As stated in the beginning of this article, there are two icons of the Mother of God which are essential to understanding ourselves who worship in the Kievan tradition. The first of those icons is that of the Annunciation. The East deals with the whole person. To make that point, our Church observes the Feast of Annunciation even when it coincides with Good Friday Making an exception to the solemnity of Christ’s burial, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy By doing this, the Church liturgically stresses the importance of our personal thought process and commitment. Through the liturgy we should understand the Mother of God as THE type par excellence of human fulfillment in Christ, regardless of gender. The Annunciation as an icon and a holy day is pivotal in understanding the Eastern Christian approach to holiness in general and Kievan spirituality in particular.
The second image is that of Mary of the Sign. Here is the Mother of God with a medallion positioned over her chest. Inside the medallion is an image of a very mature for His years Christ Child with His right hand raised in the gesture of blessing. It summarizes the Mother of God’s life from the moment of the Annunciation to eternity. She was not just the Mother of Jesus. The Mother of God needed salvation as any one of us. Her life was Christ centered and Christ filled. Mary was and is the Mother of God because she internalized Christ’s message throughout her entire life. The icon of the Sign is a constant reminder that the source of all holiness is Christ, the Son of God and our Savior.
We are called to carry, just as Mary did, the Lord Jesus within our hearts and to allow His blessings to come forth from us by the way that we treat our fellow humans. We are called to be Christ-bearers and bring His message of hope and love into the world in which we live. Our lives, like hers, must be Christ centered. That is the spirituality of our Church.
Our Church espouses a life which is not based on “keeping rules,” but, rather, on bring the peace and love of God into our world but living like Jesus. Our spiritual efforts must be placed on become more like Jesus – like God as expressed in human form.
This type of icon is also sometimes called the Platytéra (Greek: Πλατυτέρα, literally wider or more spacious); poetically, by containing the Creator of the Universe in her womb. Mary is Platytera ton ouranon (Πλατυτέρα των Ουρανών): “More spacious than the heavens”. The Platytéra is traditionally depicted on the half-dome that stands above the altar.
The term Virgin of the Sign or Our Lady of the Sign is a reference to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14) “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.”
One additional icon to come!