A Mother's Eyes

I'm a great fan of icons and anyone who has been to my office or rooms can easily see that. I have icons all over the walls. They are reminders to me of my family, the Family of God. Many of my icons come from St. Isaac Skete, a tiny Orthodox monastery tucked away among the hills and coulees of southwestern Wisconsin near a town called Boscobel. If you can find your way there and visit their gift shop, you'll be able to purchase slightly damaged "seconds" for half price and, in gratitude for the efforts you took to get there, they'll send you away with a gift icon.

One of my favorite icons is known as The Virgin of Vladimir, The Mother of God of Vladimir, or Our Lady of Tenderness. It was created by a Greek icon writer and was taken from Constantinople to Kiev in 1183. Twenty years later it was taken to Vladimir where it remained until 1395 when it went to its current home in Moscow. What's most striking to me about the icon are the eyes of the Blessed Mother. What those eyes must have seen over the centuries and especially during the time of Communist oppression!

In the sitting area where I pray next to my bedroom, I have on the wall a copy of this icon in a reduced size that emphasizes the Mother and Child. When I pray Vespers and come to the Magnificat I look into her eyes. The Magnificat is a song of joy, but I find the eyes of the Virgin of Vladimir sad.

Lately, as I look into her eyes, I find myself thinking about the Holy Family's flight into Egypt, and today's Gospel (Luke 2: 22-35) where Simeon prophesies that Jesus "is destined ... to be a sign that will be contradicted" and, to Mary, that "you yourself a sword will pierce." We know it was the sword of sorrow, the suffering that only a mother could experience watching her son tortured and dying on a cross. The eyes of this Virgin Mother of Vladimir contain that sorrow.

It's underscored by the Child who clings to His Mother. It's almost a desperate clinging, His eyes fixed on her eyes.

As I look into those eyes I seem to hear Mary saying to me: "Do you see my Child? Do you see how they want to hurt Him and kill Him? This is what sin does to Him. Will you also threaten Him, hurt Him, and kill Him with your sins?