Our Lady of Tenderness -- The Lady Who Saves Russia
M. Jean Frisk
The miraculous image given the title, Our Lady of Vladimir, is
known as an Eleousa,the Greek word
meaning, Mother of Tenderness. The Christ Child
nestles tenderly close to his mother, he gazes at her and is so
closely linked to her that his left arm embraces her fully. His
right hand gently touches her left cheek. The original image is a
large painting of the type known as the St. Luke icons. Mary
looks out at the people. Yet, there is no doubt that she is
intimately united to her Divine Son.
The origin of the ancient Marian icon, Our Lady of Vladimir, can be traced back to 1125. For many, The Lady Who Saves Russia is the most loved image of the Eastern Church.
The oldest known representation of Our Lady of Vladimir is presently located at the Tretjakow Gallery in Moscow. According to research, this excellent representation of an Eleousa was commissioned in Constantinople by a Russian, who then had the painting taken from city to city during the period of united Ukranian-Russian history. In 1169, Duke Andrej Bogoljubskij had the icon brought from Kiev to the new cathedral of Vladimir. Due to the honor and reverence of the people, who attributed gracious assistance to Our Lady's help throughout the Ukraine, a large cathedral was built for her in Vladimir.
When the Mongol invasion threatened Moscow in 1395, the icon was brought to Moscow, where she was honored as the unconquerable shield of the Russian people. Important state transactions took place before her image; her blessing was sought before battle. In time, Our Lady of Vladimir became the sign of the Russian Orthodox Church.
There are thousands of representations of the Vladimir icon. It is said that there is no Orthodox Church, nor Orthodox home's religious corner, without this image somewhere represented. During the time of the Communist regime, Our Lady of Vladimir gained international fame, but not so much for political reasons, as for ecumenical endeavors. The unity of the churches came to be symbolized, and hoped for, in the unity of the Child and his mother. The intimate relationship of Our Lady of Tenderness with her divine son, Jesus Christ, is presented as an ideal indication of the Christian's relationship to Christ.
On an international level, devotion to this Marian icon began in the twentieth century, when the Christian faithful were instructed about the religious significance, the beauty, and the power of invocation to Mary and the saints. By introducing the profound religious significance of the Byzantine icons, the western church learned to appreciate the value of religious symbols and signs, a form of catechesis which draws us into a participation in the divine mysteries by beholding the truth represented in the icon. Icons are never simply made for the sake of decoration or sale. A true icon is an expression of prayer and long contemplation. The artist (and often those who wish to obtain the icon) paints the image while fasting and observing silence, in a spirit of obedience to the Word of God, and the spirit of chastity. The guidelines for painting the icon are strictly normed because they are to represent a fixed or solid doctrine of the faith.
In 1995, on the six-hundredth anniversary of the transference of the icon
from Vladimir to Moscow, an academic conference was held in the Tretjakow Fine Arts Gallery. Topics for the conference included
such themes as Marian devotion linked to the culture of a
Christian people. Our Lady of Tenderness continues to "speak" to
us through her icon today.
Icons have been described as windows to the divine. Those who take time to meditate on the divine realities expressed through the paintings, do so with the inner eye of the soul reaching beyond the representation to the truth it represents. Meditation can be simply a quiet observing in silence and wonder. Words are not necessary. Perhaps this is the best meditation of all. Meditation can also inspire prayer to share with others. We invite you to reflect on Our Lady of Tenderness with us.
The gentle tenderness you share with your child is a quiet, strong thing, reflected from your image. There is no distance between his soft, but total embrace and you. He loves you. Yes, there is no doubt! O how this child loves you! You are molded as one. His body from your body, his flesh from your flesh, his heart from your heart. His eyes praise you and thank you for your share in his humanity.
Like a strong, powerful, but peaceful magnet, your gaze holds mine. Quiet, calm, endlessly gazing at me from nine centuries of reflected wisdom. You ask only one thing of me: to share the love you share. Love is not gentle, soft tenderness in the sense of weakness. Love is gentle in the sense of strength: enduring, radical, unbroken unity.
Lady of Tenderness, your gaze is both statement and question: If this is the unity he seeks -- a love so strong between God and the human being that nothing can divide it -- then can I not at least try to love as he has loved? Can I not at least try to break down barriers that separate the nations? Can I not make my decisions in his presence and under your gaze -- the presence of this call to unity from the fulness of tender love?
Mary, perhaps if I would pause long enough to return your gaze, stop long enough to love tenderly for just one moment, I could learn from you what wisdom really means.
Return to the Miraculous Image Introduction
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