Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Portatissa ~ The Iveron Mother of God




HOW WONDERFUL IS THIS: like a foreshadowing of Google Earth, an ancient icon featuring an aerial view of the Iveron Mother of God Icon floating on the Mediterranean Sea on Her way to Athos! Here's the story:

A pious woman, desiring to safeguard her icon of the Mother of God during the period of iconoclasm (icon smashers) prayed a night vigil asking heaven for direction. She was instructed to place the icon on the Mediterranean, letting it float away, leaving it in God's care.


The woman's son soon left home to become a monk at Mount Athos, the Greek peninsula monastic-state, called "Our Lady's Garden". At Athos the young man related the story of his mother's ardent devotion and how she saved the icon from the destructive hands of the iconoclasts. Then in 1004, on Bright Tuesday of Easter Week, the holy monk Gabriel saw the icon coming towards him, standing upright on the sea, whereupon he retrieved it and took it to the monastery church where it was venerated.


The following morning the monks found the icon missing from the chapel. After a search they discovered it hanging over the monastery gate. This strange movement occurred several times until Gabriel received a vision of the Mother of God in which she related to him that she didn't want to be kept contained by the monks, but to preside as Portatissa (Keeper of the Gate) over the monastery's entrance.

I love the stories surrounding wonder-working icons - how they were created or came to their final destination, or the miracles that surround them. While I don't linger in doubt, I rush to ask the most important question, "What does it mean for us?"

She is called Portatissa (Gate Keeper), and gates are places that invite passage - movement from here to there. Sometimes the passage is an outer place ~ St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, or we go in through the Garden Gate. 

But perhaps more importantly there is that psychological/spiritual gate which calls us to an interior movement. We speak of rites of passage. The Sacrament of Confirmation should be something like that - an individual making Christ his or her own and subsequently living as a new spirit-endowed person. Sadly, it seldom happens. I expect the same could be said of a Jewish bar or bat mitzvah. Each reception of the Eucharist ought to be an occasion of passage into Christ which grows and changes us.

Maybe we should all just look after our own passages as they appear and occur in our lives. I know a young man who lived a troubled, dangerous and unlawful life who has been utterly changed by the birth of a daughter. That's a passage.

Or perhaps the movement is the getting free of addictions, resentment, lying, obsessive fears and anxieties, a depressed life, an un-evolved personality, the trauma of abuse, accident or horror. Becoming an individuated person is a major and ongoing passage which many people never set out upon. One minister speaks of individuation this way:
The process by which the individual in the course of his/her life is pressed to realize his innate capacities to the full and become what he has it in him to become.
This takes a life-time of work and we seldom can do it alone. Spouses and good friends can be helpers in this passage. Sometimes the helper needs to be a professional. The Iveron Mother of God is a survivor who floated on the tempestuous sea for years before taking up residence over the monastery gate. We might ask her to help grow-us-up ~ all of us ~ and to point us in the direction of the passages that will lead us to an inner land of healing and wholeness.

Having survived the waves of the sea,
You came to Athos,
establishing yourself
as encouragement and guide
to those who come and go.
O Mother of God,
now bless our own entrance into the life
of conforming ourselves to the image of Christ our God ~
which leads to our salvation.


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