There, displayed in front of the iconostasis, was a full length Icon of Mary, covered in gold and silver metal. Now, when I say "full length," I mean the entire body, and this is somewhat unusual. She is holding the baby Jesus, just as in the Icon of our Lady of Perpetual Help, EXCEPT that, in this standing icon, she is pointing to Jesus and his hand does not rest in hers. In this icon she is showing the way to salvation, therefore she is "Hodegetria" or "Hodigitria," the Wayshower, She who Shows the Way, the Lady of the Way, etc.
It turns out that the original icon on which this one is based was painted by Saint Luke during the earthly life of the Theotokos (Mother of God.)
In the 400's it was brought from the Holy Land by Empress Eudocia and thereafter sent to Constantinople. It is a much earlier iconographic image than Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which itself was modeled after the Hodegetria, with two differences. Our Lady of Perpetual Help holds the Christ Child's hand in hers, and one of Jesus' sandals has slipped from his foot and is hanging from it.
The icon that greeted me at church was about 4 or 5 feet tall. Only the beautifully painted faces and hands of the image were exposed, the rest being covered in bas relief metal, as I previously mentioned. I was dazzled by this image. What a beautiful image of our Blessed Mother and Jesus! I felt an immediate awe and attraction.
One Russian tradition is that this icon appeared in Russia after the Fall of Constantinople, upon which it was installed in Smolensk's Assumption Cathedral. Russian versions of the icon are called "Our Lady of Smolensk" or the "Hodegetria of Smolensk" and many miracles are attributed to it. In one story, it is given by Emperor Constantine Monomachus of Byzantium to his daughter, Princess Anna, in honor of her marriage to Prince Vsevolod Yaroslavovich of Chernigov. The princess brought the icon to Russia in 1046, before the fall of Constantinople. Later, in about 1101, her son translated it to Smolensk, where it is reputed to have protected the people of Russia from invaders with many miracles.
The Italians say that the original image painted by Saint Luke that was sent by Eudocia to Pulcheria (Catholic saint and another relative of mine!) was actually just a circular icon picturing Mary's head. This piece was inserted on top of a large rectangular icon of Mary holding Jesus.
Another Italian story claims that when Baldwin II left Constantinople in 1261, he brought the circular icon out with him and likewise inserted it into a larger image of Mary holding the Christ child. This image, which been repainted many times, is held at the Benedictine Abbey church of Montevergine. In the following picture, you can see a faint line where the head was inserted.
The Hodegetria is especially revered by those with eye problems, since the first miracles attributed to it involve the curing of blindness in two men.
These are the rough outlines of the story of the Hodegetria image, but I didn't know any of it when I was praying during our devotions at church. The image of the Hodegetria affected me powerfully, and I found it to be a wonderful instrument of teaching, direction, and inspiration. While I was praying for my intentions during that portion of our devotions, I experienced an inner vision of all the people for whom I had prayed being drawn up into heaven and directed to Christ by the Blessed Mother, who pointed the way. It was a vision of sparkling bright light. As the people ascended toward heaven, the darkness of their sins was sloughed off, like dirty clothing. Gradually, the people began to shine and sparkle until, when they reached the Lord, they were as bright and shining as the heavens around them.
I felt very strongly that my prayer for the intercession of the Hodegetria had been answered and that sins of those persons had been expiated.
In this year of faith, I plan to learn a lot about the faith, our history, the various customs and icons, and most especially about our Blessed Mother in her form as the Lady of the Way, Virgin Hodegetria.
Anyone interested in seeing more images purported to have been painted by Saint Luke, take a look at this interesting web site I found: http://www.wherewewalked.info/Luke/lukeicons.htm
Copyright (c) 2012, Silver S. Parnell
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