Icons of Mary with Christ seated on her lap are venerated in the sacramental churches of East and West, Orthodox and Catholic, and have their commemoration days just as saints do. I’m most familiar with the Orthodox tradition, and how these days are scattered liberally throughout our liturgical calendar. Today I was at Divine Liturgy in the morning, but we were remembering various other saints and events in my parish, and I didn’t notice until I was home again that today we also commemorate the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God.
I would never have foreseen, fifteen years ago, that I would have favorites among icons of this subject, but it happens; this version is possibly my favorite of all because for ten years or more it was the only one I had in my house. My humble print resembles this one:
Icon Reader tells us that “It is known as “directress” (in Greek Hodigitria) because the Mother of God is shown directing our gaze to Jesus Christ with her hand. This style predates the Smolensk icon, and is one of the original ‘types’ traced back in Church tradition to St Luke.”
The tradition is that the first icon thus depicting Mary and Jesus originated in Antioch, and went from there to Jerusalem, then Constantinople, where it remained until, “In 1046, Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos gave his daughter, Anna, in marriage to Prince Vsevolod Yaroslavich, the son of Yaroslav the Wise. He used this icon to bless her on her journey.” And there it stayed in Kievan Rus’.
Many, many versions have been painted based on this style, and even the Black Madonna of Czestochowa in Poland, in its less innovative versions, can be seen to contain the same elements:
It seems that Orthodox Christians in Ukraine and Belarus are also fond of the Black Madonna version of this icon, as well as sharing a love with Russians of the style generally. One of the icons in this article from 2014 is a Smolensk icon of Mary: “Weeping Icons of Ukraine and Russia.”
While Icon Reader has reservations about the meaning of these tears, he was able to affirm one clear word from the news reports that surely still stands:
“What is certain is [the] tears of the Mother of God
speak directly to the heart of every Orthodox believer,
calling all to repentance, amendment of life and return
to Orthodox faith and tradition in their fullness.”
The Apostles’ preaching and the Fathers’ doctrines have established one faith for the Church. Adorned with the robe of truth, woven from heavenly theology, it defines and glorifies the great mystery of Orthodoxy! -Hymn for the feast
On the seventh Sunday of Pascha we Orthodox commemorate the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. This gathering was organized by the Emperor Constantine in 325. St. Nicholas of Myra and many others whom we now know as saints were present.
Arianism (not Aryanism) had been a recurring source of controversy in the early Church, and when Constantine called for a council, it was primarily out of a desire to settle the underlying theological questions. This was the Council at Nicea in Asia Minor, held in 325, where the major part of the Nicene Creed was formulated. Many of the hymns and readings for this feast are very theological, too.
On the site linked above, we read, “A list of bishops at the council exists, including about 230 names, though there are indications that the signature lists are defective. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Athanasius the Great) puts the number at 318, which is regarded as a mystically significant number, as in Genesis 14:14, the number of servants whom Abraham (then still named “Abram”) took with him to rescue his nephew Lot.”
Though we aren’t commemorating the Fathers of the second council today, those who completed the Creed as we know it, I wanted to post the full Symbol of Faith here, as we profess it in our daily prayers and in many services. The majesty and splendor of The Holy Trinity and of His loving plan of salvation captivate me from the first few lines, and by the time we get to “the Life of the age to come,” I am full of joy at being a participant in this Life. Here is some background:
“The Creed as it now stands was formed in two stages, and the one in use today in the Orthodox Church reflects the revisions and additions made at the Second Ecumenical Council. Some centuries later, the Roman Catholic Church attempted a unilateral revision of the Creed by the addition of the Filioque, this being one of the causes of the Great Schism between Rome and the rest of the Church.”
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of allthings visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate ofthe Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdomshall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets; And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the Life of the age to come. Amen.
You are most glorious, O Christ our God! You have established the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth! Through them you have guided us to the true faith! O greatly Compassionate One, glory to You!
“The purpose of the Church is a constant battle; this is why it is called the ‘militant Church,’ battling with the prince of this world – that is, with all those who by all possible means and ways press the spirit of man, bind it, as it were mix it with matter, gradually suppress in it the call from heaven, deprive it of the opportunity even to feel its own true nature, the true purpose of its life in this world, and even harden it against eternal Life. For the spirit that has become attached to earth, this Light even now becomes painfully tormenting, which is why there is occurring a rebellion against the Light, an effort to put out its remaining rays in this world.”