This evening we will be exploring three Marian Icons with Archbishop Rowan Williams using his book Ponder These Things – Praying With the Icons of the Virgin. The Icons we will be looking at have been part of the Church’s devotional life since the very first centuries after the Resurrection, and have a long history in the Church in bringing Christians closer to Christ and particularly in regard to the Incarnation.
The first Icon is the Hodegetria – she who shows the way. This Icon creates a circular movement. The Virgin gestures towards the Child, introducing her son to us and pointing us away from herself. The Child gazes at Mary’s face giving loving attention to someone besides himself. The gaze is the clearest expression of God’s love which draws us into a relationship with him. Mary’s face looks at us, drawing us back into the Icon and her gesture to the Son.
The second Icon is the Eleousa – Lady of Tenderness. In this Icon, we see the Child embracing, grasping, and pushing himself toward Mary. He is actively seeking her with a love of insistent intensity and immediacy. Similar to the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, or the Lost Son (Luke 15), the Icon shows a God who seeks us out with the eagerness and informality of a child. In Mary’s face, however, we see the burden and apprehensiveness that the knowledge of this love brings. It is the knowledge that the Publican has and the Pharisee lacks. (Luke 18).
The final Icon is the Orans – the Virgin of the Sign. This Icon shows us the Virgin at Prayer with her raised and outstretched hands. At the center of her chest is a roundel or medallion with the Christ-child. Here is Christ praying in Mary, who becomes (like the Church after Pentecost) a sign of Christ in the world. This Icon also serves to bring out two basic truths of Christianity. First, Christ is within us (Luke 17:21), praying within us and thereby allowing us to pray unceasingly as the Virgin does. Second, the representation of Jesus as within Mary – a young, veiled, marginalized, woman living in an occupied land – reminds us that Christ is most often found in those places and those people whom the world and organized religion have forgotten. None of Jesus’ disciples came from a “good family.” Finally, in the Icon, Mary is looking at the world as it is when she prays. She is not looking inward, but outward. Her hands are open toward God, while her eyes are open toward the world.
Dinner is at 6. The menu tonight is gourmet grilled cheese. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here.
Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the Incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his Cross and Passion be brought to the glory of his Resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.Collect for the Annunciation 1979 BCP 240