, and achieve the final union between the two. To do that, he needed someone who would cooperate with Him.
Many centuries after Adam and Eve fell, a girl named Mary was born to her parents Joakim and Anna. In Hebrew, the name of Mary is Mariyam. It comes from the Egyptian word Mari which means loved and the Hebrew word Jahweh which means God. The literal translation of her name would be The one who is loved by God). Mary was dedicated to God and led into the temple to live the life of chastity from an early age. By dwelling in the temple, Mary was listening about God with other virgins and was spending days in prayer. When the fullness of time had come, and Mary exited the temple and was betrothed to Joseph, someone visited her. It was Gabriel, the angel of God.
The angel told her that she would give birth to the Son of God, and she will conceive him through the operation of the Holy Spirit. In all her humility, Mary exclaimed, “Let it be done, according to your will.” What to be done exactly? The salvation of humankind and the final union between God and man. Mary is the bridge through which this union happened. By receiving God in her womb, she became honored above all creatures and remains our strongest connection with God.
In the Orthodox Church, we have different representations of Mary. However, most icons contain these elements:
1. You may notice three stars on the mother of God. One on her forehead, the other two located on her shoulders. These serve to make the point that Mary was a virgin before she gave birth to God; after birth she remained a virgin and forever she is a virgin.
2. Above her head, you see the letters ΜΡ ΘΥ (these letters are abbreviated Greek version of the words Μήτηρ Θεού which literally mean the Mother of God)
3. Her hair is always covered and you can never see it, because in those days if a woman would show her hair publicly, it would mean that she is immoral.
4. Mary is also known as the THEOTOKOS. This word is of Greek origin and it consists of two words Θεός – God and Τόκος – bearing a child. Literally, we can translate THEOTOKOS the one who bears God-child, the Birthgiver of God.
There will be more about the Mother of God in the blogs to come. Until then, following her example, let us show ourselves to be truly the servants of God and always obedient to His will and like Mary may we offer ourselves as the bridge from earth to Heaven. This can only be done as we live our lives by the words by the mother of our Lord:
„Let it be done according to your will“
Keep the ‘Good News’ coming, please. And hoping that Bible Study will begin again, soon. Lots to learn …
Thank you, dear Fr. Stefan.
God willing more posts are coming! We will restart our Bible study together with Sunday school.
Thank you Father. I have a beautiful icon of the Mother of God that my baba gave me since my birthday is September 21st. It is silver overlay and I hadn’t noticed the stars before. But yes they are there! I find much peace and comfort asking her to intercede for my family and those I love; asking her Son to be merciful and loving to us as we continue to try to do our best to follow His commandments as we live our lives remembering that we are made in the imagine of God. What a strong woman/mother she was to faithfully accept the will of God which meant accepting that her Son had to be crucified so that all who believe in Him would have life everlasting.
May she always be your fervent intercessor before God!
This is beautiful and very informative. I was hoping for more elaboration on the stars on her head and shoulders. Are those only on Mary or are they on other saints also? Is this a common representation in icons?
As far as I know, the stars are unique to the Mother of God and have the meaning explained in the text. We will analyze some icons of the Saints in the future and explain some other symbols that appear on Orthodox icons. It is hard to generalize and each icon is unique and we will observe different icons for themselves.