Praying with the Icon of the Virgin of Kyiv
Icon of the Virgin of Kyiv, sixth or seventh century, Ukraine
In this reflection, Sister Wendy Beckett helps us to pray with the icon of the Virgin of Kyiv (left), an icon from the sixth or seventh century that is under the protection of the Khanenko Museum of Arts in Kyiv, Ukraine.
This is a unique vision of Mary, not tranquil or remote like her seven sisters [the other ancient icons of Mary], but passionate. She has snatched up the Child Jesus and holds him firmly, her eyes fixed with frightening force upon what would seem a danger that Mary alone can see. Of all the infant Christs, this is the most beautiful, a golden child, trustful and loving.
Mary is His protector, protecting Him against His infinite capacity to love, His guileless readiness to trust, His sweetness, His goodness. Jesus will give Himself and be destroyed. Mary does not hold Him back, but she holds Him. Who will destroy Him? It is we who will destroy Him, we who will use God and abuse Him and finally kill Him on the Cross. Mary is urgent with the need, not to protect us, but to protect Jesus from us, to show us our own inner destructiveness.
I am aware of no icon that carries such a conviction of the potential of human selfishness and the reckless readiness of God to embrace us as we are.
I am aware of no icon that ventures into these dark waters, that carries such a conviction of the potential of human selfishness and the reckless readiness of God to embrace us as we are. If it kills Him, He will die loving us. All of this terrible future is made present to us in this strong and impassioned and vigorous woman. The artist has caught her in motion, not grieving as we would find in the post-iconoclast icons, but still fighting and imploring and hopeful. Every time I came back to see this icon, I found tears in my eyes.
Source: Sister Wendy Beckett, Encounters with God: In Quest of the Ancient Icons of Mary, 99-101.