The icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is perhaps the oldest actual icon of the Blessed Virgin. According to tradition, St. Luke wrote an icon of Our Lady while she was still living in Jerusalem. When she saw the beautiful icon of herself holding the Child Jesus in her arms, she blessed both the artist and his work proclaiming, “My grace will accompany this icon.”
The passage of centuries has proven that Mary did not forget this promise. So numerous were the miracles and favors granted by means of this Holy Icon, Pope Innocent III in 1207 stated that Mary’s soul seemed to have entered into this icon since it was so beautiful and so miraculous.
When St. Luke completed the icon, tradition tells us he gave it to his personal friend and patron, Theophilus. In the middle of the Fifth Century, St. Pulcheria erected a shrine in its honor in Constantinople. The icon remained there for a thousand years where it was venerated by countless Christians – kings and emperors, saints and sinners, rich and poor; and where it was the source of many graces.
The original icon disappeared from human history during the siege of Constantinople in 1453. Tradition tells us that, on the night before the fall of the Holy City, the Holy Mother of God, took both the icon and the Imperial Crown to Heaven! Many copies that existed at that time have been preserved to this day. The spirit and miraculous power of the icon still live in the present day icon. The Holy Mother of God still lives among us, anticipating needs, saving, ministering, mothering – leading us to the Throne of Her Son in the Heavenly Kingdom.
The Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is an authentic expression of Byzantine art from ancient times. The gold background represents the Kingdom of God and the gold shining through the clothing reflects deification. The icon invites us to become sharers in this glory. The persons portrayed are: the Mother of God, Jesus Christ, the Archangel Michael, and the Archangel Gabriel. Mary’s head is tilted with maternal affection toward the Christ Child on her left arm. Mary’s eyes are not fixed on her Child or on the instruments of the Passion which the two angels hold out to Christ. Rather, she gazes toward those who are looking at the icon. With eyes and attitude of sorrow and love she invites all to consider Our Savior.
The Christ Child has the appearance of apprehension when presented with the instruments of His Passion. In His mother, he finds the greatest comfort and tenderness. In his haste to run into her protective arms, He almost loses one of his tiny sandals thereby signifying to us that we should hasten to seek her loving assistance in our troubles. Christ’s fingers hold his Mother’s right hand, yet they rest quite loosely there. In this lies another lesson. Through the protection of His Most Holy Mother, Our Lord grew to His adulthood and initiated His Saving Work. As she protected Him, she prays for us still to Her Divine Son!
We hasten to your patronage, O Virgin Mother of God.
Do not turn away from us in our necessities,
but, O pure and most blessed Lady
deliver us from every danger.
O Most glorious and Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ our God,
receive our prayers and carry them to your Son and our God,
that He, because of your intercession
may enlighten and save our souls.