In Your Midst

Image of the Divine

Xmas 2007

Icon of the Virgin and Child - Joan Brand-LandkamerA hungry love

This icon of Mary cradling the infant Jesus is known and loved throughout the world, by Christians of all denominations.  The icon is known as the Eleousa, a Greek word meaning the Virgin of loving-kindness; she is also called Our Lady of Vladimir.  The oldest known icon of the Eleousa is housed in the Tretjakow Gallery in Moscow, and dates from 1125.  The Cathedral’s icon of Our Lady of Vladimir was written by Joan Brand-Landkamer.

Icons are less like pictures than they are like windows, opening up on to the divine, and like all traditional icons, this one is meant not so much to be looked at as to be entered into.

We see the infant Jesus scrambling up on his mother’s lap, reaching for her face, his little arms embracing her neck, his eyes gazing up at her.  Mary cradles him gently in her arms, with her eyes turned towards us.  While the image has much to teach us about the intimate love between Mary and her son, there is more.  In his recent book, Ponder These Things, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury finds in this icon an image of Christ and his church, of the relationship between us and our God.  “It is as if [God] is not merely unashamed but positively shameless in his eagerness, longing to embrace and be embraced.  It is not simply that God will deign not to mind our company:  rather, he is passionate for it.  The image of God’s action we are presented with here is of a hungry love…. God cannot bear to be separated from us because God cannot be parted from the divine action and the divine joy.”

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