The Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

During the season of Advent our thoughts turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are three ways in which the mother of God is often portrayed in iconography.

According to tradition, Saint Luke the Evangelist became the first iconographer when he painted the Mother of God from life. Known as the Hodigitria, Greek for “she who points the way,” the icon depicts Mary looking directly at the viewer while gesturing toward her son, the Christ-child — literally guiding the faithful toward salvation. A powerful reminder of God’s human incarnation, the subject also serves as a metaphor for the ability of icons to make the divine present on earth.   Subtle alterations to the Hodigitria led to numerous variations, while miraculous visions inspired entirely new Mother of God icons. Here you’ll find examples of the Hodigitria, in which the Mother of God looks out solemnly while the Christ-child delivers a blessing. In Icons of the Sign, the Mother of God raises her hands in prayer. In the Umilinya, or Tenderness, icon, Mary lovingly presses her cheek to her son’s. With more than 450 accepted ways of depicting her, the Mother of God is the most varied, and perhaps most popular, icon in the Orthodox tradition. (Text from the Chrysler Museum).

This icon depicts the Mother of God with her arms extended and hands raised in a gesture of prayer and receiving — what is known as the orans pose. A youthful Christ appears in a circle at her chest representing her womb. Her “sign” gesture and the icon’s symbolism together refer to a biblical prophecy from the book of Isaiah: “The Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” (Text from the Chrysler Museum).


This icon depicts the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would become the Mother of God. Typically, this icon only shows the Mother of God, Gabriel, and a red cloth draped over the architecture, which indicates the scene is taking place indoors. Here the Mother of God stands on a cushion, a symbol of her purity. (Text from the Chrysler Museum).

Saint John Paul II had a great devotion to the Virgin Mary which filled him with love for the Akathist Hymns written the early centuries extolling the Mother of God. May this ancient hymn lead you to deeper love for the Virgin Mother.

The icon exhibit at the Chrysler will only be open until January 11, 2016.

On December 19 from 1 to 3 pm, in the Kaufman Theater in the Chrysler Museum, there will be an event: “Sound of the Saints: Celebrate St. Nicholas and the holiday season with an enlightening Saints and Dragons presentation and a special choral performance. The Rev. George Bessinas of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral presents an illustrated talk about Orthodox traditions involving icons. Following his presentation will be a musical performance, in English and in Greek, from the cathedral’s chanters, choir, and youth choir.”