Your Divinely Radiant Beauty

The Theotokos of the Sign

The Protection of the Theotokos
Protection of the Theotokos Orthodox Church
Allentown, PA

What words, O Mother of God and Virgin, can describe your divinely radiant beauty? Your qualities cannot be circumscribed by thoughts or words, for they transcend our minds and speech. But it is possible to sing your praises if you, in your charity, so permit. In you all graces are to be found. You are the perfection of nobleness in all its forms, the living portrait of every virtue and kindness. You alone were vouchsafed the gifts of the Spirit in their totality, or rather, you alone held mysteriously in your womb Him in whom are the treasures of all these spiritual gifts, and became inexplicably His tabernacle. Therefore, you were the object of His care from your infancy, even in respect of physical needs, and He paradoxically accepted you from your childhood as His companion, showing from that time forward, by means of such strange events as this, that you were the unchanging shrine of all His graces.

You were deemed worthy of much higher privileges than were granted to other men. Your birth was extraordinary, your upbringing even stranger, and your childbearing, without knowing anything of men, was yet more supremely mysterious. Whereas your birth was adorned with pledges made by God and human beings, that is to say, by your parents – for when they received His promise they rightly vowed you, the promised child, to Him in return – you yourself were also beautified with heavenly promises at various times, and enriched the whole world with them. Before long you received the tidings of Him from whom and through whom so great a promise was made (Luke 1: 26– 38), that the promises to God’s friends down through the ages which found fulfilment in you, and the great visions they beheld, seemed merely like obscure reflections and vague ideas in comparison. You alone fulfilled all their visions, surpassing our common human nature by means of your union with God, not just when you gave birth in a marvellous way, but also through the preceding fellowship with Him in everything good, which resulted from your utter purity.

Palamas, St. Gregory (2013-08-21). Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas (Kindle Locations 505-520). Mount Thabor Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The Smolensk “Hodigitria” Icon of the Theotokos

Detail of the Smolensk "Hodigitria" Icon of the Theotokos

Detail of the Smolensk “Hodigitria” Icon of the Theotokos

“The Smolensk “Hodigitria” Icon of the Theotokos, or “She who leads the way,” was, according to Church Tradition, painted by the holy Evangelist Luke during the earthly life of the Most Holy Theotokos. Holy Hierarch Demetrius of Rostov suggests that this icon was written at the request of Theophilus, the prefect of Antioch. From Antioch, the holy image was transferred to Jerusalem. From there, Empress Eudokia, the wife of Emperor Arcadius, gave it to Pulcheria, the sister of the emperor, at Constantinople. Pulcheria put the holy icon in the Blachernae Church.”


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 Trisagion Hymn

The Trisagion Prayers are a set of ancient prayers that begin each service of the Daily Cycle of divine services. They are also commonly used to begin one’s private prayers.

The Trisagion Thrice Holy by Angelboy


+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Glory be to Thee, our God; glory be to Thee.

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things; Treasury of blessings, and Giver of life:  Come and abide in us, and cleanse us of every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

+ Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.  (with bow)
+ Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.  (with bow)
+ Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.  (with bow)

+ Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

Most-holy Trinity, have mercy on us:  Lord, cleanse us of our sins; Master, pardon our transgressions; Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy Name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

+ Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

+ Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.  Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, + of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

Meet it is in truth to bless thee, O Theotokos,
ever-blessèd and all-pure, and the Mother of our God.

More honourable than the Cherubim,
and more glorious incomparably than the Seraphim,
thou who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word,
the very Theotokos:  we thee magnify.

+ Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, + O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us.  Amen.

From John Damascene’s book “An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”

Depiction of the Cherubim

The Cherubim

For we hold the words “Holy God” to refer to the Father, without limiting the title of divinity to Him alone, but acknowledging also as God the Son and the Holy Spirit: and the words “Holy and Mighty” we ascribe to the Son, without stripping the Father and the Holy Spirit of might: and the words “Holy and Immortal” we attribute to the Holy Spirit, without depriving the Father and the Son of immortality. For, indeed, we apply all the divine names simply and unconditionally to each of the subsistences in imitation of the divine Apostle’s words. “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we in Him: and one Lord Jesus Christ by Whom are all things, and we by Him.” And, nevertheless, we follow Gregory the Theologian when he says, “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things, and one Holy Spirit, in Whom are all things:” for the words “of Whom” and “through Whom” and “in Whom” do not divide the natures (for neither the prepositions nor the order of the names could ever be changed), but they characterize the properties of one unconfused nature. And this becomes clear from the fact that they are once more gathered into one, if only one reads with care these words of the same Apostle, Of Him and through Him and in Him are all things: to Him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen(4). For that the “Trisagium” refers not to the Son alone, but to the Holy Trinity, the divine and saintly Athanasius and Basil and Gregory, and all the band of the divinely-inspired Fathers bear witness: because, as a matter of fact, by the threefold holiness the Holy Seraphim suggest to us the three subsistences of the superessential Godhead.

Depiction of the Seraphim

The Seraphim

But by the one Lordship they denote the one essence and dominion of the supremely-divine Trinity. Gregory the Theologian of a truth says, “Thus, then, the Holy of Holies, which is completely veiled by the Seraphim, and is glorified with three consecrations, meet together in one lordship and one divinity.” This was the most beautiful and sublime philosophy of still another of our predecessors.

Ecclesiastical historians, then, say that once when the people of Constantinople were offering prayers to God to avert a threatened calamity, during Proclus’ tenure of the office of Archbishop, it happened that a boy was snatched up from among the people, and was taught by angelic teachers the “Thrice Holy” Hymn, “Thou Holy God, Holy and Mighty One, Holy and Immortal One, have mercy upon us:” and when once more he was restored to earth, he told what he had learned, and all the people sang the Hymn, and so the threatened calamity was averted. And in the fourth holy and great Ecumenical Council (I mean the one at Chalcedon), we are told that it was in this form that the Hymn was sung; for the minutes of this holy assembly so record it.

Damascene, St. John (2010-08-08). An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (Kindle Locations 1955-1981).  Kindle Edition.

For more information, See John Sanidopoulos’s blog: The Miracle of the Trisagion (“Thrice-Holy Hymn”)