This well-known and much-loved icon is titled: The Vladimir Mother of God or more simply, Our Lady of Vladimir. The icon is ancient and so its history is long, winding and legend-ed. All of this can burden the image, causing us to become distracted and to miss the spiritual content offered us, if we would not walk by, but ponder.
The icon's story becomes burdensome when reduced to battles fought, victories won, miraculous lights that cause enemies to flee, fires and restorations, her travel log, who owned her, stole her, built monasteries and cathedrals for her, and on and on endlessly. Rather...
The icon is of the Eleusa type. Eleusa mean tenderness or showing mercy.Usually the icon is described as showing Mary's love for her Infant-Son, but I'd suggest it is first and even more about God's love for us. Mary looks at us because she's addressing us; she has a message. This is why she is pointing to Jesus with her left hand. She is "showing mercy" by indicating him, who IS God's mercy become one of us. This movement of her left hand means: "Pay attention to the Child!"
And what's the Child doing? With his right hand he is reaching out to her, and with his left hand, look, like a lasoo, he is pulling her in. The two figures are cheek-to-cheek. The Child is so animated in this Divine action that we see the sole of his left foot.
The icon's message is: Look at how God loves us; all of us! In Christ, God pulls the planet in close. In Christ, God's got His face right up against our own. In Christ, God isn't static, like a statue on a shelf, but is animated in love, even climbing up and all over humankind. The Mother of God then is an image or picture of US, especially as we are perhaps way off in an inner gaze of suffering and melancholy.
We've all seen pictures of disaster zones where parents claw at the debris which has fallen and covered their children. Here, in the Vladimir icon, we see God in Christ, drawing us in and pressing us close to himself in love - our world all fractious, covered with the debris of anxiety and the news of suffering and death. And this Divine Child is bursting and irradiated with lights and the pensive Mother (who is us) cloaked in black, stands at the Easter-insistent window of orange and gold.
And as the icon's written history is so heavy-laden with accounts of wars, could we go deeper, to the interior place, asking to be released from (or victorious over) the real enemies which are our pride, our battle-field hearts, the excluding and on-the-rise nationalisms, our ego-driven insistences, the enemy of a dulled conscience, our vanity and earth-destroying, plunderous greed.