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The Gate of Heaven Icon of Our Lady of Mercy

Father Scottston Brentwood - Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Icon Also Known As:

The Portal of the Sky

The All-Holy Keeper of the Portal

[Greek: Panagia Portaitissa (pronounced “Pah-nah-YEE-ah Por-tai-TEE-sa”)]

The Iveron Mother of God

 

History and Symbolism

 

The Original “Gate of Heaven” Mother of God is a Byzantine Icon of the Virgin Mary which according to some is one of the paintings made by St. Luke the Evangelist. The full history of the famous miraculous image is not known. The Icon is referred to as "Wonderworking" meaning that numerous miracles have been attributed to the intercession of the Mother of God by persons praying before it. A Byzantine painting is like a door. Seeing a beautiful door is nice, but who wants to just stand there looking at the door? We want to open the door and go beyond it. The door might be attractive or unattractive, but it is only a door, there to lead us into a new world.

 

Before the separation of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches called “The Great Schism of the year 1054,” the Gate of Heaven Icon of the Mother of God was kept in the home of a certain pious widow, who lived near Nicea. During the reign of the Emperor Theophilus (829–842), the Iconoclasts came to the house of this Christian. One of the soldiers struck the Icon with his spear, and immediately blood began to flow from the gashed cheek of the Virgin. The mark is depicted in all copies that have since been painted of this icon. Apparently Our Lady wants man to remember her sorrows and to recall that she is a Mother who understands sorrow and suffering. Shaken by this miracle, the soldier instantly repented, renounced the iconoclast heresy, and entered a monastery.

 

The widow, fearing its destruction, promised the imperial soldiers money and implored them not to touch the icon until morning. The widow spent the whole night in vigil, praying before the Icon of the Mother of God. In the morning, according to God’s will, the woman and her son put the holy image into the Mediterranean Sea. To her immense surprise and joy the Icon did not sink but, remaining upright, began to sail westward.

Fleeing persecution, the widow's son left Nicea and went to Mount Athos, Greece where he led a saintly life as a monk to the end of his days. There he recounted the story of the miracle of the bleeding wound, of how his mother had set the holy icon upon the waves, and this story was handed down from one generation of monks to another.

 

Time passed, and one evening in the year 1004, the monks of the Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos beheld a pillar of fire, shining upon the sea like the sun and reached to the heavens. The miraculous view lasted several days, while the fathers of the Holy Mountain gathered together, marveling at the sight. Finally, they descended to the edge of the sea, where they beheld the Icon of the Mother of God in the pillar of fire. But when they approached it, the icon moved farther out to sea.

 

At that time, a Georgian monk named Gabriel was working at the Iveron Monastery. The Mother of God appeared to the fathers of the Holy Mountain and told them that Gabriel alone was worthy to retrieve the holy icon from the sea. At the same time, She appeared to Gabriel and told him, “Enter the sea, and walk out upon the waves with faith, and all will witness my love and mercy for your monastery.” The monks of Mt. Athos found Gabriel and led him down to the sea, chanting hymns, and censing with holy incense. Gabriel walked out upon the water as though upon dry land, took the icon in his arms, and obediently carried it back to shore.

 

While the monks were celebrating a service of thanksgiving, a cold, sweet spring miraculously gushed forth from the ground where the icon stood. Afterwards, they took the icon to a church and set it down in the sanctuary with great reverence.

 

However, one of the monks who came to light a lamp the next morning discovered that the icon was no longer where they had left it. In fact, it was hanging on a wall near the entrance gate. The disbelieving monks took it down and returned it to the sanctuary, but the next day the icon was again found at the monastery gate. This miracle recurred several times, until the Most Holy Virgin appeared to Gabriel, saying, “Announce to the brothers that from this day they should not carry me away. For what I desire is not to be protected by you; rather I will overshadow you, both in this life and in the age to come. As long as you see my icon in the monastery, the grace and mercy of my Son shall never be lacking!”

 

Filled with exceeding joy, the monks erected a small church near the monastery gate to glorify the Most Holy Mother of God and placed the wonderworking icon inside. The holy icon came to be known as the “Iveron Mother of God” and because of its location, in Greek, Portaitissa or “The Keeper of the Portal.” By the grace of the miraculous Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, many miracles have taken place and continue to take place throughout the world.

 

It is believed that the disappearance of the Iveron Icon from Mt. Athos would be a sign of the end of the world. Later, the Orthodox Church took over Mt. Athos including the Iveron Monastery where the original Icon resides up to the present time.

 

This modern copy of the Gate of Heaven Icon was made by a man named Chrysostomos in 1981. Myrrh is miraculously flowing from some copies of it. As also with the case of the Icon of “La Bruna” which became an Icon of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the White Scapular of Our Lady of Mercy was later added on it.

The icon belongs to a family of images of Mary known as Hodegetria (“She who shows ‘The Way’”) after the prototype from Constantinople. In these icons, the Ever Virgin Mary is holding Christ and pointing toward Him, as a guide to God and salvation. Another famous icon based upon Hodegetria is Our Lady of CzÄ™stochowa.

 

Mary is shown with her head covered with a veil, which drops to her shoulders, according to the tradition of Jewish women of that time. This veil or head covering is red, the color worn by virgins during the time of Christ and to show also Mary’s suffering and acquired holiness. Under her veil her clothing is blue, the color worn by mothers in Palestine, symbolizing the humanity of the Mother of God. Above her head are the letters “MP OY,” an abbreviation of the Greek: “Mater Theos” – the Mother of God. The gold cuffs on her sleeves are fit for a Queen, and indicate her intercession for the people. There are three stars, one on the forehead and one on each shoulder. These stars symbolize her virginity. She was a virgin before, during, and after the Nativity of Christ. The three stars are also a symbol of the Holy Trinity.

 

The third star may or may not be covered by the figure of the child identified to us as Jesus Christ (abbreviated as IC XC), the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who even as a child is holding the scroll or book of the Gospels, embodying all the wisdom of the true God. His halo contains those three Greek letters meaning “I AM”, testifying to His divinity, and even as an infant His right hand is shown giving a blessing.

 

Sources:

1. Orthodox Wiki

2. http://oca.org/saints/lives/2014/09/26/205488-arrival-of-the-iveron-icon-of-the-mother-of-god-in-georgia

3. http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/icon_myrrh_ext.htm

4. http://www.antiochian.org/node/17508

5. http://iconreader.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/icons-of-the-mother-of-god/

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panagia_Portaitissa

7. http://www.baclaranchurch.org/icon.html

[Editor: Daniel James Cruz]

 

Ave Maris Stella

 

Hail, thou Star of ocean,

Portal of the sky!

Ever Virgin Mother

Of the Lord most high!

 

Oh! by Gabriel's Ave,

Uttered long ago,

Eva's name reversing,

Establish peace below.

 

Break the captives’ fetters;

Light on blindness pour;

All our ills expelling,

Every bliss implore.

 

Show thyself a Mother;

Offer Him our sighs,

Who for us Incarnate

Did not thee despise.

 

Virgin of all virgins!

To thy shelter take us:

Gentlest of the gentle!

Chaste and gentle make us.

 

Still, as on we journey,

Help our weak endeavor;

Till with thee and Jesus

We rejoice forever.

 

Through the highest heaven,

To the Almighty Three,

Father, Son, and Spirit,

One same glory be.


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