HOW TO INTERPRET THE MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP ICON.
Our Mother of Perpetual Help is a Byzantine icon that is believed to have its origin sometime during the 13th -15th century. The icon is known for being miraculous; over the centuries countless healings and special graces have been attributed to it, so much so that the image has been honored and venerated by many Popes.
The miraculous icon is painted on wood and measures about 20″ in height (54 x 41.5 centimeters) and depicts the Virgin Mary, under the title “Mother of God,” holding the Child Jesus.
1: Greek Characters:
- Largest and near the top of the icon, we see the Greek letters
- ΜΡ θΥ = Mother of God; over the angel on the right is inscribed
- O AP M = the Archangel Michael;
- over the angel on the left is O AP I O = the Archangel Gabriel
2: Mary’s Star:
- Reminds us she is the dawn announcing the coming of Jesus.
- It symbolizes the role of Mary in the mystery of Christ and the Church.
- The star indicates that she is the one who will lead us to Christ.
3: Mary’s Eyes:
- Mary’s eyes are filled with compassion and love, are fixed on us, her children on earth.
- She is our source of constant comfort and hope.
- Her eyes draw all who look into her face toward the mystery of Redemption which she holds in her arms.
4: Archangel Michael:
- He is holding a lance, a pole with a sponge, and a vessel of vinegar.
- These prefigure scenes from Jesus’ crucifixion.
- The Archangel’s veiled hands inculcate reverence for holy things.
5: Archangel Gabriel:
- Gabriel is holding a cross and nails, the very instruments of the coming death that has driven the boy Jesus to His mother’s dafe embrace.
- His veiled hands inculcate reverence for holy things.
6: Mary’s Cloak:
- The colors of Mary’s cloak symbolize both her virginity (red) and motherhood (blue).
- These are also the colors of royalty.
7: Mary’s Hands & Arms:
- Mary’s hands and arms hold Jesus in a manner that indicates she is presenting Him to us.
- Her flat pointing right hand points directly into the heart of the Christ Child, up to the Cross the angel is holding.
- Her left hand position, along with the view of the right hand, is one of presenting the Child to those who stand before the icon as she says: “Receive the Word of God.”
8: The Face of Jesus:
- The Christ Child looks out beyond the instruments of His passion to our future redemption.
- While Jesus’ body is that of a child, His face is more mature, symbolizing wisdom beyond His years.
9. Jesus’ Hands:
- The joining of his hands with his mother’s signify the perfect conformity of Mary’s will with Her Son’s, and that together with Him, she participated in the work of the Redemption.
10: Jesus’ Clothes:
- His green tunic symbolizes His humanity and creation.
- The red sash around His waist symbolizes the Blood of Christ shed for our salvation.
- The gold cloak is symbolic of the Resurrection.
- Together, the colors of the garments are a statement of the Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.
11. Mary’s Face & Mouth:
- The smallness of her mouth teaches us to be silent before the presence of God.
12. Jesus’ Feet & Sandals:
- The falling sandal informs us that He became human like us in all things but sin.
- Showing his heel is from the promise of God in the book of Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
13. The Gold Background:
- The gold background represents heaven and the divine light of the Resurrection shining through the garments of Jesus and Mary entering into the one praying before the image.
- The original picture is painted on wood, in colors of the composition designated by artists as tempera. Its proportions are twenty-one inches in height and seventeen inches in width.