St. John of Krondstadt on the Panagia

The Great Panagia

The Great Panagia

You earth-born creatures, who have not purity, triumph in the fact that the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, has entirely and superabundantly attained the purity of soul and body unattainable to you; triumph in this, and pray to Her, that She may teach you and your children to pass your lives in purity in this corrupt world, so full of temptations. It is because of Her purity, humility, and virtues, and because She was found worthy of becoming the Mother of God the Word, that, when offering the bloodless sacrifice, we offer gratitude to the Heavenly Father, and say: “Especially to the Most Holy …. Glorious Lady, the Mother of God . . . .” [640] –that is, we offer to Thee our verbal service, glory, and thanksgiving.

Sergieff, Archpriest John Iliytch; St John of Kronstadt (2010-05-26). My Life in Christ, or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God (Kindle Locations 4426-4431). . Kindle Edition.

The Panagia Portaitissa

Panagia Portaitissa, Iveron Monastery

Panagia Portaitissa, Iveron Monastery

Recently I noticed an icon of the Virgin Mary where she had a wound on her face. This was intriguiging, especially as no one could explain it. A quick Google search later and I found the answer. The Panagia Portaitissa icon is a very special icon, dating back to the time of the iconoclastic controversy, when the forces of the Byzantine emperor were ordered to destroy all icons. The story goes that the icon belonged to a widow in Nicea who tried to protect it from destruction. A soldier stabbed the icon and, as the story goes, blood flowed from the wound. The widow spent the night in prayer, after which she cast the icon into the sea. This occurred early in the 9th century.

Monk Gabriel rescuing the icon of the Panagia on the water

Monk Gabriel rescuing the icon of the Panagia on the water

In the latter half of the 10th the icon was recovered off the coast of Mount Athos by a monk named Gabriel of the Iveron Monastery. The icon was taken to the main church of the monastery. When the monks entered the church on the following day, the icon was missing, and was later found hanging on the gates of the monastery. The monks took it down and put in back in the church, but the next morning it was found hanging on the monastery gates. This happened for several days until the monk Gabriel reported he had received a vision of the Theotokos, in which it was revealed that she did not want her icon to be protected by the monks, but she wanted to be their Protectress. Since then the icon has been installed above the monastery gates. The icon is called Portaitissa, or the Gate-Keeper, a title that comes from the Akathist to the Mother of God: “Rejoice, O Blessed Gate-Keeper who opens the gates of Paradise to the righteous.”

Iveron Theotokos of Montreal

Iveron Theotokos of Montreal

In 1648, Patriarch Nikon of Moscow, while he was still Archimandrite of the Novopassky Monastery, commissioned a copy of the Panagia Portaitissa. This famous icon, and the chapel in which it resided, was destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1917. Other famous copies have been made, including the famous Iveron Theotokos of Montreal, which is a myrrh-streaming icon. A copy of the Montreal Myrrh-Streaming Iveron Icon began streaming Myrrh at the Russian Orthodox Church in Hawaii in 2007; I have personally witnessed the myrrh on the face of the icon, and was anointed with the oil during the icon’s visit to Washington DC.

The Weeping Mother of God of the Sign

The “Weeping Mother of God” refers to an event that took place on November 27, 1165, in the city of Novgorod. The city was under siege, and the citizens took the icon to the city wall. The icon was pierced by an arrow, and the icon began to shed tears. Upon seeing this, the citizens and soldiers rallied and the city was saved. The Russians have given this icon the name “Our Lady of the Sign”, or “Znamenie”. To this day the Russian Church celebrates the Feast of the Our Lady of the Sign on, December 10, which is November 27 in the Old Julian Calendar.

Weeping Mother of God of the Sign, Novgorod

Weeping Mother of God of the Sign

As to the sign, this has two meanings. The first is a reference to Isaiah 7:15, where it is said the virgin would conceive and bear a son, and His name would be Immanuel, which is God with us. The second is the icon that wept when pierced by an arrow.

The similarities between “The Weeping Mother of God of the Sign” and “The Great Panagia” are striking. The differences are that “The Great Panagia” contains the images of archangels and pictures Mary from her feet up; while “The Weeping Mother of God of the Sign” contains images of the seraphim and pictures Mary from the waist up. Both portray the infant Christ in the womb of His mother, the Virgin Mary. In Orthodox churches, “The Weeping Mother of God of the Sign” is visible above the altar.

The Great Panagia

The Great Panagia

The Icon of the Sign

The Great Panagia

The following is from “The Scent of Holiness”
by Constantina R. Palmer


The Great Panagia

The Great Panagia

The love and admiration the saints have for the Most Holy Theotokos is one of the main common characteristics of their holiness. Countless are the stories in which you read of the saints’ devotion to the All-holy Lady. St. Mary of Egypt went to live out her days in the desert after her encounter with an icon of the Mother of God. St. Nektarios wrote hymns to her in Ancient Greek to demonstrate his love and devotion to her. And Elder Joseph the Hesychast could barely say her name without tears streaming down his face.

Elder Isidoros the blind was also like that. One evening, sitting down with a group of people, he bowed his head and crossed himself while tears rolled down his cheeks. Wiping them away, he said, “Excuse me, but at this time of night the love of the Mother of God pulls me.”

“That’s why,” the nuns told me, “he won’t speak about Panagia in front of too many people. He’ll start to cry.”

One afternoon I sat with the elder in the reception room. Since we were alone, I thought I’d take the opportunity to start up the conversation about the Mother of God he had said we would have.

“Papouli, why don’t you talk to me about Panagia now?”

“Okay, what you would like to know?”

“Why don’t you just tell me about her?” I asked him.

“She is . . . she is . . .” he said, raising his hand in the air and waving it in a circular motion— a gesture Greeks do when they are either pleased or annoyed about something.

“She is . . . she is . . . she’s like . . .”   he said, rubbing his hands together and ever so slightly smiling.

“I can’t describe her. She’s indescribable!” he finally said.

He then started singing the Supplicatory Canon to her: “Now to God’s Mother let us humble sinners run in haste and in repentance let us fall down before her feet, crying aloud with fervor from the depths of our souls, ‘Sovereign Lady, help us now, have compassion upon us, hasten for we perish from our many offenses. Let not your servants go empty away; we have you as our only hope.’” “Do you have the Paraclesis * here?” the elder asked.

“Yes, Papouli, but it’s in English,” I told him.

“Ah, never mind,” he said. He leaned his head back and rested it against the wall.

“How can we become like her?” I asked.

“You know she lived in the Temple from the age of three on,” he said.

“Yes, I know. She was the first hesychast.”

“That’s right! That’s right!” he said. “She was the most pure person that ever lived. She was pure because she never once accepted a bad thought. Not once. She kept her mind, her soul, and her body perfectly pure.”

I understood this to be his answer to my question. We can become like her if we also control our thoughts and struggle to attain purity of heart and mind.

He sang some different hymns to her and then he told me, “The more we cry out to her, the more she will harken to our prayers.”

I knew he spoke from experience. For, although he was blind since birth, when he went to the Holy Mountain to become a monk, his sight was gradually restored. For ten days he could see, but he told the Mother of God, “Panagia, take my sight back so I don’t lose Paradise.”

And she did.

But he wasn’t truly blind. He simply couldn’t use his bodily eyes. He’s been known to describe things in detail, things he couldn’t possibly know if he were truly blind. “And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind’” (John 9: 39).

 Palmer, Constantina (2012-10-05). The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery (Kindle Locations 3069-3099). Conciliar Press. Kindle Edition.

Elder Isidoros the Blind

Elder Isidoros the Blind