Icon Cross – Mother of Tenderness


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Icons of the Theotokos (God-bearer) and Christ Emmanuel are important for iconographic theology. The reason we are able to paint and venerate sacred images is because God took on our human flesh and to reveal himself to us, using Mary as his material instrument. On the basic level of human relationships, there is no question as to why for almost two thousand years these Madonna and Child images have been so popular in the hearts and minds of the faithful.

Mary and the child Jesus touch cheek to cheek. One arm is wrapped around her neck while the other is grasping her veil. An unusual aspect of this icon is that instead of the usual gesture of adoration with one hand, Mary embraces the child with both hands. This emphasizes the intimate nature of their relationship. Though full of tenderness, the image is free of sentimentality. Jesus’ sober gaze is directed at us as he clings tightly to his mother for safety. Although Jesus is God, he is also human and rightly afraid of the suffering and death he is to undergo. The countenance of Mary is distant and slightly melancholy, looking past the child and the viewer, as if she might already see the events of Golgotha.

This icon invites us to contemplate two aspects of our lives: the profound love available to us in our relationship with God, and the reality of suffering. Jesus has no misgivings about the death he is to endure. And Mary is equally cognizant of its inevitability: at the Presentation in the Temple Simeon had told her, …a sword will pierce your own soul too. (Luke 2:35). But the security Jesus knows in the love of both God and his Mother will ultimately prevail. Death will be defeated, and we too are offered this intense and tender relationship with God and his Mother.


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