Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Mother of God Icon Eleousa (Oumilenie)

August 4th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

"Our Lady of Vladimir", ca. 1131, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

This Marian icon type is the most expressive of what we might think of as the normal relationship between a mother and child. Unlike the other, more dogmatic, icons of the Virgin and Child we have looked at (here), this one stresses the touching and typically deep attachment of a mother and child. Christ’s exalted status as the Divine Word is hardly apparent here. In fact, He seems as vulnerable and as much in need of His mother’s love and protection as any child. He snuggles up to her, nestles in her arms and nudges her cheek. He appears reluctant to leave her; she appears reluctant to share Him.

“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul.” (Ps. 131:2)

She seems pensive; perhaps she is recalling what the future holds for her son -and for her. 

Eleousa is a Greek word which means merciful; oumilenie is Russian and can be translated as mild, tender, loving, or compassionate. Even though under both titles the faces of the Virgin and Child touch affectionately, each title refers to different aspects or interpretations of the image. Under the title Eleousa the Virgin is understood as “the Merciful” while the title Oumilenie refers to the sentiment experienced by the Child –following the intervention of his Mother– of affectionate Tenderness. Eleousa pertains to the Mother, whereas Oumilenie pertains to the Child.

Christ sometimes referred to children in His teaching finding meaning in their trust and innocence.

“…unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:5)


Suggestions for more information:

Icons Explained

The Mystical Language of Icons, Solrunn Nes, (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005)

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